Posted On April 5, 2017 by Print This Post

The Devil’s in the Details – by Staci Troilo

Writing in deep POV allows the reader to get inside your character’s head. Author Staci Troilo returns with advice on avoiding common mistakes with deep POV.

Hi, everyone. Thank you, Romance University, for welcoming me back.

Today I want to talk about deep POV and the details that make it work. I suppose I could just as easily say it’s about voice and details, because the character’s voice is a key component to establishing POV.

Deep POV

You know those movies that start out with the camera panning the landscape or focusing on the file at the foot of the patient’s bed? Those kinds of effects are great for visual mediums, but they don’t work well in books. You see, while your attention is directed to something important you’ll need to know later, your POV character can’t possibly be witnessing it. She’s lying in a hospital bed, so she can’t see the notation on her file that says she’s pregnant. He’s in the barn combing his horse, so he can’t see the tornado winding its way toward the ranch.

Those opening scenes, and a myriad of others like them, break the number one rule of deep POV—they’re shown from a perspective that isn’t your POV character’s.

Establishing deep POV is crucial to get readers to empathize with your characters (click to tweet that).

What Takes You Out of Deep POV

There are three things that can quickly take you out of deep POV, and they’re sneaky little things that creep in when you aren’t looking. We’ll discuss them, and then we’ll talk about how to fix the problems.

  1. Other points of view.
  2. Distancing words.
  3. Voice inconsistencies.

First, other points of view.

The Problem

It doesn’t matter if it’s omniscient point of view (getting information from a source that knows everything in the story world) or another character’s point of view (head-hopping from one character to another in the same scene). Jumping out of your POV character’s head and into another’s violates the rule.

But rules were made to be broken, right? Doesn’t it make things more interesting?

It can. I mean, the only real rule in fiction is that there are no rules.

There are, however, best practices which we call rules. And the only people who successfully break them are the people who understand them and know when and how to break them. More often than not, head-hopping or letting an omniscient narrator intervene will jar the reader. It slows them down and takes them out of the character’s mind.

The Solution

This problem usually happens because you need to reveal a detail that your POV character doesn’t know. Look for places in your manuscript where you’ve veered away from your main character’s POV. Then figure out how to get back in the right mind.

  • The POV character can’t see/hear/experience that detail. Adjust things so she can. Let her receive a text, eavesdrop on a conversation, have a discussion with the person who has that information. There’s always a way to refocus to your main character and reveal details through her perspective.
  • No one knows this detail, but you’re trying to build suspense. You see this most often at the end of scenes or chapters to entice readers to keep reading. “Little did she know those words were the last she’d ever say to him.” You don’t need to do that. Let your scene stand with her slamming the door on his face. When he gets shot in the next chapter, the readers can find out right along with her and experience her mortification and regret in the same way she does. It will actually strengthen the reader’s bond with the character.

Second, distancing words.

The Problem

When we’re writing, we think we need to tell readers what’s going on inside our characters. We don’t. It’s actually either condescending to the reader, because you’re assuming they can’t figure it out on their own, or it’s lazy writing, and you didn’t want to take the time to write the scene the way it should be.

You can spot these problems easily. They usually begin with thought, felt, knew, etc.

The Solution

This harkens back to the “show, don’t tell” rule. Instead of telling the reader that your main character felt embarrassed, show her cheeks flame. Instead of saying she thought he was cheating on her, show her swipe at tears, throw him out, and slam the door behind him.

Many readers think that direct thought needs to be italicized (and switched to first person if the story is written in third). That’s not the case. The character is telling the story. Any thoughts she has are automatically hers, even without a visual cue like italics or a “she thought” dialogue tag.

Here’s an example from Mind Control, the second book in my Medici Protectorate series.

“Now, I want to cross all my T’s and dot all my I’s on this one. If John’s murder is tied to her abduction, I’m going to find out. So we’ll start at the beginning, even if it takes all day.”

