Point of View, Dropping Down Deep

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I'm scheduled to give a topic chat at Writers' Village University on Deep Point of View (POV) on Sunday, October 6 at 8:00 PM EST. If you don't know what Writers' Village University (or WVU for short) is, it's something I've talked about before. It's a very large online writing university with a ton of educational programs that, for the money, cannot be beat. Currently, my co-teacher Von and I are giving a class on Writing the Hero's Journey and it is coming along quite nicely. I think it's going to be a big success (however we're only now coming up to the halfway mark, so I don't want to jinx it). If you don't know what a topic chat is, it's basically a bunch of people in a chat room, "listening" (or in this case, reading) while one person gives a lecture on a certain subject. Somehow the subject I got dealt was Deep POV. Luckily, once I started researching it, I realized Deep POV isn't nearly as foreign as it sounds. Indeed, it's the way I've been writing the past ten years.

In fact, a lot of people have been using it even longer than that. It's been around fifteen to twenty years, and nowadays, if you're reading fiction written in the third-person, odds are you're probably reading Deep third-person POV, so it shouldn't seem too foreign to you. Certain authors do it better than others. Stephen King is a master at it, but then, there's little he isn't a master at.

Let me try to give you a simple definition:

Deep POV is a third-person POV where you are as deeply entrenched inside the POV character's head as you can possibly go. It's almost exactly the same as telling the story in first person from that same character;s POV. What this means is that you are aware of all the charaacter's senses. You also know his or her thoughts, feelings, and everything else and it happens directly in the narrative.

Let's use an example to show the difference between regular "Old School" third-person POV and Deep third-person POV. I will write the same scene both ways and then we can go through and talk about the differences between them.

Old School Third-Person POV Version:

Martha noticed Sally had been watching her and Johnny while they kissed each other in the hallway during lunch hour. Until now, they had managed to keep their relationship a secret. Now, Martha thought, the worst person possible knows about our relationship. Sally was the worst person because Johnny had told Martha Sally still had feelings for him and kept trying to get him back even though he didn't want to date her anymore. They had broken up over a month ago. He had told Martha she was his girl now. Why couldn't Sally just leave Johnny alone?, Martha wondered.

Hearing the bell ring, Martha got her supplies from her locker and made her way to art class. Along the way, she saw two bullies picking on a younger student, trying to push him into a locker. She saw her friend Sasha sitting at one of the back tables and sat beside her. Sasha leaned over and said, "Sally's really mad and ready to fight you after school."

Having never been in a fight, Martha was nervous about this. What should I do? she worried to herself. If I run away everyone's just going to think I'm a coward. But if I don't, I'm just going to get the snot beat out of me. She knew Sally's reputation as a fighter. Martha felt a pit form in her stomach and slowly fill with dread as she watched the clock slowly tick toward the end of the school day bell.

# # #

Pretty standard stuff, right? Okay, now let's try the same scene, still in third-person but from Deep POV:

Deep POV Version:

Sally glimpsed Martha and Johnny kissing during lunch hour in the hallway, Martha was sure of it. So much for secrets, now the worst person possible knows about us. Sally wanted Johnny back even though they'd been broken up a month. Johnny wanted nothing to do with her. Martha was Johnny's girl now. Well... secretly.

The bell rang, ending lunch. Grabbing her art supplies, Martha headed to class, unsure of how she felt. Along the way, two older students pushed and shoved a younger one. His head was bruised and his cheek bleeding. They were trying to force him into a locker. Students could be so cruel.

In art class, Martha sat beside her friend Sasha. Leaning over, Sasha said, "Sally's really mad and ready to fight you after school."

Martha's pulse quickened. She'd never been in a fight. What should she do? If she ran home, she'd look like a coward and probably only postpone the inevitable. If she fought Sally, she'd get the snot kicked out of her. Sally was a fighter. She'd heard that lots of times.

A pit formed in Martha's stomach that slowly filled with dread, drip by drip, as the clock ticked away each second to the end of the school day bell.

# # #

So, let's compare the two.

Well, the first thing you'll notice is that both of them lock onto a single POV, so they are both obeying the POV rule precisely. They never waiver from the POV character. If you are writing and find that you do want to change your POV character, whether you're using the Old School POV method or Deep POV, do the switch after a chapter break or a scene break. And do not have too many POV characters in your books. By making your character a POV character, you elevate him or her in your reader's mind to the status of "main character" or, in the very least, "important character I should probably remember." Don't make your readers have to start juggling the ornate details of ten different characters. In most cases, a maximum of three to five is plenty. I usually have two or three. As usual, there are exceptions to this rule and you can break it if you have a good reason to. I once wrote a novel with fourteen different POV characters, but I was trying to write something resembling the movie Crash. I should point out that novel has not yet sold (although there is publisher interest).

