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.
“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.
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
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for February 20-24, 2012
- Weekly Lecture Schedule, February 11-16, 2013
- The Need for Speed with Elisabeth Staab
- 10 Ways to Create Vivid, Compelling Characters, by C.J. Redwine
- Mastering POV