How To Write In Deep Point-Of-View
Have you ever read a book in which you felt one with the point-of-view character?
From the very first page, the author dropped you in the protagonist's shoes, encouraging you to see their world and experience their journey through their eyes. It's novels like these that are often so easy to consume — and that consume you in return. And the technique that makes many of them tick? Writing in Deep Point-Of-View...
If you're looking to write an engaging genre-fiction novel that grips readers and doesn't let go, Deep POV may just be your secret weapon. But what exactly is this technique, and how can you utilize it in your own writing? Let's break down everything you need to know in today's article, writer!
What is Deep Point-Of-View, exactly?
This narrative technique eliminates the distance between the reader and the point-of-view character by utilizing a close subjective framework. In other words, one character's thoughts and experiences shape the narrative at a time. No head-hopping, no narrator, and as few marks of authorship as possible. (More on this in a moment.)
The point of writing in Deep POV is to encourage readers to experience the story through one character's perspective at a time, making the events of the story more personal and gripping. This technique is a popular one in modern genre fiction, as it mimics the experience viewers have when watching many of their favorite films.
Writers working in Deep POV can utilize any tense and grammatical person (e.g. first-person, third-person, etc.), making this technique fairly adaptable to a writer's style and their story's needs. What defines a certain type of storytelling as being written in Deep POV is its subjective nature, distinct character voice, and limited marks of authorship.
The latter are words or phrases that pull readers out of the point-of-view character's perspective, reminding them there is an author behind the story. These marks include dialogue tags, filters words, and other phrases unnatural to a single character's narrative, though we do need to discuss these items in more detail down below.
How can you learn to write in Deep Point-Of-View?
Because the intent of Deep POV is to encourage readers to experience your story through a single character's perspective at a time, getting to know your point-of-view character(s) in depth is key. The more you know and understand your character, the more personal of a narrative you will write.
Once you've taken the time to develop your characters, however, there are a few key parameters you'll want to keep in mind when working to master this narrative technique:
#1: Limit Your Character's Knowledge.
The first step to getting inside your character’s head is accepting that they don’t know everything. There may be information or events that you'd like to include in your story, but if your point-of-view character isn't aware of them, you'll either have to add a second point-of-view or work in a different narrative style.
#2: Cut Filter Words.
Filter words are marks of authorship that put distance between the reader and the point-of-view character. Rather than simply stating or showing what a character experiences, phrases like "she thought," "he saw", and "they wondered" remind readers that an author is behind every word.
Let's take a look at how removing filter words can affect a narrative:
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 cracks gashed the pavement as though the road were soft as flesh. Despite the heat, a shiver coursed up Maggie's spine. She sat unblinking, rattled by the devastation.
Notice that the second example removes the words "wondered", "saw", and "knew", while also adding imagery that makes the narrative more personal to the character's experience.
#3: Limit Dialogue Tags.
Dialogue tags are used to indicate which character is speaking, and they are yet another common mark of authorship that you'll want to limit when working in Deep POV.
Certain tags are so commonplace that they're nearly invisible to the reader and thus don't harm a Deep POV narrative (e.g. said, asked, replied). But most tags, or the overuse of common tags, can pull readers out a story.
Fortunately, limiting dialogue tags is fairly easy. In many cases, you can simply allow your dialogue to stand on its own. In an instance where the identity of the speaker is unclear, using an invisible dialogue tag or an action tag is a quick solution. Use the examples below to see this technique in action:
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 you okay?” she asked.
“I’m fine,” John whispered weakly.
"You don't sound fine," she chided, examining the gash. Just then, the earth once more began to buckle. "Get down!" she cried.
In Deep POV
A sob of relief broke from her lips as she eyed the length of State Street. Only a few paces away, John stood, trembling but alive. She ran.
"Are you okay?” She probed at a small cut on his forehead.
She frowned. "You don't sound fine." His voice was taut and gasping, thin as a reed, but she didn't have time to question him. "Get down!" she cried, pulling him close as the earth began once more to buckle.
See how I cut three dialogue tags without compromising the clarity of the example? I chose to keep the final tag as I felt it lent the best flow to the narrative, but even that could have been cut without confusing readers.
#4: Make the most of showing and telling.
Generally, I feel the phrase "Show, Don't Tell" is misunderstood. Telling has its place in prose and is likely used more often than you realize. But where this common phrase comes in handy is in description. As Anton Chekov said, "Don't tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass."
Showing readers what your point-of-view character is seeing and experiencing is a valuable opportunity to dive deeper into their point-of-view. What a farmer would notice upon entering a city would be vastly different from that which a city-dweller would notice.
Make the most of this opportunity by defining not only what your character would experience, but by writing that experience into the narrative in a way that rings true to your character's voice. And speaking of voice...
#5: Delve deep into your character's voice.
Subjective storytelling limits the narrative to a single point-of-view character at a time, but subjective storytelling and Deep POV aren't one and the same. The latter affects the style of a writer's prose deeply.
If you choose to write in Deep POV, you aren't writing about your point-of-view character. You are writing as them. Thus, their language, their beliefs, their knowledge, and their worldview should all have a massive impact on your narrative style. This is why developing their voice is absolutely key.
#6: Avoid Passive Voice.
Passive voice indicates that the subject of a sentence is being acted upon rather than taking action. Like telling rather than showing, passive voice certainly has its place. But in many cases, writing in passive voice takes the perspective away from your point-of-view character.
Take the following sentence for example:
"Her shoulder was crushed by the beam."
In this sentence, the character's shoulder is the subject, and it receives the action of the verb: was crushed.
Flipping this sentence into active voice, and thus keeping your character's perspective at the heart of the narrative, simply involves a little rearranging:
"The beam crushed her shoulder."
See how this sentence is more immediate? It keeps the point-of-view character squarely in the middle of the action and in the present moment.
If you aren't sure if you're using passive voice, try writing "by zombies!" after the verb in your sentence (e.g. "Her shoulder was crushed by zombies!"). If the sentence makes sense, you're likely using passive voice.
As you can see, writing in Deep POV is immediate and personal. It tosses readers right into a character's world and urges them to experience every rollercoaster emotion along the way. But Deep POV won't be the right narrative choice for every story.
Because of its close subjective nature, Deep POV can be extremely limiting and may not be a natural fit for many writers' stories or personal writing styles. This is okay. Above all else, finding the narrative voice, tense, and perspective that feels right for you and your story is key. Some styles may be more popular than others, but that certainly doesn't make them any better.
Find the style that works best for your story, then rock it without a second thought, writer. That confidence will exude through every line and every page — and readers will take notice!