Posted On February 23, 2012 by Print This Post

A Deep POV Refresher Course with Elisabeth Staab

Elisabeth Staab is a fellow member of the Washington Romance Writers and a friend.  She’s beta-read my books, given me advice on my publishing career and generally helped me out whenever asked. But, some of the best conversations we’ve had have been about craft.  She’s always trying to learn more, to improve her work and she’s always happy to share what she know.  Welcome Elisabeth!

Faster! Harder! Deeeper! A Deep POV Refresher Course By Elisabeth Staab

I had an ex who was an avid motorcyclist, and he was always preaching the good word of motorcycle safety. When you’re on a crotch-rocket that can hurtle down the road at 120+ mph, I guess there’s no such thing as too much safety. He always said no matter how long you’d been riding, a refresher on motorcycle safety could still help your riding experience.

Like safety rules to any motorcycle owner, most authors have enough knowledge of deep POV that we can take it out for a spin. Maybe we’ve been writing for awhile and we’re comfortable loading our fictional boyfriends onto the back and heading down the highway for the duration of an entire novel while the cool wind rushes through our hair. But there are new riders on the road every day who just blink and stare when we say “show, don’t tell.” I get questions about it all the time.

So let’s all put on our helmets and tool around the agility course together, shall we?

We bandy all these terms about: deep POV, show vs. tell, limited third. What does it all boil down to? Getting your reader all up in the head and emotions and the body of the character so they experience—really experience—what the character is going through. Don’t just give readers description; grab ‘em by the guts and make ‘em feel it.

Help us to really know your characters and what they’re going through. Bob felt scared? Let us experience Bob’s fear. Did his blood go cold? Did the hair stand up on the back of his neck, but he gripped his plasma gun tighter and soldiered forward? Did he shiver and shake? Sob and wet his pants? Not only does getting deeper into Bob’s point of view enhance the reader’s visceral experience, but it gives us valuable information about Bob as a character.

Now, I should say that some of this is personal style preference, but I try to stay away from using “knew,” “thought,” and “wondered.” If I’m in Bob’s head, he can just know, just think, or just ask himself a question.

Some examples:

“Bob knew he was about to get his ass kicked.”

Deeper: “Bob was about to get his ass kicked.”

Deeeper: “Every muscle in Bob’s body tightened as he prepared to fight the beast. Fetid breath from a gaping maw blasted him in the face. He was about to have his ass handed to him, but he wasn’t goin’ down without a fight.”

Bob thought maybe it seemed like a good time to put the moves on Esmeralda.

Deeper: She’s had three Manhattans and her boyfriend’s having a smoke break. Now’s my big chance! Man, do I really have a shot with a two-tailed babe like her? Screw-this, I’m going for it.

Way to go, Bob!

The biggie, of course, is physical experience. Let’s go back to “feel.” I use it all the time, even though I know better. Search for it. You might be surprised. It’s your number one opportunity to get deeper with your characters. But don’t stop there. Look for subtle stuff. “It was so gross, he nearly threw up,” for example. But did his gut clench or heave? Did bile rise in his throat? Was there a cold sweat or a creepy-crawly sensation on his skin? “She was so tired,” says very little. Was she woozy? Hardly able to hold herself up? Hallucinating dancing bears from her exhaustion? We want to take the same ride your character is taking.

Let’s think about that motorcycle again for a minute. Let’s imagine our hero Bob, astride a Triumph Rocket III:

Bob’s pulse thrummed in time with the roar of the 2300 cc engine. His fingers gripped the handlebars, his thighs hugging tightly to the engine as the vibrations tingled in his special, manly places. But oh, no! The Miata in front of Bob slammed on its brakes with a screech and a squeal, and Bob had to do the same. He nearly flew tush over handlebars in an effort to avoid kissing that Miata’s shiny chrome bumper. His heart leapt so far into his throat he nearly bit it in half. His mouth turned dusty like the Sahara. His breath stuttered. His gut twisted and heaved. Holy bleep. Adrenaline flooded through Bob’s body and he shook like crazy, head spinning over the near miss. In fact, that ticker of his might fly right the hell out of his chest any second. Then where would he and Esmeralda be?

I refer to Bob’s heart and pulse quite a bit there, don’t I? It’s easy to fall back on mentioning what the heart and lungs are doing when we describe a character’s physical reaction. Those physical responses tend to be most obvious. The sighs, the pulse ticks. Again, I challenge you—and myself—to go further. Are the toes curling? The fingers twitching? The palms itching? Okay, now I’m just trying to make stuff rhyme, but I think you get the idea. Just remember that your character can’t see what happens to their own body from, say, the neck-up, so if something happens you have to describe a physical experience to go with it.

And lastly, it is my opinion that you should stay in a single character’s head per scene. It makes it so much easier to stay with what your character is feeling—to stay deep—and it keeps the reader from getting confused.

