Deep POV

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I feel like point of view and narration are things I’ve neglected so far. I’ve talked about different aspects of character development, but I don’t think I’ve really gone into detail about POV. Today, I want to share one of my favorite narrative styles, deep POV.

Let’s start with the basics

Deep POV is a form of third-person limited narration. Even though it’s not first-person, you’re still writing as the character instead of about them. It brings your reader in really close to what the character is feeling and doing, and eliminates filters that keep them separate from the story.

When you’re writing in deep POV, you tend to eliminate dialogue tags and quite a lot of telling, so it makes your prose cleaner. At least to me. I like it a lot because I think it takes readers straight to the heart of things.

Here are a few things you can do if you want to write in deep POV.

Reduce or eliminate dialogue tags

We talked a little about dialogue tags and action beats yesterday. When you’re writing in deep POV, you want to replace as many of those tags with action beats as you can. The tags can sound like they’re coming from an outside narrator, when you want your narrative voice to seem like it’s coming from the character.

Example 1:

“Is everything well, runner?” Merry asked. “Or did you forget something when you delivered that note from my brother this morning?”

“No,” Zeke said. “I’ve another letter for you, actually. It was just dropped off a little while ago.”

“A letter from someone here, is it? That’s rare. Most folk around here can’t read or write. Let’s see it, boyo.”

Zeke handed it over. “Shall I wait for a reply?” he asked.

Example 2:

Healer Merry was bottling potions in her clinic when Zeke arrived. She kept her eyes on her work, but nodded an acknowledgement when she noticed him standing in the doorway.

“Is everything well, runner? Or did you forget something when you delivered that note from my brother this morning?”

“No.” Zeke dug in his pocket for Rose’s note. “I’ve another letter for you, actually. It was dropped off a little while ago.”

Green liquid sloshed over the lip of a bottle and spilled across the tabletop. “A letter from someone here? That’s rare.” Merry blotted at the spill with a cloth. “Most folk around here can’t read or write. Let’s see it, boyo.”

Zeke handed it over. “Shall I wait for a reply?”

Notes

I realize those examples weren’t particularly deep, but little things add up over the course of a novel. When you eliminate filters like excessive dialogue tags, you bring your readers in closer. You might need to use the tags more often if you have more than two characters talking in a scene, just to eliminate confusion, but it depends on the scene.

Get rid of thoughts and feelings

Your character still has thoughts and feelings of course. It’s just that you, the author, aren’t telling us “he thought,” or “he felt,” as part of the narration. Instead, you’re showing us what they’re thinking and feeling.

Example 1:

Rose’s stomach hurt. She wondered if she would ever get used to this sort of thing, or if she was doomed to be nervous and sickly forever.

Example 2:

Anxiety was like swallowing broken glass. Would meeting new people always feel like this?

Narrate as the character

This can be a little harder if you’re not in touch with your character. Basically, you want your narration to sound exactly like they would.

Example:

It was looking to be a good haul. Jackson stuffed wads of bills into his jacket between songs, leaving his guitar case baited with a handful of singles and loose change. Mama’d always said he’d never make much of himself, but music might make him if he could just stick with it.

A woman dropped a bill into his case. “You’re pretty good. Do you have a CD?”

“No ma’am.” Jackson switched over to fingerpicking just to keep his fingers limber while they talked. If his hands got much colder, he’d have to stop for the night. “I’ve got a single recorded and I’m working on getting more studio time, though.”

He handed her one of the business cards his cousin made him, with the weird black and white code on it she could scan with her phone. “You can listen to it with this if you want. Just take a picture on your phone.”

She turned it over in her fingers, her nails glistening like cherries under the street lamps. “Jackson Gene, a man with a dream,” she read. “So many people come into this town thinking they’re going to be the next big thing, and then they run out of gumption and go back home within a year. A man’s gotta have more than a dream if he wants to make it in this world.”

“Mama always said I’m too stupid to quit.” Jackson played the opening riff of his single, showing off just a little. “I’ve been doing this too long to prove her wrong now, so I might as well keep going.”

She smiled and tucked his card into her billfold. “I like you, Jackson Gene. You be good to your mama now, you hear?”

“Yes ma’am.”

She walked away, probably going to meet a date, with that sparkly dress and her hair all fixed up nice. The soles of her shoes were the same cherry red as her nails. It stuck in his head like a song, and he reached in his pocket for his notebook so he could get it down.

Notes:

You need to use a light touch with this narration style. A character with a thick accent might be hard for some readers to follow. You also need to be consistent. I think Kate Forsyth‘s Witches of Eileanan series is a good example of this narrative style.

Understand the limits

This is another thing some writers have a little trouble mastering. Deep POV is a very limited perspective. Your narrator doesn’t know what other characters are thinking or how they feel. Instead, they’re sharing their assumptions and observations with the reader.

Example 1:

“What do you think you’re doing?” Katy asked angrily. “Logan, I told you to stay out of my closet.”

Katy was madder than Logan had ever seen her. But he still needed to find his lucky shorts, and he’d already looked everywhere else.

Example 2:

“What do you think you’re doing?” Katy’s face was almost purple, and her fists were clenched at her sides. “Logan, I told you to stay out of my closet.”

“I’m looking for my lucky shorts.” Logan rolled his eyes when his sister stomped her foot. “Don’t give yourself an aneurysm. It’s not like you have anything worth hiding.”

Notes:

This one can be a little tricky to master, but I think it adds some dimension to your narration. You don’t have to use it all of the time, but I do try to use it most of the time when I’m writing. I try really hard to show my readers what’s going on in a story as much as I can.

It’s not all or nothing

One last thing to keep in mind is that you don’t have to stay in deep POV for your entire story. You can use it for really important parts and back off to just third-person limited for the rest. One of these days, I’ll get around to writing posts about other forms of narration, so I hope you’ll be back for that.

Tomorrow I’m talking about world building. This is mainly a fantasy/sci-fi concept, but I think it’s relevant to most genres. Setting is important, and I have a feeling it’s a topic we’ll revisit many times.

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