I LOVE deep POV, but there’s a lot of confusion about what it is and what it isn’t, how it works, what genre or tense you must use – lots of questions and a lot of confusion. I wanted to put together a list of things many people don’t realize before doing a two-footed jump in the deep end of deep POV.
Very Few Novels Are Written ENTIRELY In Deep POV
I’m often asked for recommendations for novels written entirely in deep POV, and I struggle to find many. Not many bestsellers use deep POV exclusively. And there’s a reason for that. Deep POV is intense, it can bog down the pace, and not every scene or character is suited to using deep POV. This is a stylistic technique you keep in your writer’s toolbox. Some writers try to stick close to deep POV most of the time, some use it only for key emotional moments. There’s no rules (though, I believe romance generally trends towards using deep POV most of the time).
The key is to know how each scene moves the story ahead, what work each scene needs to do in telling the larger story, and be strategic with the tools you use to create specific effects. That said, I have a list on this blog post if you’re looking for examples.
I’m sharing these titles with the caveat that EVERY novel MUST use telling in places, and in genres where there’s a lot of storyworld building such as fantasy or historicals, the tolerance for it is higher than in some other genres like contemporary romance.
Deep POV Is A Hard Technique To Learn (If You Haven’t Read A Lot In This Style)
Deep POV is not intuitive if you’ve spent a lot of time reading other point of view styles. Many accepted stylistic choices in other point of view styles undermine the immersive effect deep POV aims to create for readers. Those new to learning deep POV often say there’s a steep learning curve because you have to think differently about how you tell the story, the details you choose to focus on, how those details and thoughts are shared.
Emotional Depth Is What Makes Deep POV Powerful
The power of deep POV is in the depth and exploration of the character’s emotional journey. That emotional journey is what readers find so compelling. Stories that utilize a lot of action, that use characters who aren’t prone to self-reflection or thinking, may not be well-suited to being written entirely in deep POV. Deep POV used for key emotional points in stories like these, when used effectively and strategically, are very powerful for inciting incidents, mirror moments, black moments, etc.
There’s More To Deep POV Than The Same 4 Rules
There’s so much MORE to deep POV than most blog posts tell you there is. If you don’t have a goal of writing entirely in deep POV, it’s easy to give a summary explanation of remove dialogue tags, show don’t tell, remove emotion words, remove filter words – and believe that’s all there is to it.
Deep POV is actually very complex and requires a fair amount of strategy to use well. Yes, these four aspects are the most-talked about, but if you don’t learn to recognize the author/narrator voice, get curious about emotional depth, learn to use subtext, learn to use telling strategically, deep POV will be endlessly frustrating and will fall flat with readers and editors.
Deep POV Is Often Added In The Rewrites
I’m often asked how long it took me to learn deep POV. I’m still learning and I’ve been writing deep POV exclusively for more than ten years. What I have found is that deep POV is best edited for, rather than attempted on a first draft. You can learn all the “rules” of deep POV and put out a first draft that immerses readers in the story, but getting curious about and creating reader surprise in the character’s emotional journey in each scene is hard heart work and I reserve an entire read-through JUST for deep POV.
Now, I mean the emotional aspect of deep POV. Learning the red flag words to avoid, removing telling and the author voice, etc. Those are all aspects that you can achieve on a first draft with a lot of practise. But that emotional work, depending on your own writing preferences, may be done on a second draft (planners), it may be a tenth draft (pantsers), but it’s work best saved for after you’ve gotten the plot and pace settled first.
Deep POV Is Not Limited Third, Is Not First Person
Many many people do not understand what deep POV really is. First person is not automatically deep POV. First person allows for author/narrator narration, summary, explanation, conclusions, etc. that would be considered telling in deep POV.
Limited third, close third – this is not deep POV. Let’s just do a quick recap of POV styles:
Omniscient POV – (either first person or third person) the author/narrator tells a story about a character or a group of characters. The narrator/author is not a part of the story, but knows everything about how the characters feel, and what happens next. Ex. Lord Of The Rings, Of Mice And Men, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane
Objective Third Person POV – the author tells the story objectively, without adding emotions, motivations, or thoughts from the character Ex. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
Limited Third Person POV – the author tells a story about ONE character at a time (this is the ‘limited’ part of this POV style), and may share some of the character’s thoughts directly with the reader (often using italics to set the character’s thoughts apart from the narrator/writer voice).