“Abduction?” Vinnie asked. “Who said Mary was abducted? To my knowledge, she’s just missing.” Hell, she wasn’t even that. The Brotherhood knew where she was. At least, Mike did. She hadn’t been abducted. She’d been saved.

Too bad he couldn’t tell this asshole that.

Note the text doesn’t say, “He thought it was too bad that he couldn’t tell the asshole that.” Vinnie doesn’t even think, “I wish I could tell this asshole that.” Readers know it’s Vinnie who is thinking and wishing these things because they’re in his head. The extra cues are completely unnecessary and can actually distance the reader from the character if used.

Third, voice inconsistencies.

The Problem

As we write our stories, we basically just put to paper our thoughts. The problem is that the way we think and the way our characters think are two different things. For example, I’m creative. When I think of comparisons, I think in terms of the arts—words, music, symbols, etc. My husband, God bless him, is not creative. He’s very analytical, though. He thinks in terms of numbers, percentages, probabilities. (I’m cringing at the thought.)

All of our characters will sound the same if we only write them the way we think. And having a seven-year-old quoting Aristotle might make a quirky and memorable character, but more likely it’s just going to feel off. She’ll sound like a college professor. She’ll sound like you.

The Solution

Consider who your characters are. The best examples for your characters to use are ones that relate best to them. They’ll use references that their family members use, or they’ll think in terms of their jobs or their hobbies.

Here’s an example of career-themed thoughts from Mind Control. Jo, the POV character, works in construction.

If she thought Dave was clingy before, she hated to think what he would be like after he saw her in this get up. He’d be like sawdust in shellac. At least furniture could be saved with power tools, chemicals, and elbow grease. She didn’t know how she would save her sanity if Dave got more smitten than he already was.

Jo thinks in terms of her work. Sawdust in shellac is impossible to get rid of. And that’s the way she thinks about Dave and his unrequited interest in her. It would be far less realistic for her to think in terms of sports or cars or shopping. We stay in her head because her example doesn’t confuse us or knock us out of her personality and into a different one.

I far prefer reading stories in deep POV than in an omniscient voice or with head-hopping in the same scene. I like to immerse myself in a character—see what they see, feel what they feel—and there’s no better way to do that than in a character’s deep point of view.

They say the devil’s in the details. In this case, that’s probably true. Writing in deep POV seems simple until you start to write and realize your character can’t see what you need her to, or she’s telling rather than showing, or her analogies just don’t seem realistic. With a little extra work, you can beat those writing demons back and have a stronger story for it.

What’s your biggest challenge when writing in deep point of view?

***

MIND CONTROL

Three decades. Two continents. One secret that could cost him everything.

Too. Many. Secrets… and Vinnie Falco is buried in them. He works undercover day and night to keep watch over Jo Notaro, whose fiery temperament matches her boundless energy and unparalleled beauty. Jo is unable to withstand the endless scrutiny and constant surveillance, so when Vinnie’s ever-watchful gaze lingers too long, she can feel his touch—and she doesn’t know if she loathes it or loves it.

Vinnie’s job to watch Jo goes much deeper. He’s a vice president of an international corporation, a front for a secret organization—the Medici Protectorate—which continues a tradition going back nearly 500 years to guard the Medici line. Jo and her sisters are the descendants of the Medici and someone wants them dead.

But Vinnie has another secret he’s desperately trying to hide. A secret that could push Jo too far away for even him to save her.

***

Bio: Staci Troilo has always loved fiction, ever since her parents read her fairy tales when she was a young girl. Today, her interests are much more eclectic. She loves getting lost in sci-fi battles, fantasy realms, horror worlds, suspenseful intrigues, and romantic entanglements.

As goes her reading, so goes her writing. She can’t pick a single genre to focus on, so she doesn’t even try. She’s proud to say she’s a multi-genre author.

