Embracing the Mystery: Deep POV

From Writers in the Storm:

Q: What’s Deep POV?

A: I can’t tell you, but I know it when I see it.

This worked well enough—until it didn’t.  So I got busy trying to get to the bottom of it.  Nail it down. Carve it in stone. Cement it immovably amid the legendary constancy of the English language.

I’ll wait till you stop laughing.

You can sort of follow the progress of this endeavor by the history of the titles I tried out:

  • A brief definition of Deep POV
  • Deep POV: Cracking the Code
  • Deep POV: Cracking the Code. Maybe
  • Deep POV: Legend, or Myth? [wait, those are the same thing…]
  • Deep POV: Is it really a thing?

as well as some of the discarded verbiage I left behind along the way (see strikeouts).

Deep POV is all about eliminating reducing managing distance between the reader and the story, and immersing the reader in the story. I knew intuitively how to use Deep POV (see “I know it when I see it,” above), but when one of my editing clients needed me to explain it, I realized I didn’t have a clear enough understanding of it to define it universally, without resorting to customized examples every time. I wanted something that would travel well from one manuscript to another. Something I wouldn’t have to re-create for each author or student I worked with.

What I found—and didn’t find

The struggle is real: nearly every website I visited had a slightly—or sometimes not so slightly—different definition, and Deep POV has yet to be covered by the likes of The Chicago Manual of Style or merriam-webster.com.

So you can see my dilemma. Someone had to do it. (Oh, the chutzpah.) (In my defense, I had significant prodding from a writer and publisher whose idea this column was in the first place.)

So, clothed in nothing but sheer, naked hubris, I tackled this slippery eel of a question: What exactly is Deep POV?

. . . .

I took what I was thinking and turned it into an equation. (And you thought that if you became a writer, you’d never need to use algebra again.) Here was my first hypothesis:

  • third-person limited POV + Deep POV = Deep POV
  • third-person limited POV + Deep POV – Deep POV = Deep POV – Deep POV
    (Stay with me; we’re just keeping both sides of the equation balanced.)
  • third-person limited POV = 0

Highly illogical. Thank you, Dr. Spock. My hypothesis was disproven.

So I tried this hypothesis instead:

  • third-person limited + inner dialogue = Deeper POV 

And the lights came on. I’d been crediting a literary device (internal dialogue) as the sole alchemy that magically turned one point of view into the gold of another, and mentally equating the two—internal dialogue and Deep POV—as essentially one thing. But it was adding the literary device of internal dialogue to an existing point of view that took the reader deeper into experiencing the story.

So, I had gotten this far in organizing my thoughts, most of which are obvious, but bear with me; I was fighting my way out of the deep underbrush here. I needed visuals.

  • Third-person limited* is a Point of View (POV).
  • Internal dialogue** is a literary device.
  • Using both in a story creates a deeper variant of third-person limited POV.

What I was actually looking at was the convergence of one point of view with a literary device that made it deeper, thicker, like cornstarch thickens broth and turns it into gravy.

So far, so good. BUT, for those of you holding your breath or yelling at your computer that I’m just wrong, wrong, WRONG, and I wouldn’t blame you at this juncture, here it is:

My hypothesis was much too limited. I needed a new hypothesis—and a fresh perspective.

. . . .

I had been looking at only a narrow segment of Deep POV, one that utilizes internal dialogue, taking readers inside your characters’ minds to live, as closely as possible, their experience. And it’s a powerful device, the rules of which are better left for another day.

But it’s not the only POV or literary device that can bring the reader closer, deeper into the story. Look at this short (and not exhaustive) list of things that can also do that:

  • First person can bring the reader into a story and add or remove distance, depending on what the story needs at any given point.
  • Present tense can establish an immediacy that brings the reader deeper into the character’s experience.
  • The narrator in third-person limited POV brings a level of closeness as the narrator paraphrases a character’s thoughts.
  • Visceral responses, subtext of varying kinds, body language can all enhance closeness for the reader.

All these things and more create an ambience, a mood, an attitude. I am no longer even sure that Deep POV is best described as a POV.

I am increasingly convinced that Deep POV is more a state of mind. Multiple devices can bring readers closer to what a character is thinking, feeling, experiencing, and thus bring the reader deeper into the story—at a level that you, the author, can manipulate with increasing skill as you use it. You can bring the reader only as far into the story as you want them to be, at any point in your story, as it serves your purpose.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

No, PG doesn’t understand Deep POV.

5 thoughts on “Embracing the Mystery: Deep POV”

  1. I deeply wish people would stop repeating the misleading statement that using the present tense creates “immediacy.” It does not. Any tense can create immediacy, in the right hands. Any tense can create distance, in the wrong hands.

    In other words, it’s not the car; it’s how you drive it. An author lacking the skill or experience to effectively use the present tense is not going to do anything other than drive the reader away.

  2. It really isn’t that difficult. Every word in your story should be filered through the POV character’s (oh-my-god not the author’s) physical and emotional senses. “Deep POV” is a fairly new term, one more instance of someone creating a “new” technique in order to teach it and make money, but the technique is as old as storytelling.

    The best way to practice it is to include all five of the POV character’s physical senses and at least one of his/her emotional senses (joy, fear, etc.) in every major scene.

    And any writing instructor who says “I can’t explain it but I know it when I see it” should be fired immediately. Meaning demand your money back and walk out of the class, lecture, or seminar.

  3. Searching for a definition for an undefined term? Don’t do it. Undefined terms are gold when one wants to churn out the words but has nothing to say. And it lets people pretend they know what the other guy is not saying. Define the term and it all falls apart.

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