In the days leading up to Query Kombat, I'll be featuring guest posts from the judges on a variety of writing topics, from ways to polish your writing to common openings. Check back and follow me on Twitter to stay updated. Today's post is from Lisa Koosis.
Going Deeper: A Few Pointers on Using Deep POV in a Manuscript
Going Deeper: A Few Pointers on Using Deep POV in a Manuscript
I can still remember learning the basics of point of view (POV) back in fourth or fifth grade. We learned the difference between first-person POV and third-person POV, the difference between the all-knowing, all-seeing, godlike narration of third-person omniscient, and the much narrower, third-person limited. I remember learning, albeit more briefly, about the rarely used second-person POV. And that was pretty much it.
As I’ve matured as a writer, I’ve learned that point of view isn’t quite so simple and straightforward. There are other choices to make when considering a point of view for your story. You could go with an unreliable narrator, for instance, or you could head-hop, moving from point of view to point of view of multiple characters at random (I shudder at even the thought). Or maybe, you might like to try deep POV.
So what is Deep POV exactly?
Deep POV is a style of narration that erases much of the narrative distance in a story, bringing the reader as close as possible to the POV character. It’s a style of narration that takes the reader directly into the heart and mind of your narrator.
Deep POV is a particularly effective technique for creating intimacy and immediacy in a manuscript. And though many people will tell you that this is primarily a technique to use with third-person POV stories, I’d argue that it can also enhance a first-person POV narrative.
How is Deep POV accomplished?
There isn’t an instruction manual for creating deep POV. Or maybe there is and I just haven’t seen it. Regardless, one of the great things about deep POV, is that there are some easy ways to take your manuscript deeper without extensive rewriting of scenes.
Let’s take a look at a few.
• Eliminate filters. This could arguably be the most important first step when creating a deep POV.
But what are filters? Filters (sometimes called markers) are words or phrases that identify how your character is perceiving the world around him/her/them—phrases such as: “he saw,” “I thought,” “she heard,” “they felt,” etc. More often than not, these aren’t needed, and create unnecessary and potentially unwanted distance between reader and character.
So instead of saying, “He felt like the whole world had gone crazy,” you would just say something like, “Had the whole world gone crazy?” See the difference? It’s a small change that can have a big impact, not only adding immediacy to your words, but also helping to strengthen voice.
• Internalize. In a deep POV, your character’s thoughts are an integral part of your story—in a way, your character’s thoughts combined with your character’s actions really are the story. In deep POV, we want to feel as close to your character as possible. Better yet, we want to be directly in his/her/their head. Your character’s thoughts can be woven right into the narrative, twined in and through the story’s action, inextricable.
And again, remember: no filters! You don’t need the words “I thought” for your reader to understand that that is indeed the case.
• Vocabulary. The vocabulary throughout your narrative should be your character’s vocabulary, not yours. If your character wouldn’t use a particular word, it doesn’t belong in your story when you’re writing in deep POV.
• Account for perspective. One filter you do want to use is that of your POV character’s own perspective and perceptions. Everything your character interacts with—people, places, objects—should reflect his/her/their own experiences and personal history. Think of it this way. Nobody (except maybe a newborn baby) is a blank slate. We all view things through a different lens. Someone who loves the beach will have a different emotional temperature when it comes to sand between their toes than someone who hates the beach.
Or take this example. Three characters interact with a lily. For one, maybe that lily reminds them of the tiger lilies they picked as a child spending summers at a lake house. The second character might have recently lost a loved one, and the lilies bring him, emotionally, right back to the funeral. The third, well perhaps she was a gardener in younger days, taking immense pride in growing prize-winning lilies…until a flood destroyed them all. These three people are going to have very different perspectives on that present-day lily they’re interacting with.
Those perspectives or emotions should color the vocabulary in your narrative. Maybe for the first, nostalgia for a lost childhood might lend your narrative a sweet, slow rhythm. For the second, maybe it might show a shying away from lingering grief. For the third, perhaps regret, or resentment, or maybe anger. Obviously, it depends on your character, but regardless, you should account for such perspectives in your choice of words. Use strong words, emotionally charged words, judgmental words. For example, instead of saying something is “bad” it might be “sucky” (if that’s a word your character would choose).
• Put setting to work. What does setting have to do with deep POV? Well, one good way to go deeper with your POV is to paint the setting through your character. This goes hand-in-hand with perspective. Basically, you never want to simply describe the setting. You always want it to be colored by your POV character’s interactions.
For example, rather than stating, “There was a stubborn stain on the countertop of his apartment,” you could say, “He added more cleaner to the scrubbie and tried again to eradicate his nemesis.” (Okay, okay, so that’s a little hokey, but you get the idea.)
• Voice. This is the big one.
Think, for a minute, about dialogue. Some of the best advice you’ll hear when writing dialogue is that each character’s dialogue should sound distinct—distinct enough that you should know, without a dialogue tag, who is speaking.
Now take this a step further. When writing deep POV, your whole narrative should sound similar to your POV character’s dialogue. After all, it’s your POV character telling their story, right?
A few things to consider with voice:
- Sentence length. Does your character speak in short, choppy sentences…or is he/she/they poetic and wordy?
- Catch phrases. What words and phrases is your POV character fond of using? Does your character have a penchant for sports metaphors, or does he/she/they use cosmic references to illustrate a point?
- Culture, education, socio-economic background, age, state of mind, and so on. All of these things influence patterns of speech and thought, and, therefore, voice.
• Minimize use of personal pronouns. These would be he, she, they, I, you, them, him, her, me, us, we. I may be missing a few, but you get the idea. This one is pretty self-explanatory. In deep POV, the fewer personal pronouns you use, the better.
That’s not to say that you’re going to eliminate them. Certainly, you’re not going to do that. But if you can cut them down by half, that will go a long way to helping achieve a deeper POV. This is particularly true for first-person POV narratives where that pesky “I” can be quite obnoxious if overused. (For more on that, I highly recommend Chuck Palahniuk's Submerging the 'I' essay.)
This is, by far, not an exhaustive checklist, but more a place to start if you’d like to explore deep POV. Like so many other things in writing, deep POV is a stylistic choice, and it isn’t always the right choice. If you’re looking for a dreamy, fairytale feeling, deep POV probably isn’t the way to go. On the other hand, if you’re trying to craft an intimate story, one that dives deep into the emotional landscape of your main character…or if you’re revising a manuscript and finding too much of a disconnect in your book, then deep POV may be what you need.
Creating a deeper POV can also be a great writing exercise. One fortunate side effect I’ve found is that these techniques tend to foster outside-the-box thinking. I’ve noticed that working in deep POV engages a more analytical part of my brain, which sometimes adds a little something-something to my writing. (Note: These same techniques are also helpful if you’re struggling with “showing not telling.”)
So go ahead and snuggle up a little closer to your characters. You might be surprised to find out where your new, deeper relationship may lead you all.
In addition to writing novels for young adults, Lisa A. Koosis in a prize-winning short story writer, whose work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Family Circle, The Poughkeepsie Journal, and the Hugo-nominated Abyss & Apex. Lisa is a member of the SCBWI, an ambassador for National Novel Writing Month, and an active member of her local writing community. She’s also a complete sucker for weird science facts. Her debut YA sci-fi novel, RESURRECTING SUNSHINE, came out in 2016.
Resurrecting Sunshine Buy Link: http://amzn.to/2q3Kkyg