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Practical Tips for Perfecting Deep POV with Bestseller Jamie Beck
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
March 2019
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
March 2019

This guest post was provided by Jamie Beck, author of The Promise of Us

When writers discuss point of view, we’re talking about the narrator—the filter—through which a reader will experience a story. Accordingly, choosing the right POV (point of view) is one of the most important decisions we make. The two most common POVs in commercial fiction are first and third person (although occasionally a story might use both, with one character narrating in third and another in first).

First-person narration (“I”) is popular because it lets the reader step directly into the character’s head. On the flip side, that level of intimacy creates limitations precisely because it does not allow for any distance. The reader can never know anything that the narrator doesn’t know yet. Additionally, the narrator cannot keep secrets from herself, and therefore can’t keep them from the reader. Conversely, with third-person narration (“he/she”), what you lose in intimacy you might gain in story tension (a page-turning engine) because the reader can know story elements the protagonist does not yet know, so the reader’s anticipation can build as she sees a conflict brewing in the greater world. Third-person narration also allows the narrator to keep secrets through conscious avoidance of things a character doesn’t want to think about (i.e., vague references to things from past that suggest something ominous or interesting).

A third choice is to write in Deep POV (also known as close-third point of view). Deep POV is a technique that mimics the intimacy of first person—giving the reader a more dynamic experience—while reserving the benefits of third.  This narration offers a lot of flexibility in the storytelling. There are many tips for writing in Deep POV, and almost all tie back to character and word choice.

1. Know Your Character. First and foremost, you must know your character inside and out. Know her worldview and relationships with others (and why they are that way). Know what or for whom she would steal, lie, or kill to protect. Think about how she makes other characters feel, how she walks, sits, chooses a meal, etc. The myriad of details is important because everything written will be from her POV, which affects how she will experience and describe the story world (as opposed to how the author or omniscient narrator might). Here is an example of the same scene told from two different characters’ Deep POVs:

Example—Sue is at the beach with Bob, who wants her to go body surfing with him.

Bob’s POV:

     Bob dive-bombed the swell of an oncoming wave, swallowing a bit of saltwater through his Cheshire grin. He broke through the surface and slicked back his hair. Sue hadn’t left the shore but, man, she was rockin’ that red bikini. “Come on!”

     She shook her head. 

     The foundation of a huge wave forming behind him tugged at his body. “Booyah!”

     Time to paddle!

Sue’s POV:

     Sue curled her toes in the wet sand, her stomach roiling like the choppy sea. She let out a breath when Bob safely emerged from its depths ten yards offshore.

     “Come on!” He waved her in while he bobbed along the surface like a float on a fishing line. Human bait.

     She scanned the surface, searching for a dorsal fin. None at the moment, but she’d seen the worst before, and once was enough. Nothing—not even lust—would get her to go in that water.

Same setting, time, and scene, but two very different experiences for the character and the reader. That’s Deep POV.

2. Eliminate Filter Words. If you are aiming for Deep POV, you want your characters to act, not to talk about acting. Filter words such as thought, sensed, realized, felt, saw, heard, smelled, noticed, considered, regarded, wondered, hoped, watched, touched, and decided basically make your characters talk about acting. Not only does that slow the pace and insert distance between the reader and the narrator, but it also blunts a reader’s emotional response to an event. Scrubbing the filters from your draft will force you to rewrite sentences that spur your characters into action.

3. Show, don’t tell. This is important in all fiction writing, but is essential in Deep POV. Don’t label emotions. Use physiology to show the reader how your character feels, making sure to include all the sensory detail the character experiences in the moment.

4. Be mindful of dialogue tags. Unless your scene involves more than two characters, the reader shouldn’t need many dialogue tags to follow the conversation. For the most part, replace dialogue tags with things such as action, body language, vocal description, and emotional insight.

5. Eliminate internal factual explanations. Real people don’t explain facts to themselves, so characters shouldn’t either. Here’s an example to illustrate this point. In the first version, the reader is listening to an explanation. In the second, the reader experiences the character’s direct thoughts and action. Note how much more intimate and immediate the second version reads even though it is still in third person.  

Before:

Bill opened the hall closet and stood on his toes to reach the box of vintage baseball cards. His grandfather had given them to him years ago. He hated to sell them now, but he had no choice. His son needed medication.

After:

Bill rummaged through the closet for his box of vintage baseball cards. He opened the lid and fingered them. The 1969 Topps Reggie Jackson RC#260—maybe $250. He dug further, pulse throbbing. Yes! The 1963 Willie Stargell RC#553. Easily $750 to $1,000.  He put the lid on the box and made a sign of the cross before looking at the ceiling. Sorry, Pap, but Jonah needs his meds.

