Readers want an emotional experience or journey in addition to being entertained.
Many writers are looking for ways to create a deeper connection between readers and their main character. They want to create an emotional experience and deep point of view definitely can do that, but not if you undermine the feeling that readers are IN THE STORY instead of reading a story – if that makes sense.
A character’s thoughts tend to be the lifeblood of deep point of view. Internal dialogue helps to clarify the WHY for readers. Why is the MC behaving that way, reacting that way, saying that, etc. But writers switching to deep pov from non-deep point of view styles of writing struggle with too much telling in internal dialogue.
The Mindset Switch
Because we want readers to feel like they’re in the story with the MC (think of it like handing a reader a virtual reality headset or going through the story like it’s a first-person shooter game), we want readers to feel like they’re IN the story not being told a story.
If your story is a car and the MC is in the driver’s seat, the reader doesn’t want to sit in the stands and watch the race, sit in the backseat or ride shotgun. They want to be in the driver’s lap and see everything the driver sees, feel the vibrations in the wheel and feel the lurch with each gear shift. You break the fictive dream in deep point of view if the reader feels like they’re being told a story rather than living it vicariously through the MC.
So writing internal dialogue as though the reader is listening in comes across as author intrusion. Using internal dialogue to convey backstory or “explain” things to readers feels like author intrusion and breaks the fictive dream. You’ve just picked up your reader, taken them out of the story and plopped them right back in the theatre seats watching the story again.
Red Flag #1 – Author Intrusion In Internal Dialogue
Deep point of view is very personal so internal dialogue works best when it feels organic. Ask whether a character would really explain this to themselves if they already know it.
There’s Bob, Cindy’s fourth boyfriend this year, but what’s he done to his hair?
There’s Bob, was he Cindy’s third or fourth boyfriend this year… What’s he done to his hair?
The information that Bob is just one of many boyfriends is “told” in the first example. The second example feels more like the character is talking to themselves, not the reader. If the character already knows who Bob is, why would they explain who he is to themselves? That’s author intrusion — the information is there just for the reader.
If the reader needs some context or information (and you can’t deliver it through dialogue), you have to frame it in such a way that it feels organic to the moment and the character.
Red Flag #2 – Unneccesary Distance
Sentence construction using “when” or “and then” or “when this” and “then that” often leads either to author intrusion and telling OR adding unneccessary distance between the reader and the story. Does that mean you should never use those words? Of course not, but they are red flags.
I was three days into my one week vacation when the phone rang.
I walked down the street and then a dog bit my leg.I hugged myself to keep all the emotions inside when this was the last thing I should’ve done.
It’s narrator-like, isn’t it. Do you talk to yourself like this? The writer is inserting themselves into the story and forcing the reader back on the couch to read the story instead of experience it in real time. At best, it’s adding unneccessary distance for readers. If the reader needs info, it’s usually easier and more organic to have it come out via spoken dialogue.I
When Readers Need Information The POV Character Wouldn’t Say/Think Of Organically…
You’ll often find writers incorporating newbies characters or someone new to a profession or place because they stand in and ask the MC questions that the MC wouldn’t think to answer because they already know the info. Consider Watson and Sherlock Holmes. Watson asks the vital questions readers need the answers to in order to understand the story. But Sherlock wouldn’t volunteer that information, because he already knows the answers himself.
Red Flag #3 – Quick Stepping Over Time
Bad: She didn’t remember driving home or climbing into bed and falling asleep.
Bad: She would wake up in the morning and regret the drinking, but right now she was having fun.
Good: She stumbled through the door and fell into bed. Had she closed the door? Who cares. She shut her eyes and gave in to sleep.
Good: She woke up and looked around. Where was she? Bits of memory floated into focus. Right… The bar. The drinking. So much drinking. But how did she get home?
Okay: She wrestled her way out of the car, keys jangling with each stumble, begged the lock to turn, and fell into bed.
In deep point of view, the rule is – the reader knows everything the POV character knows, sees, hears, feels, understands/intuits, remembers, etc. But that’s ALL they know. So, if the character doesn’t remember doing any of it then they can’t recall it for readers without breaking POV.
The character can wake up and realize they don’t remember getting there — in hindsight. What you can’t do, is skip over the action and have the POV character recall it to themselves in hindsight. Or comment on the past that hasn’t happened yet as if they’re looking back at a younger self. The action has to happen in real time (past or present tense doesn’t matter).
You could also use a shallower pov technique to show the character’s awareness of their own actions but that you’re just moving them from point a to point b so to speak. (Yes, if you’re doing it intentionally to create a specific effect or as a story-telling tool, telling or a shallow pov is allowed, but not a POV break.)
What aspect of keeping everything immediate, in real time, and tight POV’d do you struggle with when writing deep point of view?
Make sure you check out my book Method Acting for Writers: Learn Deep Point Of View Using Emotional Layering.