When she’s not reading or writing, she’s spending time with family and friends, possibly cooking for them, or maybe enjoying an afternoon in the pool. To learn more about her, visit her website or connect with her via the following links:

Web | Blog | Newsletter Signup | Facebook Group |
Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest | Google + | LinkedIn | Instagram |
Goodreads | Amazon Author Page | BookBub Page |

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18 Responses to “The Devil’s in the Details – by Staci Troilo”

  1. As a reader I rarely noticed these kind of things, I simply noticed one novel flow better and grabbed me more than another.
    Then I happened to read a romance where the author kept changing POV in the same scene, often several time in the same scene, and I thought “omg! This is so bad I want to tear my eyes off”.
    Horrified I went back to my writing searching for similar gross mistakes and even if I didn’t find anything so gross, I started noticing a lot of told instead of shown things.
    My main problem is still dialogue. I force myself to drop all the “he said” and “she thought” I can but sometimes it’s difficult to discern where they are needed to attribute an action or a sentence and when they are just the result of my freak-of-control nature.
    Thank you fir the great advice! I’m definitely going to apply this tips.

    Posted by Irene Aprile | April 5, 2017, 2:19 am
    • I’m glad you found this useful, Irene.

      Remember, dialogue tags can start to sound repetitive, but sometimes they’re necessary. Instead of using so many of them, try to mix dialogue beats in.

      For example, which do you like better?

      “How dare you?” she said. “I’ve never been so insulted in all my life.”

      “How dare you?” She threw the book across the room. “I’ve never been so insulted in all my life.”

      The first is a tag, the second a beat. The second gets rid of that pesky “said” while showing the character’s anger. Using more beats and fewer tags may help you. (Just don’t over do it!)

      Thanks for commenting!

      Posted by Staci Troilo | April 5, 2017, 8:23 am
      • My late professor of fiction at the University of Oklahoma, Foster-Harris, had a theory that writing was a highly-stylized form of drawing. He said that the same principles apply to either, in matters of light, shading, movement (what was the Mona Lisa doing just a moment before the instant of her picture?), and so forth. He also said that subtleties of light are picked up differently by the rods and cones of the eye, and so we see different things in the same drawing at the same time.

        Here’s, practically, what he meant: what some people call dialogue tags are what he called movement within the moment of the picture–the “what was the Mona Lisa doing, and so forth.

        So when a person is talking on the phone, he or she may grab the court, twist it around his or her fingers, may sip iced tea, scratch an itch, take a kiss from a child or spouse, and so forth. Those moments of movement add dimension to the written page, in whatever the written page is about. Your illustration about throwing a book across the room is exactly what he was talking about.

        As writing artists we can also add dimensions of smell, taste, feeling, and sight to the picture or movement within the picture. “What do you MEAN?” Brandi chirped as she jerked against the sudden itch on her foot. She reached for the irritation as Bradford explained what she would have to do to get transcript from the registrar. As he explained steps four through seven, she tightened her lips more at each point.”

        Finally, he noted that movies are guided by the same principles. Nothing is done in a vacuum. We enjoy heightened tension as the sniper, having laid in the Afghan desert for many hours waiting for his target to appear, closes his eyes and twitches nose against the itchy bead of sweat now rolling down his forehead.Each of those things could well be shown in our writing because they do indeed increase tension.

        Your illustration about throwing the book across the room made sense and sent me back to that OU classroom. (Beat Texas!)

        Posted by Jim Porter | April 5, 2017, 8:56 am
  2. Great post, Staci! Understanding and applying deep POV results in a much richer story.

    And I’m like you, I hate head hopping!

    Posted by Joan Hall | April 5, 2017, 6:29 am
  3. Excellent post, Staci!

    When my it comes to deep POV I make a point to go through my manuscript and comb for filtering words like “knew” “felt” etc. It’s easy to slip into that habit when writing, at least for me, so I try to be on the lookout for them.

    When I read, head-hopping always jars me out of the scene!

