Writing in Deep Point-Of-View


I attribute most of my confidence in writing not to Peter Robinson of DCI Banks fame or the talented Scottish author Karen Campbell who were my first mentors and assured me that I could write, but to my Swanwick family who have supported me and encouraged me in the bad times as well as the good ones. It is because of my years at Swanwick Writers' Summer School that I feel able to offer advice on writing now.

Today, I want to look at writing 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 characters in depth is key. The better you know your characters, the more personal your narrative will be.


Once you've taken the time to develop the characters in your novels, 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 that allows you to get inside your character’s head is to accept 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 does not already know them, you either have to add a second point-of-view, add an extra scene to inform them or work in a different narrative style.

2: Cut Fliter 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. Limiting dialogue tags is 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.

"Fine."

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 you can remove 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


I feel the phrase "Show, Don't Tell" is often misunderstood.


Telling has its place in prose and is likely used more often than you realise. But where this common phrase comes in handy is in description. Anton Chekov was the master of deep point-of-view and he 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. For example 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 the character's voice is paramount.

6: Avoid the 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.


Conclusion


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 bear in mind that Deep POV won't be the right narrative choice for every story.


Deep POV has a close subjective nature, and can be extremely limiting so it 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!


Val Penny


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