Sunday, January 2, 2011

DEMYSTIFYING DEEP POINT OF VIEW IN FIVE MINUTES OR LESS

by Liz Pelletier
You've heard it talked about in craft workshops and writing groups, and likely been told by a critique partner or two, that you need to go deeper into your character’s POV. Deep POV, baby, it’s all the rage! But what is it really and what does it mean? And more importantly, how?

Deep POV, also known as deep penetration point of view, is an intense viewpoint representing not just the sights and sounds and actions of the POV character, but how they feel, react and most importantly their own unique way of characterizing the world. Its use is often associated with third person POV fiction, but the concept refers to the distance between the narrator and the reader more so than the pronouns.

In this brief article, I’ll offer a simplified explanation of deep POV and an example of how to drill down into your character’s POV.

The first thing you need to keep in mind is the typical structure of a scene consists of a stimulus and then a response, repeated over and over.
You cannot have one without the other! You can’t have a phone ring and no one notice. Nor can you have someone answer the phone if it doesn’t first ring. Sounds simple, right?

The second thing you need to memorize is the normal order of presentation: emotion, thought, decision, action. Let me stress here to MEMORIZE this order.
 Your editor will nail you if your character is reacting to a sword being swung at him by first thinking to himself who the heck is wielding a sword at him, he jumps out of the way, and then his heart races. (There are instances when the natural presentation order is not appropriate, but that’s a whole different article.)

If we look at our presentation order in reverse, we have the basic building blocks of deep POV: action, decision, thought, emotion. Use each one successively to take your reader deeper and deeper into your character’s point of view. These four elements are our camera lens, and you’ll widen (only use action) or tighten (use all four) throughout your book to effect pacing, tension and intensity. Keep in mind though that deep POV can be exhausting for a reader and in fact slows pacing dramatically, so be sure to vary it with cinematic POV (or a wider lens).

What I’ll do now is show you the same scene, each time adding another of these four elements and taking you from cinematic viewpoint to deep POV

Let’s take the first one on the list: ACTION is the most simplistic response. It is present in all responses. Even inaction is an action. For instance: The telephone rang, (stimulus) but everyone ignored the persistent ringing. (response) Even though no one did anything, the lack of action is an action—“ignoring”, if that makes sense.

Here’s a scene in cinematic viewpoint:

Margie heard the clanging of the door bell. (stimulus)

Racing to the door, she unhooked the latch and pulled the door open. (response)

“Hi, Bob. What are you doing today?” she asked. (stimulus)

“Nothing special, Margie.” (response)

He motioned with his measuring cup. “I wondered if you had a cup of sugar I could borrow?” (stimulus)

“Oh, sure, Bob.” She turned back toward the kitchen. (response)



Notice the use of the word “heard”. Sense words such as heard, felt, saw, smelt, etc distance the reader and are indicative of a lack of deep POV.

Now, let’s take the same scene and take the viewpoint a little deeper by adding DECISION through internalization or THOUGHT which affords us a more detailed response:

Margie heard the clanging of the door bell. (stimulus)

It was probably her cute neighbor who’d walked by her window a few minutes ago, she thought.  (internalization)

She ran her hands over her rumpled pajamas and then tightened her pony tail before racing to the door. She unhooked the latch and pulled the door open. (response)

“Hi, Bob. What are you doing today?” she asked. (stimulus)

“Nothing special, Margie.” (response)

He motioned with his measuring cup. “I wondered if you had a cup of sugar I could borrow?” (stimulus)

At least he wanted something sweet from her.  (internalization)

“Oh, sure, Bob.” She turned back toward her kitchen. (response)

And deeper still by adding the emotion:
Margie heard the clanging of the door bell. (stimulus)

Her breath caught. (emotion) It was probably her cute neighbor who’d walked by her window a few minutes ago, she thought.(internalization)She ran her hands over her rumpled pajamas and then tightened her pony tail before racing to the door. She unhooked the latch and pulled the door open. (response)

“Hi, Bob. What are you doing today?” she asked. (stimulus)

“Nothing special, Margie.” (response)

He motioned with his measuring cup. “I wondered if you had a cup of sugar I could borrow?” (stimulus)

Deflated, her shoulders sank. (emotion) At least he wanted something sweet from her. (internalization)

“Oh, sure, Bob.” She turned back toward her kitchen. (response)

Now, for true deep POV, let’s remove everything that’s “telling” (heard, saw, felt, thought, etc):

