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Saturday, May 21, 2011

CRAFT: How deep can you go? (Deep Point of View)

For a long time one of the techniques I struggled with in my writing was deep point of view. Some of my contest feedback alluded to it, many of the responses I received from agents and editors often sometime said “I felt distanced from your characters, I couldn't engage with them.”

And for a very long time I had no idea what they meant. It wasn’t until one judge gave me an example that I “understood”.

Being told over and over just doesn’t do it for me. I have to see a practical sample of work – before and after - to understand what something means. I need to see the details and how to do it before applying it in my own work.

(NB: I'm no expert at this. I'm just passing on a little of what I learned along the way in my own writing journey. It's the technique (aka the tool) I want you to take away from this post. OK?)

What is deep POV? Well, it’s like writing third person as if it was first person.

Linnea Sinclair defines it really well - "It's writing AS the character rather than ABOUT the character. Qualifiers like "he thought" or "she wondered" are dropped in favor of just writing what it was she thought or wondered about. It encourages a more intimate relationship between reader and character, almost like the reader is IN the character’s skin."

So, because I needed practical samples, and many writers prefer this learning style, here are some examples of what I mean.

ORIGINAL: She located the owner of the outraged voice.  A jeweller stood in front of his stall, hand grasping the back of a shirt worn by a small child.  As the child struggled in his grip, Nea saw the frightened face of a girl peer up at her captor.

TO: The jeweller stood in front of his stall grasping the back of a small child’s shirt.
"Get back here!" The child cringed at the growled order and fought to get free.
Nea’s heart pounded. Fists clenching, she pushed through the crowd. The trader was twice her size. There was no need to man-handle her. What had the child done to earn such treatment?

Rather than a "blow by blow" list of what happened (telling), the second example shows the action from a closer perspective. There's no "She located..." or "Nea saw..." - this serves to distance the reader from what's happening.

Removing them brings the reader in closer to the action. And see how the last two sentences also add that little bit more - a visceral reaction (automatic response generated by the body without conscious thought), and a question from Nea's point of view.

Let's take a look at another example...

ORIGINAL: Pointedly she raised her eyebrows at the firm hold he still had on the child.

TO: Her eyebrows raised at the firm hold he still had on the child.

Look at the words I removed from the first sentence - "Pointedly she raised her eyebrows...". Read the sentence out loud. Sound clunky? It sure does. Why? Well, the sentence starts with an adverb and then we have some more of those "distancing words" again.

So, let's look at the second example. I've taken out the adverb and the distancing words. (By the way, you'll hear a lot of people say to get rid of all of them, but to be honest, nothing says you can't have them in your work, just use them judiciously. If you can replace them with something else that makes a better impact, then do it.)

It might only be a simple one sentence edit but which one has more impact on you as a reader?

Another example...let me set the scene. Nea's been captured after helping two children escape some bad guys and she's on her way to prison.

ORIGINAL: Nea swallowed dryly.  This time there would be no escape.   The flutter of a curtain in the window of one of the nearby houses caught her attention.  She saw the scared face of a young child peering out over the sill, eyes wide as he watched the procession going by his house.  Her thoughts turned to Jarrod and Lani.  She hoped the children had escaped safely.  If they had it would make what lay ahead bearable.

TO:  A curtain in the window of one of the nearby houses fluttered.  The face of a young child peering out over the sill, eyes wide as he watched the procession going by his house.
Nea swallowed dryly. This time there would be no escape. Had Jarrod and Lani made it to freedom?  Were they safe?  If they had it would make what lay ahead bearable.

OK, now it's your turn. What changes did I make from the first to the second examples? Did I remove any "distancing words"? Which ones? If you said, "She saw, she hoped, Her thoughts", you're right. They're all telling you what the character did.

How did I go from telling to showing? Did I restructure any sentences? How did I do that?

Yes, I kept an adverb. See, you can use them. But remember, use them wisely.

I kept this one because there are a heck of a lot of ways to swallow or reasons for swallowing. I put it in for brevity and clarity. I didn't want the scene to be about how she swallowed, that wasn't the focus (the aim was to feel Nea's concern for the children and their safety).

So, I used an adverb to keep the pace moving and the focus on her internalisations. Use them, but make an impact. Make every word pull its own weight in the sentence.

Internalisations - I've used questions again to pull the reader into the characters skin.

Seems simple doesn't it? :-)

All right, last example, another easy fix...

ORIGINAL: Her cheeks heated. Merciful Mother, what had possessed her to respond with such an asinine response?

TO: Merciful Mother, what an asinine response. Her cheeks heated.

Can you identify the differences? The first sentence is clunky, too many words. Tweak and restructure and in the second example you now have a more intimate, more engaging, more true-to-the-character response.

So, homework, folks! (yes, sorry, but that's my teacher-side coming to the fore, can't get away from it!)

First task...go to your bookshelf. Pick out a couple of your favourite books. Open up to any page. Read a few paragraphs and analyse them. How did the author construct their work? Is it written in tight point of view? How did they do it?

Second task...(if you're a writer)...look at your own writing. Select a random page. Read it. Can you identify areas where you could improve it? How? Try it.

Apply what you've learnt and your story will be much stronger for it. Here ends the lesson. :-)

Happy writing!


  1. Great post, Kylie. Very helpful stuff here. You're an expert now!

  2. Pfftt, hardly!

    Don't label me one of those, Bron - LOL!!!

    I'm just passing on techniques as I evolve. :-)

  3. This is great stuff and very helpful. I loved it.
    I think it is so hard to look at your own work objectively, an excercize like this can help with that.
    I know personally I prefer to read work that is more active and engaging. Now to write that way.

  4. There's no doubt looking at your own work is hard, L.Blanchard. I'm not sure if you've heard this said, but at the romance writers conference I go to the one common denominator I hear from pubbed authors is "put your work aside for a while" then come back and edit it.

    A while can be a month, or several months. The aim is to get some distance from it. Then when you edit it you can see the forest for the trees, if you get what I mean.

    One of the best tips I can offer when using this technique is to volunteer as a judge in a writing contest.

    It's easier to spot things like deep POV or layering issues when it's not your own work. You'll find once you've spotted it in someone else's work, seeing it in your own is easier. You know what to look for.

    Good luck with your writing and trying this technique!

  5. great post kylie - it has me thinking.

  6. Hi Kylie,

    great examples, and as usual, very informative blog =)

  7. i struggle with this - still hoping that one day it will become second nature. Great post, thanks Kylie :-)

  8. Excellent post, Kylie. I've also received comments from judges about deep POV and had to research what it meant. Now I love to both read and write deep POV.

  9. Fabulous post, Kylie and very timely! That's the angle I need to take on my new lot of revisions. Thanks!

  10. Hey, everyone, it's a real eye opened once you start using this technique and now I find myself even analysing the books I'm reading to see how well the author uses it.

    It does take practice, like any skill. For anyone interested in more information on deep POV or other editing techniques, check out Margie Lawson's website. She has some fabulous courses/lecture packets - well worth participating in/using. Her website - http://www.margielawson.com

  11. Interesting post, Kylie. You give lots of sound advice and even offer yourself up with your own writing examples! Well done.

  12. Hi Pat! Putting my work out there sure had the cringe factor working overtime - LOL.

    Most of these samples are from an oooooollllldddd manuscript, and while I'm sure the new versions could probably be tweaked and improved upon, I hope the HOW TO application of the technique is clear.

    If it is then my goal has been achieved. :-)