Deep POV – The character lives out the story in real time, immersing the reader in their emotional journey. There is NO author/narrator voice. Every word on the page comes from within the POV character. Every. Word.
Many take my class believing they’re writing limited third person, but are actually writing in objective third person. Their learning curve is even greater because not only do they have to shift how they tell the story to eliminate the author voice, they also must learn how to write emotions and thoughts that come from within the POV character.
Deep POV Works For Almost Every Genre
Deep POV requires enough reader maturity and insight to understand body language, social cues, subtext, etc. So, it’s not well-suited to MG or Children’s Lit.
There are some genres that are well suited to deep POV, romance genres for instance, where the character’s internal life is a focus of the story. Some writers think you can’t use deep POV for genres like mystery or suspense or cozies, because the POV character can’t keep secrets from the reader, but that’s just not true. You can’t keep secrets, but that’s not the only way to write those stories, nor does not keeping secrets remove or undercut the potential for tension.
Deep POV Limits Where The Reader Can Get Information From
With deep POV, the reader knows everything the POV character knows, thinks, feels, wants, sees, intuits, learns. The reader should know the character’s preferences, prejudices, past experience, expertise, etc (without using telling or info dumps). But that’s ALL the reader knows.
Learning to recognize POV breaks in deep POV is another challenge that many blogs don’t mention. If your character wouldn’t know x or be aware of y, then they can’t share that info with the reader. The POV character can guess what another thinks, feels, wants, or knows, but they don’t KNOW unless the other character tells them.
The POV character can’t know what the weather is like outside if they don’t check a weather forecast or they somehow interact with the outside world, and they need a reason to think about the weather. As a Canadian, I generally don’t give much thought to the fact that it will be cold or snowing outside in January. It’s a given. What makes me think about the weather is keeping track of incoming storms, force me to drive somewhere in it, have to bundle up for a walk, then I think about the weather.
The POV character can’t know something, actively think of it, but not share that with the reader. There can be things from the character’s past they don’t think about actively on a weekly, daily, or moment-to-moment basis. But if something happens that triggers emotions from the past, the use of subtext should at least hint at what’s happened. Keeping secrets from the reader without a POV break is really hard.
Show Don’t Tell Is Taken To A Whole New Level With Deep POV
Many blogs will tell you to remove emotion words, to avoid writing: he is sad, she is anxious, he waved anxiously, she clapped with enthusiasm… That’s just the beginning. Remember, the goal is to immerse the reader in the story so the feeling that they’re being TOLD a story is removed and they’re instead vicariously living out this journey alongside the POV character – a fly on the wall inside their heads.
In deep POV, “telling” includes author intrusion, POV breaks, narrative or psychic distance, and the above emotion and thinking words. Those that love flowery descriptions and objectively listing all the items in a room will find their wings clipped in deep POV unless these are details the character would notice or think about. Even word choice is character dependent. A mechanic might label the parts of an engine, a fashionista might identify individual designers, a gardening enthusiast will know a pothos from a philodendron – but most people will not. It’s a car, it’s an engine, it’s a dress or a pair of shoes, it’s a plant… Deep POV really puts the character’s internal world at front and centre.
Deep POV Is A Stylistic Choice, It’s Not About Voice Or Genre
Writing an entire novel only in deep POV is better suited to some genres than others, this is true – but it is possible (and would be compelling) to write a thriller, or a mystery, or a historical in this style. It requires a shift in how you tell the story.
Deep POV does not affect what kind of story you tell – your author voice. Your author voice is about what kind of story you tell, and how you tell it. Deep POV does not require steamy sex scenes or graphic violence, it requires emotional depth. Are you willing to “go there” with your characters? Are you willing to get really curious about what emotions are present, and all the complexities of the emotions felt but not expressed? You must learn to ask yourself what ELSE is going on internally with this character. What do they wish they could do – and why don’t they do that? What do they want, but can’t express or allow space for?