The door bell chimed, causing Margie to spill the coffee she was pouring. (stimulus)

Her breath caught. (emotion) What if it was her cute neighbor who’d walked by her window a few minutes ago? (internalization)

She ran her hands over her rumpled pajamas and then tightened her pony tail before racing to the door. She unhooked the latch and pulled the door open. (response)

“Hi, Bob. What are you doing today?” she asked. (stimulus)
“Nothing special, Margie.” (response)

He motioned with his measuring cup. “I wondered if you had a cup of sugar I could borrow?” (stimulus)

Deflated, her shoulders sank. (emotion) At least he wanted something sweet from her. (internalization)
“Oh, sure, Bob.” She turned back toward her kitchen. (response)

And now let’s give Margie’s unique view on things (and, in turn, reveal the author’s voice as well Margie’s personality):

The door bell chimed, causing Margie to spill the coffee she was pouring. Her breath caught. What if it was her cute neighbor who’d walked by her window a few minutes ago?

She set the coffee pot back on the burner so fast the dark liquid sloshed over the side. Dammit. She ran her hands over her rumpled pajamas and then tightened her pony tail before racing to the door. She unhooked the latch and prayed he thought flannel was sexy. If he did, she was so in.

“Hey, Bob,” she rushed, her voice a little winded from the Olympian vault to the door. She really needed to say no to the Oreo gods more often. “What’s up?”

“Nothing special, Margie.” He flashed a sheepish grin, though her gaze didn’t linger on his face. No, as always, her gaze traveled south. Jeans low on hips, signature black T-shirt, bare feet. Now that’s how you rock the tousled look. He really was too good looking for her poor heart.

He motioned with his measuring cup, dipping his head a little to get her attention. “I wondered if you had a cup of sugar I could borrow?”

She blushed, caught ogling. Oh, she had something sweet for him all right, but it wouldn’t fit in that damned cup of his. “Sure, come on in."

He followed her into the kitchen, and she couldn't help adding a little extra swing to her hips.

And there you have it! My over-simplified, five minute explanation of deep POV. Keep in mind, no rules are concrete and there are a thousand different ways to tell a story, so yes you can reverse the presentation order when necessary and yes you can use the word "heard" occasionally and yes you can go even deeper than the example I just gave. The key here is, if you feel you do not have a good handle on deep POV, use the examples above and look at your own writing and see what you're missing. Odds are you have some of the elements present, but you're occasionally missing the visceral reactions or not sprinkling in enough internal thought or your internal dialogue is dry and lacks personality (or your character's unique voice).

Good luck and happy writing!

Liz Pelletier:
Associate Editor at Crescent Moon Press and Co-Founder of SavvyAuthors, Liz has served on the Boards of the FF&P & Colorado Romance Writers chapters of RWA. A freelance editor and author, she teaches workshops on self-editing, deep POV and GMC.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Liz:
What a great blog and so needed by me. How is this different from show not tell when creating emotion in a character?
Shana

Ruby Johnson said...

Liz:
Thank you so much for visiting with us and providing such a timely topic.
Ruby

Liz P. said...

Hi Shana! Glad you liked the post. :)

Show vs tell was the fourth example where we removed saw, heard, felt, etc., but show vs tell is much more than this. It often occurs during the narrative portions such as, The day was cold and brittle, and Margie had forgotten her coat. That's telling. To make it showing we'd change it like this, Marge shivered as the cold and brittle air skated up her arms and under her shirt sleeves.

Authors are warned show vs tell so often, but one needs to keep in mind that show vs tell is an integral factor in pacing. Showing slows pacing and typically tightens your camera lens, so clearly you cannot always show instead of tell. If you showed everything happening to your character throughout the entire book, you'd likely also be in deep POV and your book would rival War and Peace. LOL Sometimes you just want to tell the reader it was cold and brittle outside and she forgot her damn coat b/c it's going to be important when she locks herself out of her house later. So tell them. The important factor is not to continue that telling for too long or into other areas of the scene that require a tighter lens.

With specific regards to emotion, same thing applies. You don't always need to have her face heat or heart stutter when she gets nervous speaking. Sometimes you can simply slip in a bit of telling to pick up the pacing. It is totally dependent on how important that particular emotion is to the scene, whether you're already in deep pov, and how it'll effect the pacing.

Hope that answered your question!
~Liz

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