So, back when I was a wee writer, before this blog was even made and all my posts were on Tumblr, I talked about deep point of view. Pretty much everything I say in that post still holds true. Thought Verbs and Three Easy Steps to Deep POV are still two articles that are invaluable to developing an understanding of deep POV.
But to really get deep POV, we need to go deeper. (ba dum, tss)
Let’s start with what deep POV is. Deep POV is drawing as close to your POV character as you can to give the reader the most immersive experience possible. And wording it like that makes it sound like some magic trick, but that’s what the goal is. You want to create as little wall between your character and your reader. Yes this can work in both third person and first person. No you don’t automatically achieve this by writing in first person. It’s something you consciously do. Unless you’re McTalentpants and already do it.
Now, on the surface level, look at the words you’re using. I used to scoff at filler words. I thought that pretty little roses emerged from my butt as I plopped out new words and that since the sentence I crafted sounded right to me, that it was fine.
As you can guess, I was wrong.
To create as deep an immersion as possible, there are filler words that create distance between your prose and the reader. When you’re thinking throughout the day, do you ever think, “I thought,” “I said,” “I wondered?” No, you just do the thing. And by cutting these words, you enable more room for characterization, world-building, and movement–especially with things like dialog tags. (Watch a movie. Does anyone ever stay still while talking? Your scenes shouldn’t stagnate throughout a conversation, either.) If you want to go all out, here are a couple of giant lists to cut all the filler words. This is my personal list that I always start with:
was, is, even, see, hear, feel, think, just, very, up, down, seem(s), then, that, now, wonder, notice, begins, starts, get, walk, try, only, like, as if, of, really, forward, backward, had, find
Obviously, change tense if you’re in past/present/future/whatever. A couple of other things to watch out for that break reader’s immersion are scene breaks, and italicized thoughts in third person (you shouldn’t be using them in first, period–you’re already narrating from their head, unless you’re implying they never actually think). They’re meant to be used, but with purpose.
All right, now for the part that I didn’t mention in my previous post, and that the posts I link to don’t touch. Let’s go… deeper.
(Please don’t hurt me, I just like puns.)
Every sentence should be infused with your character’s voice. I’m sure you’ve heard this advice before, but rarely have I seen any practical applications of it. Yes, obviously make sure the word choice fits what your character would say. But that doesn’t make it sound like it’s coming from your character’s head.
I swear I’m not all ~hoity toity~ and ~special~ here. Just listing things in a character’s dialog makes it stiff. You might as well be playing a videogame (which I love and have worked in the medium before, but the immersion is different) rather than reading a book. For example, let’s take some action, since that’s the sort of scene that falls into this trap the hardest. I normally sigh when people put in excerpts of their own words as examples, but bear with me:
I kick, and he blocks. I raise my fist again, but he’s faster and gets in the next blow, knocking me down.
It gets the point across. There isn’t much voice, but it’s action, right?
You can do better.
You’re in this character’s head. There’s adrenaline and pain and emotion running through this character’s brain. Every scene, every sentence should have senses, and should have thought. I don’t care about a character that doesn’t care, that doesn’t think–most readers don’t. So you should be using every opportunity you can to show this. Bear with me again as I try to show you what I mean; let’s twist this two different ways.
Sweat drips, stinging in my eyes as I throw my foot forward. He blocks easily, wide grin visible despite my blurred vision. Breath ragged, muscles screaming, jab my fist at his gut–but he blocks it. Again. How am I supposed to prove myself against him? He’s what they say he is: indestructible. His knuckles meet my cheek, the taste and smell of iron flooding my senses. I’m on the ground before I can register falling, dirt caking against my face.
And for a different perspective:
Energy sparks through my body as I kick out–but she catches it. She’s bruised, bloody, half-broken, but she managed to block me. Me. Fire rolls through my veins and I swing, faster than anyone could block.
And yet she knocks my blow off course, nearly keeling over with the force of the blow.
Screw her. Screw this girl who thinks she’s better than me, who thought–
She moves, no flinching for all her wounds, no hesitation as she strikes her fist to my head. Nothing I can do before my world goes black.
Apologies for my trash writing. Now, the same series of events happen in both scenes. In one someone’s giving up, the other someone’s pissed, and hopefully that’s pretty obvious. Now go back and consider that first excerpt. The you get a sense of character through it? But you get any emotion? Any thoughts? I don’t. If we can’t even tell who’s winning, I say that’s a pretty crappy action scene.
I know this is rather nebulous, and it’s hard for me to give you direct advice without seeing your words first. but it’s important, vitally important. Most stories are character driven, and your character can’t drive anything if they aren’t thinking and feeling. So I want you to look at your work, scene by scene, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, and ask yourself what your character thinks and feels about what’s happening. Is it conveyed in the text, or is it in your head? Be sure you’re combining thinking and action–there are a million reasons behind a smile, but unless you specify that your character is forcing that smile to hide their doubt, or genuinely smiling because they love something, I have no way of knowing. Show me.
Deep POV is all about that immersion, getting your reader as close to the story and the character as possible so they’re invested and right there smack-dab in the story–no matter how uncomfortable it is, or how much more painful it makes the plot twists. The more emotion, the better.