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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Going In Deep: Point of View (POV)

It’s time again for my semi-annual work-in-progress RWA chapter contest blitz.

Those not familiar with this somewhat threatening-sounding phrase should rest easy. It’s just my way of getting feedback on my manuscripts. Beta readers are critical to the editing process, and I have my own trusted circle of constructive critics. However, sometimes I need more than a reader’s opinion—I need to hear it straight from the pros.

That’s one of the reasons why I often enter my manuscripts into writing contests. I choose contests that encourage the judges to provide specific comments about various elements of a novel because, more than anything else, I want the feedback. I’ll enter a few contests, wait for the score sheets to come back, then start looking over them for similar comments among the returns.

And, as usual, my judges have come through. One specific comment kept popping up, so I knew I had to address the issue. (I also figured it would make a great writing craft post. See? When I lose contests, everyone wins. Just my way of paying it forward.)

That issue was deep point of view.

Going Deep

I’d just completed the third in a series that was written in first person POV. The heroine was an empath and, frankly, writing those books can be emotionally draining. When I started my new WIP, I knew I wanted some distance between my feelings and those of the character. The first thing I did was make her spellbound and magically restrained from experiencing any emotion. (Naturally.)

The second thing I did was write it from a third person POV.

This personal distancing wasn’t the only reason for choosing that particular POV. This book is a romance, and I wanted to be able to provide story from the hero’s POV at times. This was an option that was completely denied to me when writing the Demimonde series, because that story is told entirely in single first POV.

However, a few of my recent judges suggested I go into deep POV when writing the heroine’s chapters. Not entirely sure what these judges meant, I hit the books for another lesson on the craft of writing.

Deep POV is like a third person POV swimming pool. If third person has the character standing on the deck, deep POV is throwing the character into the water. The point is to write the story as if walking around in the character’s skin without using a first person technique.

Tips to Deepen the POV

Dialog tags: One of my judges pointed out that, in deep POV, a character doesn’t use many dialog tags. For instance, when having a conversation with your friend, you don’t mentally add things like "I said". You just say it. You don’t look at a person’s feet and think I wonder where she bought those shoes? You simply think Where did she get those shoes? (And, perhaps Why didn’t she get a second pair for me?

In a story, though, we still need tags to keep it clear which character is speaking. I like to substitute action for a "she/he said" tag. "That’s my pen," she said can become "That’s my pen." She marched over to him and snatched it from his hand. Better story, and you have no doubt who spoke.

Five senses: We experience the world through our senses. Likewise, your reader should experience the story through the character’s senses. Sensory details bring the reader deeper into the character’s POV.

Show emotions, don’t tell: The most valuable tip I’ve read so far is to forget the names of actual emotions and just describe their effects. She became angry when he yelled at her can be She fisted her hands and pinned them under her arms. If he didn’t knock off the yelling, she’d shut his mouth with a tight slap.

Filtering words: This would be the first time I can disassociate the words “filtered” and “purity” because filtered writing does not create a pure reader experience. When we use words like see, thought, hear, feel, decide, wonder, realize, or watch, we put up a barrier of sorts between the reader and the character. Eliminating those filter words deepen the POV by giving the details from a first-hand perspective.

He watched the dog jump onto the table becomes The dog jumped onto the table. You bring the action directly to the reader. She thought he was very handsome can become She resisted a long, low whistle. Wow. Talk about smoking hot.

See? No filters means less distance between reader and experiencing--and that is the essence of deep POV.

Deep Isn’t For Everyone

Writers ultimately have to decide what POV is best for their characters, their books, and especially their writing style. Not every book can be told in deep POV and not ever writer is comfortable writing in that style.

Sometimes, it’s a simple matter of genre. Romance works with a deep POV because the reader wants to experience the emotional journey of the heroine and hero. (However, romance still works without going deep. Single third is a common POV style for this genre.) I found this article to be a helpful reference on genre/preferred POV, so check that out if you need a primer (like I did).

Getting back to the judge feedback. Apparently, I nailed deep POV for the hero. He’s an emotionally volatile creature so it was all too easy to get into his skin. My heroine…not so much. My attempt to distance myself from this character was a little too successful because, not only was I distanced, but the reader was distanced, too.

That’s not something we want for our stories—we want readers lost in our books. While amazing plotlines and complex personalities are essential to a captivating story, writers can fine-tune the POV to create the ultimate reader experience.

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Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who, despite having a Time Turner under her couch and three different sonic screwdrivers in her purse, still encounters difficulty with time management. Visit Ash at www.ashkrafton.com for news on her urban fantasy series The Books of the Demimonde (Pink Narcissus Press) or stop by the Demimonde Blog at www.ash-krafton.blogspot.com .


Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

I love Deep POV! I only discovered it myself a year ago. I found it gives a richness of detail to the story without bulking it out.

Went and rewrote a WIP, taking out the "he said" stuff and used setting to convey mood. Made such a difference. Also allowed me to get more into a character's head.

Anonymous said...

I love this pov, it can be difficult at times. I did great on the first few chapters (according to what the cridics on Wattpad said—after much help from them mind you.) But chapter ten is flat as a pancake. It's so easy to get burned out. Now I have to go revise it again and add in more showing of emotions and fixvthe bla dialogue. Ooos. This is a hard pov but I think it's worth it. It's turned my fantasy book around. I had it in third person limited and it just wasn't working.

Anonymous said...

Still working on it, came back and read everything here over again. I realy should print this out. (At chap. 23 now 30 more chapters to go. You see I lost the ending the book changed, as did the characters and what mattered to them so the original ending didn't fit anymore. XP Do you have any articles on dialogue? I feel mine stinks so I am trying to improve it.