I also get asked a lot for authors who write deep POV well. Whenever I’m in doubt, I read Suzanne Brockmann. She’s my go-to for a lot of craft technique, deep POV included. When Jules walks away from Robin in Hot Target, my chest aches like someone cracked it open with a crab splitter and a wooden mallet and did a poor job of sewing it back together. Every time. That’s what I think we’re all trying to accomplish, ultimately. Lots of fantastic writers who do it well and I’d love to hear other suggestions—but she remains my fave.

Okay, thanks so much, folks. You’ve been awesome. Happy writing, everyone.

***

Whew! I feel like I took that ride with Bob.  Any questions about DEEP POV?  Other craft questions?

Tomorrow Alex Kidwell and Robin Saxon, partners in writing and life, share the secrets to writing as a team.

***

One commenter will be chosen to win a signed, paperback copy of my novel King of Darkness:

ETERNAL COMMITMENT IS NOT ON HER AGENDA…
Scorned by the vampire community for her lack of power, Isabel Anthony lives a carefree existence masquerading as human–although, drifting among the debauched human nightlife, she prefers the patrons’ blood to other indulgences. But when she meets the king of vampires this party girl’s life turns dark and dangerous.

BUT TIME’S RUNNING OUT FOR THE KING OF VAMPIRES…

Dead-set on finding the prophesied mate who will unlock his fiery powers, Thad Morgan must find his queen before their race is destroyed. Their enemies are gaining ground, and Thad needs his powers to unite his subjects. But when his search leads him to the defiant Isabel, he wonders if fate has gotten it seriously wrong…
King of Darkness is available from Amazon, B&N, and most other major retailers.

Get more info at ElisabethStaab.com

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Discussion

39 Responses to “A Deep POV Refresher Course with Elisabeth Staab”

  1. Great reminders and LOVED our examples :)

    Posted by ChristineWarner | February 23, 2012, 12:18 am
  2. Deep POV is pretty easy for me…I just go into my character’s head and write from there.

    Posted by D'Ann Linscott-Dunham | February 23, 2012, 12:23 am
  3. Elisabeth – do you think that Deep POV is easier depending on whether you write in 1st person or 3rd person? Which one if your preference?

    Thanks so much for being here today!

    Posted by Robin Covington | February 23, 2012, 5:38 am
    • Hi, Robin! Thank you for having me today and for the lovely, lovely intro! I hear that for a lot of writers deep POV is easier in first person. A trick sometimes for writers who find first deep first person easier but want to write in third is to write the story in first and then tweak the pronouns. I typically prefer to write in third person so that’s easier for me, because it’s what I’m accustomed to, I think.

      Thank you again for having me!

      Posted by Elisabeth Staab | February 23, 2012, 6:07 am
  4. Hi Elisabeth,

    Thanks for joining us at RU. Love the examples of deep and deeper POV. I’m such a visual person that way.

    Tracey

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | February 23, 2012, 6:40 am
  5. Hi Elisabeth,

    I hand the story over to the character and let her tell it. Lately, first person has been working for me.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | February 23, 2012, 6:57 am
  6. Morning Elisabeth!

    In response to your answer above about writing first in first person POV then switching it to third..I’d often wondered if that was possible. I can write SO much better in first, but everyone wants to read third. My dialogue and descriptions and FEELINGS are so much clearer in first, but I’d never thought to do it that way first, then switch it out.

    A whole new writing technique, right there in front of me!

    =)

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | February 23, 2012, 7:09 am
    • Hi, Carrie! I think sometimes it’s easier to connect with our characters psychologically when we’re saying “I” so it makes sense that you feel your writing is more vivid from that perspective. I would definitely give that technique a shot and see how it works for you. It might help you transition more easily to writing in deep third. If you plan to write in deep third over the long haul though, I’d say it’s probably ultimately better to get comfortable writing from that perspective. The more you do it, the more you’ll be able to connect with the characters just as you do in first person.

      Posted by Elisabeth Staab | February 23, 2012, 1:37 pm
  7. Hi Elisabeth,
    These are some great points. I love deep POV when it is done well. It really pulls me into the story.

    Posted by Laura Griffin | February 23, 2012, 8:01 am
  8. Good morning, Elisabeth! Thanks for being with us today. I tend to write in a close third all the time. It’s easier for me and I have a ton of fun with it.

    The thing I’m noticing is that sometimes it can be overkill. I’m in the middle of line edits now and I’m finding myself deleting some of my visceral responses because it’s almost too much visceral! Go figure. Have you ever had that happen?

    Thanks for a great post!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | February 23, 2012, 9:05 am
    • Adrienne, you’re absolutely right! Sometimes–especially in what’s supposed to be an emotionally charged scene–I find that I’m spending a little TOO much time on what the character’s body is doing, lol! I think this is one of those times when reading aloud, or having a program like Naturalreader helps me, because it lets me know when the whole thing sounds a bit awkward. That’s SUCH a good point though.

      Posted by Elisabeth Staab | February 23, 2012, 1:46 pm
  9. Is there such a thing as too deep? I love deep POV, but I find that there are some common phrases that completely pop me out of the story and nearly drive me to drink.

