Hey, writers. Perhaps you’ve heard that deep point of view is all the rage. Agents and editors want it and readers, supposedly, are begging for it.
Deep point of view is intense. It not only represents the sights, sounds, and actions filtered through a point of view character, but goes deeper into emotions and the character’s unique worldview. The character owns the page and the author becomes nonexistent, which allows the reader to live vicariously through the actions, reactions, and emotions of a character.
If you’re like me, you don’t instinctively know how to go deep.
The key to deep point of view is understanding the rules, the tricks, and the tips for getting deep and then using deep point of view to empower your story.
Make your tags disappear
While speech tags clarify a speaker, they are blips on the deep point of view radar, reminding the reader he is reading and not living a story. In deep point of view tags are often replaced by action, body language, voice description, and emotion.
Replacing your tags makes the story feel genuine. How the words are said and the actions behind the words act as subtle cues to reveal more about a character, his emotional state of mind and the story.
Consider the more familiar distant point of view. A character is upset about something:
“Let’s not talk about it,” he said.
You really can’t tell much about the character’s state of mind. He could be serious. He could be lying. He could really want to talk, but wants to be convinced. We just can’t tell.
In a deeper version on distant point of view, the character might say:
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said, shredding the napkin.
Shredding the napkin gives a clue that whatever he doesn’t want to talk about is upsetting him. However, that he said isn’t only a blip, reminding the reader he is reading. He said also becomes redundant. Reading rules tell us that if dialog is in the same paragraph as the character’s action, then the action character is also the speaker. You don’t need both.
But we can go even deeper:
“I don’t want to talk it.” He tore a long strip from the edge of the napkin, turned it 90 degrees and tore another strip from the new edge. He did this repeatedly until a pile of paper curlicues rested on the tabletop.
This POV tells a lot more. The character is focusing on something other than the person he’s talking to. He’s creating a mountain between them. Time passes in silent contemplation. It sets a mood and a pace.
Make your thought and sense words disappear
Everyone tells you to get rid of those filter words, but they rarely say why. Thought and sense words are telling words. They pull bac the curtain of author string-pulling. They also create a distance between character and reader. They are disingenuous to the “real life experience” of deep point of view.
Most of us never think I’m thinking or I’m wondering if I’ll get a raise. If you’re truly in deep point of view, your character won’t either. He will think. He will wonder. He will see, hear, feel, but he won’t add the filter words. He’ll just do it.
In the distant point of view, a character feels the pain shoot through his gut and wonders if he was going to die. The reader remains distant. He hears what the character’s thoughts are but doesn’t feel what the character feels. He doesn’t think what character thinks. He is told about these feelings and thoughts and as a result there is a filter between the reader and character … hence, they’re called filter words.
Deep point of view would put the reader inside the character’s head.
Pain shot through his gut, and he clutched his stomach. This was it. He was going to die.
There’s no thinking or wondering. The reader knows what’s happening and is pulled in deep.
Understand your POV character
This is the best trick at all. The writer knows their character better than anyone else. We know our character’s voice, their favorite phrases, their unique worldview, their body language and their trademark rabbit-chases. Make use of that. Sit down with your character and see if you discover anything new.
How does she carry herself? How does she walk? What chair would she chose? How does she sit? Note her body language. Think about what this is telling you about the ‘who’ of this person.
Is she approachable? Will you dive into your questions or ease into these questions? How does she make you feel?
Ask her the following questions and write down her answers. Try writing the answers in her voice, capturing her words, her phrases, her syntax, her unique world view. Pay attention to her body language as she speaks.
- Who are you?
- What do you want more than anything?
- How far would you go to get it?
- Why is what you want so important?
- How do you feel about the people in your life? This could be story time people or past people. Both will reveal a great deal about the ‘who’ of the character.
- How do you feel about the people in your life?
- How do you feel about yourself?
Understand your POV character’s worldview
A worldview is shaped by experiences and expectations of self, life, and society. In any given situation a person/character brings those aspects to life in facing a new situation. How he will face or describe each situation or place will be colored by his worldview.
Let me give you an example. Several years ago, my husband and I went to dinner with my sister-in-law in Boston. He and I had two distinctly diffrent experiences that night based on our different backgrounds.
I was thoroughly captivated by the city — the colors, the tall buildings, the lights, the crowded sidewalks … it was a thoroughly fun experienced until we neared the MTA station and a group of about seven men were hanging around in the shadows. The man sitting out in the light asked Brad for some change and he reached into his pocket and realized that he didn’t have anything to give him. Suddenly, the dark shadows moved toward us and for a moment, I thought we were going to die.
Brad, having grown up in New York City, actually spent most of the evening with his head on a swivel, concerned about the dark corners and people who had absolutely no sense of personal space. As we approached the MTA, he saw panhandlers … not thugs. And when he realized he didn’t have any money to give them, for a moment, he thought he might have to fight for our lives.
He looked right at the leader of this squad and said “I don’t have any money, but you really want to let us go.” At that moment, I felt the energy of the little plaza turn. The leader of the panhandlers had his power taken away and somehow Brad became the commander because he knew that projecting an image of the willingness to go kamikazi would be enough to scare away a group of panhandlers.
My worldview was one from a society of politely armed individuals. Muggings are rare in Alaska because you never know who is concealed carry. We worry more about bears and wolves. My husband exists quite happily in this environment, but once in the big city, he dredged up his more jaded, paranoid persona and viewed many of the exact same things completely differently than I did.
Similarly, each character comes to a page with a particular worldview and by knowing that worldview you can manipulate the reader’s emotions and reading experience.
Keep in mind there are many more ways to explore deep point of view and there are many reasons to break the rules. That’s the great thing about writing. There isn’t just one way to tell a story. Explore the tips and tricks, discover more and then use what works for you and your story.