How to Write in Deep POV + get inside the mind of your character
Hello, friends! Question for you:
Have you ever read a story where you feel completely one with the point-of-view character?
It’s as if you are that person, right? You are living their life, pursuing their journey. You even forget that you're reading a book and that an author lives behind every word. You are simply enthralled by the magic in the pages. And that's an awesome experience, is it not?
Novels like these are often written using a technique called Deep Point of View, or Deep POV for short.
Before I say anything else about Deep POV, I’d like to point out that this technique may not work well for your novel in particular. Many writers tout Deep POV as the next big thing, so it may be tempting to work it into your book. But here's the thing:
Deep POV won’t make your novel an instant success with readers. In fact, if not done with the utmost care, Deep POV can actually drive readers away. And that's certainly no bueño, right? So make sure to treat this technique as just that–a technique you can employ–and not a make-it-or-break-it "rule". Okay?
Besides, there are plenty of successful novels that don't use Deep POV: The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, and The Chronicles of Narnia, just to name a few.
But on the flip side of things, Deep POV is on the rise in modern literature. Authors like Maggie Stiefvater, Suzanne Collins and Cassandra Clare–among others–are using this technique to draw readers into their stories by the tens of thousands, so clearly something's working here. Right?
So what is Deep POV and why does it seem to be so effective? Let's talk about that!
What is Deep POV?
Using the Deep POV technique when writing allows you get inside the mind of your POV character and make a deep emotional connection with readers.
But to do so, you must remove as many traces of authorship from the page as possible. The less readers are reminded that they're actually reading, the more effective your Deep POV will be. Remember, you want to hold readers enthralled.
I think the main reason Deep POV is on the rise is because readers love feeling lost in their entertainment.
By removing all traces of authorship, an author encourages readers to become one with the POV character, taking part in their journey as though it were their own. And so Deep POV often works best in novels that seek to thrill the reader or take them on an emotional journey.
Like many other techniques, Deep POV can not be perfected overnight.
At first, you'll have to have a keen eye and a conscious mind to keep your work from slipping back into shallow POV. But I can tell you this: writing in Deep POV continuously will indeed help it become a natural part of your writing style. So keep at it, okay?
If this technique sounds like it might be right up your alley, read on to learn about how to put it into practice.
Deep POV Basics
Like we mentioned above, writing in Deep POV is all about getting inside the head of your POV character. That means you must know your character inside and out, so make sure to take the time to make them as well-developed as possible.
I mean it!
You will never use all of the background information you create for your novel in the novel itself, but knowing the everything about your character’s life will help you better understand their goals, motivations, relationships, personality, and other major factors that will help you nail Deep POV.
You can then use these elements to add realism and consistency to the events of your character’s story while you write. For more info on how to create well-developed characters, I recommend checking out this popular She's Novel post.
Sound good? Great! Moving right along, let's talk about a few in-depth ways to put Deep POV into practice.
How to Write in Deep POV
Writing in Deep POV may seem tricky at first, but employing these six steps can help you get Deep POV right the first time around. Check 'em out:
1. Limit Your Character's Knowledge. The first step to getting inside your character’s head is accepting that they don’t know everything about everything.
Your POV character will be blind to certain story elements and events simply because they haven't yet heard about them or witnessed them. This can be hard to acknowledge when you're just trying to tell a good story, but inadvertently making your character an all-knowing deity can be a costly mistake.
So make sure to only reveal the things your POV character actually knows to keep readers engaged in your story. Cool?
2. Cut out Filter Words. Filter words are a mark of authorship. But what are filter words?
When you write that a character "thought" or "wondered" or "saw" something instead of just stating it, you take readers out of the Deep POV experience. A character doesn't think these filter words while living out their life, so why should you include them in your writing?
Confused? No worries. Here's an example to get you started:
Out of Deep POV
At last the tremors subsided and the earth stilled. Maggie wondered how bad the earthquake had been. She looked around and saw the deep black gashes in the ground where the pavement of the road had cracked. She knew that it must have been at least a 7.0.
In Deep POV
At last the tremors subsided and the earth stilled. How bad had this one been? All around, wide gashes cut into the pavement as though it were soft as flesh. Maggie shivered despite the heat. A 7.0 at least, perhaps even higher.
See how the second draft removes the words "wondered", "saw", and "knew"? This allows readers to jump inside Maggie’s head, reeling with her as her town is struck by an earthquake.
3. Limit Your Dialogue Tags. Dialogue tags are short phrases used to indicate a character is speaking (e.g. "she said", "he shouted", "Mary whispered", etc.). These are yet another trace of authorship, so removing as many as possible from your writing will really add to the effectiveness your Deep POV technique.
An easy way to ditch dialogue tags without confusing readers? Place dialogue next to character actions (a.k.a. "attributive tags") instead. Take this for example:
Out of Deep POV
She found John on State Street. A stream of blood flowed down his forehead as he stood on trembling legs. “Are up you okay?” she asked.
“I’m fine,” John whispered back as he tore off a strip of his t-shirt to dab away the blood. Then they felt it, the ground shaking to life once again. Maggie shouted, “Get down!” and flung herself to the earth.
In Deep POV
Maggie turned down State Street and sighed with relief. John was there, standing on trembling legs and frowning. She raced to his side. “Are you okay?” She reached up to examine the cut on his forehead, but he flinched away.
