Writing Deep POV


Writers of fiction hear the term “Deep POV” bandied about on writing sites and in critique groups. Brave writers will whisper, “Psst. What’s deep POV anyway?” Some say it’s leaving out obvious sensory info. Others point to lack of dialogue tags and close-up camera shots.

Writing Tip for Today: Let’s demystify Deep POV and see where and why its use makes sense.

Reader as Character

You’ve probably heard about using setting as a character, but the ultimate reader experience often transforms that reader into the character. The conventional trappings of what is called narrative distance fade away—that is, the author’s cues that the character is seeing, hearing or otherwise sensing something in the fictional world. Instead of “He saw the fire truck race down his street,” we read it as though we’re inside that character’s mind. “A fire truck screamed past, and—omg—turned onto his street.” The rewrite changes the emotions and brings them up closer. When you “see” something, you don’t remark to yourself (that often anyway) “Gee, I am seeing the table.” You simply allow your senses to note it. That’s the idea behind Deep POV. Instead of the narrative distance of standard third person viewpoint (as though readers are observing the story from a distance), deep POV puts readers inside that character. You’ll note that in my rewrite for deep POV, I changed the wording. That’s because to be successful, deep POV should reflect the character and her world. So you write in the same way that your character thinks. The idea is for all author intrusion to leave the building and readers are left entering the world the same way the old film “Tron” had people entering a video game.

Less Telling, More Showing

Deep POV has advantages over other viewpoints. For one thing, readers seem to love it. Readers want to be totally immersed in a story world, to experience the story in the most sensory way possible. Narrative distance keeps readers sort of following the action but not entering the character’s head with full intensity. The more telling a writer does, the greater the narrative (and emotional) distance is created. To be the character does entail removing those sensory cues as well as extraneous words such as she knew, he thought, she believed, he wondered, she felt, he noticed, for the same reason as the saw, heard, etc—these are “filter” words that are telling. Also, avoid naming emotions, instead showing us how these feelings impact the character. Shallow words produce a shallow story. Deep POV helps build a stronger connection between readers and characters and helps to create a feeling of urgency in the story. If you work on showing rather than telling (narration), you’ll see how your story changes. Deep POV can sometimes rescue a ho-hum story and give it the hook readers demand.

To Deep or Not to Deep

If you feel frustrated by all this business, I’d like to point out that not all stories are best served by deep POV. First-person POV fairly cries out for a deeper experience, but sometimes third-person POV works better without all that deep stuff. Highly skilled writers can employ third POV with a lot of narrative distance for effect and they can get away with it. One of my favorite writers, Gina Ochsner, does this with her magical stories and it really does work. Other times—such as in a story with rapidly revolving multiple POVs or when you need the POV of an evil, unsympathetic or unreliable character, readers might be happier without so much closeness. And in the end, it’s all about what kind of emotional reaction you, the writer, are aiming for. Readers polled don’t seem to care as much about whether the “she thought” is in the text or not as long as the story engages and moves. Yet because readers go ape over Deep POV stories, it’s a skill worth obtaining. Go deep, young writer!

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

5 comments on “Writing Deep POV

  1. Deep POV: Enjoying the short a thought came to mind. When formula writing one suggestion is, follow the formula. In that admonition we go to the bottom line – the work will appeal to the larger audience of that genre . The equal sign brings a positive balance in dollars. Sold some books, off to the USPS so I can get a check. dl

  2. Don, Good point. If readers expect a certain style (or formula) you give it to them. But I’ve read some genre novels where the writing was sneakily better than the formula (Terry Goodkind and Margaret Wiseman come to mind).
    Keep Writing!

  3. Pingback: Write Deep, Write True - Linda S. Clare

  4. I have differentiated between the protagonist’s own words and the narrator’s words, e.g., “omg” would be in italics and “turned into his street” would not. (I also use italics for non-English words.) However, members of my critique group don’t like italics, and feel it distracts from the flow of the story. It seems confusing to me if I don’t show the difference. He thinks with an Irish brogue, but when the narrator uses it, “so angry they were”, my critics say no, since they are not his exact words. I’m confused! Would appreciate your suggestions. Am going through your “12 Flaws” a second time! And there will probably be a third before I finish my revision.

  5. Marilyn,
    I agree that this can be confusing. Italics ARE distracting–use sparingly. But if you are in the POV head, “how angry they were” seems OK to me. Contact me over email if you need more help!
    Keep Writing,

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