Some stories put distance between you and the characters. Perhaps you never learn the main character's name, or the character's thoughts are never revealed. Other stories pull you strongly into the world and viewpoint of a character. Whether an author lets you view characters up close and personal or only from a distance is a choice, with no right or wrong. However, close distance—sometimes called "deep point of view" (deep POV)—can make readers like the story better because they personally experience events and emotions with the characters.
Deep POV is distinct from whether the story is told from first-person POV (each scene told only from the viewpoint of "I"), second-person POV (each scene told only from the viewpoint of "you"), third-person POV (each scene told only from the viewpoint of he, she, or it), or omniscient POV (third-person POV, but with viewpoints of multiple characters within the same scene). Although some authors view deep POV as a variety of third-person POV, it can be used with first-person or second-person POV as well.
Deep POV took me a long time to understand, and I still find it difficult to execute. At its essence, however, deep POV overlaps with that most basic rule of writing: Show, don't tell.
Rather than tell you any more about deep POV, I'll show you some example sentences and how they can be changed to reduce the distance between reader and character.
Mary wondered whether the cat was still in the house.
Distancing words: "Mary wondered whether," "the cat"
New sentence: Was Puff still in the house?
Mary could see Puff leaping in the air to catch a cricket.
Distancing words: "Mary could see"
New sentence: Puff leapt in the air and caught a cricket.
In the above two examples, we are in Mary's POV, so there's no reason to mention that Mary saw, smelled, tasted, heard, touched, thought, decided, or wondered something. Doing so only reminds readers that they are not truly experiencing what Mary experiences.
John felt as though he couldn't breathe.
Distancing words: "John felt as though"
New sentence: John couldn't breathe.
John thought he might throw up.
Distancing words: "John thought he might"
New sentence: John's stomach roiled.
John felt sad.
Distancing words: "John felt"
New sentence: Tears welled in John's eyes. OR Grief bowed John's shoulders. OR John picked up the phone to call Mary, then set it down and sought the comfort of his easy chair instead.
In these examples, the author tells us that John experiences an emotion or sensation. The revisions are more intimate: We see John's experience. In the suggested revisions for the third example, we see his response to his emotion, which also deepens characterization.
One could write a book on deep POV. (I'm surprised no one has.) I can't do the subject justice in one blog post. But I can list some warning signs that you aren't in deep POV.
✥ If you imagine your scenes as if you're watching a movie, you may be too far away. Put yourself inside the POV character, looking out of their eyeballs. The deeper you can burrow into their mind and body, the easier it will be to write from the character's perspective.
✥ You name emotions such as anxiety, anger, joy, or fear. For intimacy, show how the character responds physiologically or acts in response to the emotion without naming the emotion itself. Some writers recommend showing the physical reaction to an event first, then the character's thought about the event, and finally the action the character takes.
✥ You use "telling clauses" such as "he felt," "I heard," or "she saw." Instead, dispense with such introductions and show what happened instead.
✥ You provide information the POV character already knows and would not think about, such as her hair color or how to ride a horse or how mail is delivered in her time period.
✥ Characters' thoughts or dialogue reflect your perspective or knowledge. For example, a person from the Midwest sees a ship for the first time and describes it using the correct nautical terms. Or, a teenager thinks about his mother as "Jane Smith" instead of as "Mom." Or an average person knows the chemical composition of their prescription drugs.
✥ Characters' thoughts are in your authorial voice instead of in the voice they use for talking.
✥ Description stands on its own. When possible, provide description through your characters' physical and emotional interaction with their environment. For example, "Deanna's hair was the same bright copper that Mother's had been. John closed his eyes. She had been buried with a baby-smooth skull, courtesy of chemotherapy."
Can you think of other clues that an author may be unknowingly distancing the reader?
The Novel Spaces blog has some exciting changes coming soon. Our posting schedule will change as a result. I do not know when I'll post next, but the topic will be avoiding POV mistakes. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy the new and improved Novel Spaces blog.