“I’m fine.” He tore off the hem of his shirt to dab away the blood.
Maggie's legs quavered and shook. Reaching out, she place a hand on the street lamp to steady herself and gasped as though it had shocked her. The lamp was shaking, too.
“Get down!” She tugged on John's shirt and pulled him to the ground with her. "It's another quake."
See how I don't use a single dialogue tag in the second example? That could have spelled disaster, but because I placed each line of dialogue next to an attributive action, readers still know exactly which lines belong to whom.
4. The Ultimate Show, Don’t Tell. You’ve probably heard the phrase "show, don't tell" a million times. It’s a classic piece of writing advice shared by thousands of authors every day.
Now, in some cases, telling can actually be an effective technique to use in your writing (perhaps I’ll write an article about that later, eh?), but there's no such luck with Deep POV.
Since Deep POV is all about getting inside your character’s head, avoiding as many instances of telling as possible is a must.
Deep POV is a very present, in-the-moment style. If you want to stay in the character’s mindset, you can’t write lengthy exposition, backstory info-dumps, and descriptions. All of that must be worked in naturally throughout your novel using only the POV character’s thoughts, actions, senses, and conversations.
Will an occasional instance of telling make or break your novel? Not at all. But do your best to rework as many of these instances as possible, and you'll be a Deep POV champ.
5. Don’t Use Passive Voice. Passive voice is a way of structuring sentences that indicates an action is being done unto someone rather than being done by someone.
For example, writing “Her shoulder was hit,” rather than “He hit her shoulder,” would be passive voice.
So why is getting rid of passive voice so important? Well, once again, Deep POV is a very present, in-the-moment style. Using passive voice often indicates that something has already been done or is being done distantly, as if the POV character isn't even there.
Naturally this goes against everything you're trying to achieve with Deep POV, so it's time to ditch passive voice ASAP.
But what if you aren't sure if you're using passive voice? I love the tip that says if you write "by zombies" after your sentence and it makes sense, you're writing in passive voice. Case in point? "Her mouth was kissed...by zombies!"
6. Be Careful When Identifying Characters. In Deep POV, you won’t be able to relate character relationships as easily as you normally would.
For example, your POV character's narrative wouldn't state, “John, her brother, was standing in the street.” It would simply say, “John was standing in the street.” Your POV character already knows who John is whether the reader does or not, so they wouldn't relay that identifier from their own perspective. See what I mean?
But obviously you still need to identify character relationships somehow, right?
Doing so in Deep POV can definitely be tricky. My best tips are to work it in through dialogue (e.g. "Erik, this is my brother John.”), through memory (e.g. "It was the same smile he gave mother when we were children.”), or through action (e.g. "I hugged him fiercely, and he ruffled my hair and called me his favorite sister.”).
Deep POV Tips & Tricks
Though Deep POV can be limiting in many ways, there are several tips and tricks you can use to make your Deep POV novel sing. Let's break 'em down, shall we?
1. Relate Memory in Backstory. In typical POVs, relating memories can seem a bit contrived because readers aren't able to follow the POV character’s train of thought. But in Deep POV, you can easily slip in and out of your character's memories since you're already writing from that character's mindset. Hurray!
You can take advantage of this opportunity by relating important background information through memory flashes.
Obviously your POV character must be privy to the backstory, having experienced or heard about it firsthand in order to recall it. But don't go crazy. Spending too much time on memory flashes will definitely leave readers craving more.
2. Relay Mental Distance. If your character is going through a mentally disturbing situation, such as a freak accident or an assault, they may not be fully aware of or in control of their mental capacities.
You can make this a very powerful moment in your story by pulling out of Deep POV and writing from a shallow perspective. In these moments your character isn't all in their head, so readers shouldn’t be either. Right?
Just be careful not to dip in and out of Deep POV too often, whether by accident or intention, as it can easily leave readers feeling jarred. Instead, limit this escape from Deep POV to no more than two or three instances per novel–or as little as one instance for maximum impact.
3. Paint a Hyper-Vivid Picture. Have you ever wished you could write prose that sounds as beautiful as a film or a painting looks?
Deep POV provides the perfect opportunity to craft hyper-vivid pictures of your scenes since readers are already inside your character's head. They're literally seeing what your character's seeing! So to describe the picture in full detail, make sure to use the POV character's five senses, as well as memories and emotions.
When you're done, read back over your work and see just how much how your scene jumps off of the page. You might just astound yourself. You can also read more about writing setting descriptions in Deep POV in this She's Novel post. Hurray!
Well, that sums up my Deep POV advice. I hope you found this breakdown interesting!
Remember to keep in mind that Deep POV is just one technique in a sea of literary styles. Its popularity is driven by its ability to pull readers into a character’s journey, but that doesn’t mean Deep POV is the right choice for every writer. Omniscient and shallow POV narrators are both valid choices, too. Okay? Awesome.
Now, let's discuss!
How do you feel about Deep POV? Have you tried using this technique in your own writing or have you read any books that utilize it? And let's be honest: do you think Deep POV's popularity is well-deserved or more than a bit overrated?
Share your thoughts in the comments below, and don't forget to have a fabulous week!
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