Identifying The Narrator/Writer Voice In Deep POV Is Difficult
This is an aspect of deep POV that seems to hit people unexpectedly. Identifying the narrator/writer voice, learning its function, is the second biggest obstacle for new writers learning to write in deep POV. Intermediate and advanced writers already know what the author/narrator voice is, what function it serves, so learning to write without it is much easier (though I still wouldn’t say it’s intuitive unless you’ve read a lot in this style).
Writing emotions in deep POV without using the narrator/author voice to summarize, explain, justify, conclude, is a learning curve.
You Learn Deep POV Best By Doing It
Deep POV is not intuitive, and depending on your prior skill level can come with a very steep learning curve. This technique is best learned by writing it and getting prompt feedback. There’s a lot to take in. Having a community to help you learn is really really helpful.
Otherwise, you end up learning like I did – slowly, painfully, frustratingly…
I would go to a conference and have an agent or editor meeting, and they’d point out one phrase, or something like removing dialogue tags – as not being in deep POV. I’d think I’ve got it. I might read a few blog posts that pointed out a couple of other things, and I would go the next conference only to be told, you need to remove this to be in deep POV. Over and over that happened. When you only get one cog in the mechanism at a time, nothing works and the learning is super slow.
Not all editors/beta readers understand deep POV
I’ve had many students complain to me that their editor or beta reader flagged this or that aspect of deep POV as wrong. Deep POV is a specific technique that throws out a lot of accepted things, and incorporates other things other POV styles avoid.
Be aware of this when getting feedback. When employing an editor, ask them if they know and understand deep POV, ask for a sample edit and see what they do with the deep POV aspect of your writing.
Deep POV Is Not A Beginner’s Technique
If you’re just beginning to learn writing, deep POV will present a massive learning curve. I like to say deep POV is the cosmetic final layer to building a house. I watch a lot of historical building reno shows from the UK. They take a derelict historical building, and the first thing they must do is make it water-tight and structurally sound. No one is picking curtain fabric or bathroom fixtures until all that work is done.
It won’t matter how pretty the curtains are if the walls won’t stand up. If you are a beginning writer, just know that there’s a steep learning curve ahead of you to learn this technique AND plot, structure, characterization, tension, pace, emotional arc, etc.
Deep POV, without all the foundational aspects of writing fiction in place, is going to shine a giant spotlight on where things are weak. The caveat to all this is if you’ve spent a lot of time reading deep POV and that’s the style that comes to you intuitively.
Deep POV Can Be Past Or Present Tense
Tense is really the wrong question when it comes to deep POV. The goal is to write immersively, and in real time. Can you do that in past tense? Yes. Can you do that in present tense? Yes. Most of us find one or the other usually comes to us more naturally than the other, so go with your preference. Sometimes, genre can dictate tense as well. Deep POV works equally well with either style.
Deep POV Really Brings Your Character’s Voice To The Forefront
Deep POV, because every word on the page comes from within the POV character, that character’s voice: their worldview, prejudices, motivations, past experiences, priorities – all of it is expressed in word choice, in what they focus on or ignore, what’s normal to them, what they pursue, what they give up on, what they suppress, what they express…
This is part of how deep POV creates that immersive effect for readers. But it means you have to set aside how YOU would describe something. You have to cut descriptions of things the character wouldn’t notice, or use words your character wouldn’t use. It’s like handing the reader virtual reality goggles for your character – you, the writer, don’t have a voice.
Writing Emotions Is Hardest Part Of Learning Deep POV
Removing the author/narrator voice can be super challenging. Learning to remove all the telling (emotion words, thinking words, sense words) for instance, can be a huge obstacle and leave writers floundering. Writers mistakenly think this is the hardest part about learning deep POV. It’s not.
Once you’ve learned to remove all these words, phrases, storytelling devices to create this immersive in-real-time effect, you must now add the emotion back in without using those telling techniques. Learning where, and how, and when to add emotional complexity and depth is the black belt level of deep POV and where the real magic happens.
Two to four times a year, I run a deep POV masterclass online. Two units of this masterclass are available all the time, but the interactive course that provides oodles of feedback and a supportive community only opens a few times a year. It’s open for April 2022. Find out more info here.