So locking the POV is something they do the same.

What do they do that's different?

A major difference is the amount of stage direction in each piece. You will notice the Deep POV has little to none interferring with the narrative, whereas the Old School version is full of it. What do I mean by stage direction? Phrases such as:

  • Martha noticed
  • Martha thought
  • Martha wondered
  • she saw her friend Sasha sitting at one of the back tables
  • she worried to herself
  • Martha felt

I'm sure there is more in the first version, but these ones pop out at me immediately.

The second example gets away from alll this stage direction because it's unneeded. It's assumed due to the fact that we're so deeply and firmly fixed inside the Martha's head. We know she's noticing and seeing and thinking and wondering without having to tell the reader that she is. We even know an actual internal thought simply by putting it in italics. It doesn't need a tag. I've shown this in action in the first paragraph. Then In the second to last fact, I simply stated her thoughts directly through the narrative right into stream of conscious, even leaving out the italics. You can use either.or and you can also use a variety of both in the same book. Deep POV allows for a lot of flexibility. If you put the thoughts in italics, they should probably be in present tense. If you put them in as stream of consciousness, they should probably match whatever tense the rest of your book is written in.

What is the result of this lack of stage direction and direct access to thought?

The result is prose that is much more snappy, responsive, clean, and clear.

Another huge advantage Deep POV has over Old School POV is direct access to the character's perceptions, feelings, and ability to editorialize on what she experiences as she experiences it.

Take a look at this section of the Deep POV version and you'll see what I mean:

The bell rang, ending lunch. Grabbing her art supplies, Martha headed to class, unsure of how she felt. Along the way, two older students pushed and shoved a younger one. His head was bruised and his cheek bleeding. They were trying to force him into a locker. Students could be so cruel.

If you compare this with the Old School POV version you will see this one has much more direct action. The students fighting simply fight, without any interruption due to stage direction. But the important part is the last line. "Students could be so cruel." We get to see Martha's reaction to this outburst without so much of a "she thought" tag or anything. It simply becomes part of the prose, part of the narrative. We are completely immersed in the world as Martha sees it. Take a minute to consider this, because it's important. Suddenly, you are seeing the world through not only the eyes of your characters, but also their judgment and discriminations. This gives you an infinite possibility for characterization and a slew of ways to define characters and character traits without so much as doing anything more than simply writing narrative. And you get all of this because the reader is privy to the characters thoughts and feelings because you've placed them so deeply inside the character's head.

I want to end this discussion on Deep POV with a somewhat unrelated point although it may be an issue for you mystery writers out there, especially if you're writing in Deep POV.

The golden rule in mystery writing is: You can't hide information from the reader.

So, if you're inside the killer's head, your reader's going to know he's the killer. That is, unless your killer has schizophrenia or amnesia or somehow doesn't remember committing the murder. I say this because, if you're trying to keep the bad guy a mystery don't make him a POV character. Sometimes, authors know this and follow it to a T to the effect that you can figure out whodunnit by simply realizing which character hasn't been given a POV yet. They just point to that character and say, "Aha! You must be the villain!"

And, of course, they're right.

Michael out.

About Michael

I'm am an award-winning author of many short stories and novels. My Alvin series of mystery novels are published by Kensington, NY. I am just putting the final polish on book four, STICKS AND STONES. The first book of the series, DREAM WITH LITTLE ANGELS, was highly lauded by fans and critics and received a STARRED review on Publisher's Weekly as well as some incredibly positive blurbs by New York Times bestselling authors Lisa Jackson and Deborah Crombie.

4 thoughts on “Point of View, Dropping Down Deep

    • It real­ly does. Some­times I find myself over-tired or some­thing and I’ll miss an obvi­ous piece of stage direc­tion, but gen­er­al­ly those sorts of things stick out like a fly on a din­ner plate dur­ing sec­ond draft.

  1. Pingback: Proposals: The Bugbear of Writers | Michael Hiebert

    • I com­plete­ly agree on all points. I do the same thing. I copy my out­line over to my work­ing copy and have to change all my tens­es. I also write all my char­ac­ters in deep POV, giv­ing one first per­son usu­al­ly and the rest third per­son. Occa­sion­al­ly, I will write the entire book in first per­son.

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