    One of them is “Where did that come from?” usually in a romance when one of the parties has an errant thought of attraction toward the other. Do average people really question themselves in this way? I don’t. I typically find that the sentence that follows, either an action or an “answer” to the question works just fine without the question.

    I had another example but my head cold/allergies has caused me to go blank.

    Posted by PatriciaW | February 23, 2012, 10:47 am
    • I’m so sorry you have a cold, I feel your pain. You make a good point. I think in every genre, romance in particular, certain habits become accepted as a standard practice. Even if they’re not great ones. And some things are subjective. That question might not pull every reader out of the story, but you’re right, it’s purpose it to create a “Wait? What?” kind of moment and that’s not always what we’re going for. And what you’re talking about of course, is another important facet of POV, which is the psychology and realism that’s so important. I appreciate having a really brilliant male critique partner because I write from the male point of view, but of course I’m not a man. And sometimes he calls me on things a guy would just never think or say, which is important. I took an EXCELLENT class from Carrie Lofty awhile back on the effective and realistic use of POV which is really worth checking out if she’s still offering it.

      Posted by Elisabeth Staab | February 23, 2012, 1:54 pm
    • “Where did that come from?” Good point, Patricia. I never ask myself that. I’ve read it before and it’s never pulled me out of a scene. Maybe because I’ve seen it so many times.

      Posted by Jennifer Tanner | February 23, 2012, 4:26 pm
  10. I actually just popped over to Carrie’s site and she IS still offering the class. Beyond Research: Stronger POV & Effective Use of Detail — I took this one while I was in edits on King of Darkness and it made my writing so much stronger. She goes into little details, like the fact that males notice fewer details than females. Highly recommended. http://www.carrielofty.com/Craft.html

    Posted by Elisabeth Staab | February 23, 2012, 2:01 pm
  11. Interesting post. I learn something new every day. Thanks for sharing.

    Posted by Tracey D | February 23, 2012, 2:52 pm
  12. Hello Elisabeth!

    Call me lazy, but writing in deep POV makes it easier for me to give the reader an idea of who the character is by showing their emotions and reactions, especially in the first chapter when I’m trying to introduce the locale, action and maybe another character in a scene.

    I just finished reading three books which were not written in deep POV. I enjoyed them, but it drove me nuts!

    Thanks so much for joining us at RU today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | February 23, 2012, 4:32 pm
    • Thanks for having me today, Jennifer! It definitely IS an easy way to introduce the character and show their emotions, but it takes a bit of extra thought and I suspect some writers aren’t even aware of the narrative distance they create. I was asked by a dear friend to beta read a manuscript and she had no idea how many times she used the phrases “Danny knew,” and “Danny felt” until I pointed out, and as you say it’s such an easy thing to get deeper and makes a WORLD of difference in the reader’s experience.

      Posted by Elisabeth Staab | February 23, 2012, 5:28 pm
  13. Thank you so much for this entertaining blog, Elisabeth! I normally despise POV blogs because they tend to be dry and preachy.
    I giggled through much of yours and it made such a wonderful impact on how I want to improve as a writer.
    Well done and thanks for bringing your sense of humor to this!

    Posted by Kelly Wolf | February 23, 2012, 5:03 pm
  14. Elisabeth – Thank you so much fro being out guest today!

    PatriciaW – you’re the winner! drop me a line at robin@romanceuniversity.org.

    Robin

    Posted by Robin Covington | February 23, 2012, 8:50 pm
  15. Oh my gosh, how did I miss this? Great blog!!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | February 24, 2012, 12:21 am
  16. Hi Elisabeth,

    I really enjoyed your post–very informative! I was wondering if you could touch on something I struggle with: when writing in deepest third POV, what’s the difference between legit deep thoughts and authorial intrusion? When do I put thoughts in italics versus not needing to because I’m in deepest third POV?

    This might be too much for a comment, but any insight or directing to other sources would be greatly appreciated! (By both me and my editor, who would prefer it to be done right the first time, I’m sure.) ;)

    Thanks!
    Pipe

    Posted by Piper Trace | February 24, 2012, 8:26 am
    • Hi Piper, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! This is a tough call, because it’s sort of subjective. I think the better you know you’re characters, the better you’ll know when you’re staying true to their voice and when you’re butting in with your own thoughts. As you say, you’re already in deep third, you’re already in the character’s head, so anything you write in narrative is the character’s thought process by default. I don’t think there’s a cut and dried right or wrong answer, but I try to save direct thoughts in italics for things that I feel need to be highlighted for a particular reason. I need it to have a little extra “punch” and I want the reader to pay attention. I’m not 100% sure if I’m answering your question but I hope that helps. :) I don’t think there’s a “right” answer to this one exactly, though. I think the general wisdom is italics should be used sparingly, but beyond that I think it’s a bit subjective.

      Posted by Elisabeth Staab | February 24, 2012, 3:35 pm

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