6. Limit character knowledge. While you don’t have to be as strict with this as you would in first person, you should remain mindful of what your character knows at any point in the story. If writing in Deep POV, characters can make guesses about the story world and future. They can also talk to and ask questions of themselves. Don’t overuse these tools, though. Too many internal questions kill pacing and can come across as artifice. One strong question is better than endless musing. For example:

Before

     Beth’s hand trembled as she bent to retrieve the trashy, unfamiliar gold-and-rhinestone earring on the floor by her bed.

     “Mama!” Sally called from her crib in the next room.

     “Hang on, honey.” Beth picked up the cheap, flimsy hoop. Was Bill cheating, and if so, with whom? Should she confront him? Should she leave? Where would she go?

After:

     Beth’s hand trembled as she bent to retrieve the trashy, unfamiliar gold-and-rhinestone earring on the floor by her bed.

     “Mama!” Sally called from her crib in the next room.

     “Hang on, honey.” Every hair on her body stood on end. I knew it! The stupid hoop—a cheap, flimsy thing—sparkled in the sunlight like it was laughing at her. Was its owner out there somewhere laughing at her, too? Her stomach burned as if she’d been force-fed a ball of wasabi.

“Mommy!”

Beth laid the jewelry on Bill’s pillow, grabbed a suitcase, and went to Sally’s room.

In the second example, there is more action, a better sense of Beth’s personality, and the single question is pointed and painful, which forces an emotional response from the reader.

7. Eliminate a character’s “teaching.”  Make sure your character isn’t teaching a lesson, teaching the reader about the setting, or “seeing” herself in a scene. If she’s baking something, don’t have her describe her actions the way a home-economics teacher would. Similarly, when your character enters any setting, filter the description through what is important to her so it doesn’t feel like a lesson. For example, when I enter my kitchen, I notice the coffee grounds my husband didn’t rinse down the sink, or the phone charger that is missing. When my kids come in, they go straight to the pantry and notice what snacks aren’t there. When strangers walk in, they notice the marble counters or the glass display cabinetry. And finally, unless the character is looking in the mirror, she can’t see herself blush (but she can feel the heat in her cheeks).

8. Choose verbs, adjective, adverbs and comparisons that show judgment and sound like a character, not a narrator. The point here is that you want the words and world to be unique and realistic, and to flow from the characters. If you use objective words and descriptions that could come from any character, you’ve moved away from Deep POV. People make judgments about everything from the quality of the lunch they ate, to the housekeeping skills of someone they visit, to a celebrity hairstyle, so characters should also have judgments and opinions about the story world and other characters.

9. Match Internal Dialogue to External. Internal dialogue is a chance to reveal the character’s innermost fears and beliefs. When you use it, the tone and cadence should match the way that character speaks. If it doesn’t, the internal dialogue will sound like it’s coming from the author, which will pull the reader away from the character.

10. Make spare use of the POV character’s name when in his/her POV. No one refers to himself in the third person (unless he is Jimmy from Seinfeld). Accordingly, go through each scene and replace references to the POV character’s name with the appropriate pronouns wherever you can do so without creating confusion.

11. Don’t break the Fourth Wall. This is a stage term for how the actors pretend there is a wall between the audience and stage. As soon as a character starts talking to the audience, the close narrative distance is destroyed because the reader is thrown outside the story where he becomes a spectator. Unless you have an excellent reason for doing talking directly to the reader, don’t!

The careful application of these techniques should help you write in close-third point of view. But remember that, even in Deep POV, you’re never limited to only one narrative distance. You can begin with a wide narrative distance as a setup before moving in to focus on the events involving a character. You can also then draw back again to relay information about the story world known only to the omniscient narrator before moving closer to the events surrounding another major character.

I hope these tips help if you’re using Deep POV in your work-in-progress. Good luck.

About Jamie

National bestselling author Jamie Beck’s realistic and heartwarming stories have sold more than one million copies. She’s a Booksellers’ Best Award and a National Readers’ Choice Award finalist; and critics at Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist have respectively called her work “smart,” “uplifting,” and “entertaining.” In addition to writing, she enjoys dancing around the kitchen while cooking and hitting the slopes in Vermont and Utah. Above all, she is a grateful wife and mother to a very patient, supportive family.

For fun tips, exclusive content, and a chance to win the monthly birthday reader box, please sign up for her newsletter at jamiebeck.com.

Jamie also loves interacting with everyone on Facebook at www.facebook.com/JamieBeckBooks.

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