Most of the new authors I work with struggle with writing from deep point of view. Mastering POV is essential for fiction writers. It puts your readers in the head of the character and enables them to become emotionally connected to your story. As a novelist, you’re not aiming for your readers to hear a story or even to see a story. You want them to feel it, to experience it. One way to achieve that is to through the art of deep POV.
Like pretty much everything else in writing fiction, deep POV is simple, but it’s not easy.
One author suggested that writing in deep POV is akin to experiencing a scene through a single camera lens. The reader can’t see what the POV character can’t see, hear what the POV character can’t hear, or taste, smell, or feel what the POV character can’t taste, smell, or feel.
Recently I read a scene written by a client in which two people in a kayak on a river were approaching a waterfall. The waterfall was described in lovely detail, right down to the image of water splashing on the rocks. It was all very nice except that the POV character couldn’t see the waterfall because he was on the river moving downstream toward it. All he could see was the river dropping away. That’s a massive POV error, the kind of error that sucks a reader right out of the character’s head and leaves him hovering above, trying to figure out how he got there.
Don’t do that.
But deep POV is more than just experiencing the story through one character’s senses. Every hero brings his likes, dislikes, fears, dreams, and history with him to that waterfall. Every heroine will approach the danger through the prism of her own values, goals, dreams, and anxieties. A waterfall is never just a waterfall.
Pretend the hero in your latest story is in a raft. Put others in that raft with him—the heroine, the antagonist, his biggest rival, his boss, a neighbor, and his children. The hero hears the roar of water crashing against rocks, and he sees the river dropping off.
Take a minute to imagine each person in that raft. Who’s eager? Who’s hanging on for dear life? Who’s holding onto someone else? Who’s suggesting you make for land and walk? Is anybody laughing? screaming? crying?
Is your hero thinking about protecting his wife? Is he trying to impress his boss or out-do his rival or destroy his enemy? Is he the kind of guy who takes control, or does he let someone else direct them? How does he treat the people in the boat? Is he patient with those who’re afraid, or is he so afraid he can’t think beyond his own safety?
What thoughts are going through his head? Has he done this so often he’s cocky? Is he afraid of the water? Is this the first time he’s been on a raft since his daughter drowned and he couldn’t save her?
What memories is this situation evoking? What do the smells remind him of? The sounds? What has he faced in the past that was similar to this? How did that work out? What is his biggest fear? How is that at play in this situation? What does he want from this story? How is that at risk right now?
I’m not saying you need to spell all of that out in the scene, but you need to know your character so well that you show him processing the scene from his unique perspective.
If he’s terrified, then the water isn’t just cold, it’s as cold as a corpse. If he’s excited, then the same cold water is exhilarating. If he feels relaxed, then the birds overhead are twittering. If he’s scared, then he hears the caws of a murder of crows.
Those little insights help the reader connect with the character. They also hint at the overall tone of a scene. You want your reader to feel what your character feels, especially if the way your character feels is out of sync with the situation.
Writing deep POV takes more time, but like every skill in writing, the more you do it, the easier it will be. Find a scene in your manuscript and rewrite it from a deeper perspective and see if it makes your story better. I bet it will.
Aside from her family and her Savior, Robin Patchen has two loves—writing and traveling. If she could combine them, she’d spend a lot of time sitting in front of her laptop at sidewalk cafes and ski lodges and beachside burger joints. She’d visit every place in the entire world—twice, if possible—and craft stories and tell people about her Savior. Alas, time is too short and money is too scarce for Patchen to traipse all over the globe, even if her husband and kids wanted to go with her. So she stays in Oklahoma, shares the Good News when she can, and writes to illustrate the unending grace of God through the power and magic of story.