    Posted by Mae Clair | April 5, 2017, 6:40 am
    • “Felt” and “knew” used to be problems for me. Not “thought” so much. For some reason, that one didn’t show up as often. I still let some slip through. Careful revision helps, though, as you said.

      Thanks, Mae.

      Posted by Staci Troilo | April 5, 2017, 8:26 am
  4. Great post. I really enjoyed what you had to say.

    Could you provide clarification in one of your examples you provided for me? It’s this one:

    If she thought Dave was clingy before, she hated to think what he would be like after he saw her in this get up. He’d be like sawdust in shellac. At least furniture could be saved with power tools, chemicals, and elbow grease. She didn’t know how she would save her sanity if Dave got more smitten than he already was.

    You used two distancing words here: thought and knew. May I ask why you used them here, and why you shared this example with us that contains two distancing words? I’d really appreciate it. Thanks.

    Posted by Mercy | April 5, 2017, 7:53 am
    • Sure thing. (Great question, by the way.)

      Distancing words are like dialogue tags without the dialogue. They indicate thoughts or feelings, so they aren’t in direct quotes. (That’s why you used to see them in italics, but that trend has diminished in favor of only using deep POV.)

      If I were to intrude on that passage as an author using a distancing word, it would look like this:

      She thought, man, if I thought Dave was clingy before, I hate to think what he’d be like after he sees me in this get up…

      Now, there is an argument to be made that the passage you quoted could be tightened by eliminating those words entirely:

      If Dave was clingy before, he’d be a lot worse after seeing her in this get up…

      The problem with that is it’s out of Jo’s voice. That’s not the way she thinks or speaks. It’s not true to her character.

      So, sometimes, you have to make a decision about what “rule” you want to follow (and here we are back to the there-are-no-rules-only-best-practices thing). 1) Avoid distancing words and 2) Use character’s voice.

      For me, voice trumps pretty much everything. You might decide differently and go for a revision like the one I included above. It’s purely a writing/editing choice.

      But I’d definitely avoid saying things where the distancing words are clearly tags. (She felt embarrassed.) Instead, just show it. (Her cheeks warmed, and she hung her head.)

      Does that answer your question? I hope that helps.

      Posted by Staci Troilo | April 5, 2017, 8:38 am
  5. I now cringe if I read a book that is NOT written in deep POV.

    One mistake I see deep POV authors make is for the POV character to refer to another character by a generic term rather than whatever the POV character would call him. For example, if POV character John is talking to his cousin Rob, when we are in John’s head, he should refer to Rob as “Rob” and not “his cousin.”

    Distancing words: “Realize” is another red flag word. A good explanation of filtering (what you are referring to as distancing) is on Youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ToZorCVQeXo

    Posted by Ginger Monette | April 5, 2017, 12:03 pm
  6. Afternoon Staci!

    I love reading deep POV, mostly because you’re so THERE in the story. Applying it to my own work is another effort. =)

    My question is, do you apply deep POV right away, first draft? Or is this something you go back in and layer through the book?

    thanks for your post!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Peters | April 5, 2017, 2:09 pm
    • I personally find it easiest to write in deep POV from the very first word. I’m in my characters’ heads, so it just kind of makes sense to me to write that way.

      That doesn’t mean my method works for everyone. People who have trouble with deep POV might find it easier to just get the story on the page, then go back and tighten up the vague references and author intrusions.

      I guess you just have to do what’s most comfortable for you. I think writing that way to begin with saves a step and makes for faster writing/revising, but it might be a skill that takes a long time to master.

      Hope that helps!

      Posted by Staci Troilo | April 5, 2017, 2:43 pm
  7. I love reading scenes in deep POV. I even love writing them. Unfortunately, I haven’t mastered the latter. This post has been VERY helpful, and I’m doing my best to imprint these on my brain:

    Other points of view.
    Distancing words.
    Voice inconsistencies.

    Thanks so much, Staci!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | April 6, 2017, 8:24 pm

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