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.
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.
- Other points of view.
- Distancing words.
- Voice inconsistencies.
First, other points of view.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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:
- Tips on Writing Deep POV by Barbara Wallace
- Going Undercover with Deep POV by Heatherly Bell
- On Lover’s Lips by Staci Troilo
- Writing with Emotion by Laura Drake
- Show and Tell Deep POV with Amy Ruttan