Monday, May 02, 2011

Deep Point of View

What I'm reading: Shiver of Fear, by Roxanne St. Claire.

First: I got my box of author copies of Where Danger Hides. That's always exciting. Next: it's May, and I've got a new contest. Check the tab above. I've also got some new entries on my website, including a "from the cutting room floor" scene from Where Danger Hides, as well as a peek behind the scenes at the way the book started.

Last week, there was a lot of discussion about using deep point of view to tell a story. I thought I'd give a brief recap/explanation of the terminology, especially since I'm judging a contest for unpublished writers, and point of view, deep or otherwise, seems to be a problem for some.

Author Suzanne Brockmann uses the term "deep POV" and it seems accepted in the romance community, although it might not be an "official" definition. But, as some commenters pointed out last week, it sounds a lot like 1st person.

And yes, that's exactly what it is. When I write I want to be in the POV character's head to the point where I could substitute "I" for each use of "He" or the character's name. But writing in 3rd person POV gives the author the ability to have more than one POV character (although it's not required). There are authors who use first person for their main protagonist, and third for other characters, and it can work. There are authors who have used multiple first person POV characters. But traditionally in romance, there are two equally important characters: the hero and the heroine, and both will be POV characters. Not to say you can't have more. Suzanne Brockmann uses half a dozen or so in her books, and writes in deep POV for all of them.

In a nutshell, being in deep POV means you're in the character's head. You see only what he can see, hear only what he can hear. You're privy to emotions, to thoughts. The author isn't on the page. There is no narrator.

And, just as with first person, you have to work to let the reader know what you want her to know, or not know what you don't want her to know. Nobody said it was easy.

The following are Suzanne Brockmann's recommended rules for using deep POV to tell your story. She goes into a lot more detail, and I don't know if you can still find her giveaway booklet, "Suzanne Brockmann's Extras for Writers: Going Deep with Point of View" anywhere.

1. Don't cheat the reader. If it's logical for a character to be thinking of something in a scene, you can't hide it from the reader.

2. Make sure your characters don't notice things they would miss. This is one of my "pet peeves" with characters noticing brand names, designer labels, composers, or artists, that they logically shouldn't recognize. My favorite example – the red carpet parade before an awards show. Husband lost an argument and can't watch the game. She, if she's fashion conscious might reflect on the style of gown, perhaps even recognize the designer. The man's probably not going to go much beyond, "nice tits."

3. No unconscious thoughts. No slipping into omniscient POV. Music, which he didn't recognize as Mozart, drifted from the room. No slipping out of character. "He didn't notice Frank pour the drink." If your POV character didn't notice it, then the reader can't see it, either.

4. Don't use distancing words. Avoid 'he thought' in place of 'he said.' If you're in deep POV, the reader should know that the character is thinking. If your character is facing a man with a gun, and you write, "She was going to die," it's obvious that's what she's thinking. It's not necessary to write, "She was going to die, she thought."

5. Use anchoring words to maintain deep POV. Now, some "rule followers" might tell you to avoid these words because they're distancing, or adverbs, or some other violation. But if you're in a character's head, that character can't know for sure what someone else is thinking, seeing, hearing, etc. So, words like "seemed" "saw" or "wanted" help ground the reader. "He saw her eyebrow twitch and knew she was one step away from slapping him."

And, I'll add a reminder – whatever POV you choose, however many characters have front and center page time, it's about the transitions. If your reader follows your shifts, whether they're done with extra line breaks, asterisks, or just plain good transitional writing, then you've done your job.

To "test" yourself: Substitute "I" for "he" (or the character's name) in a scene. Is there anyone else sneaking in there? Write the entire scene again from another character's point of view. I did this as an exercise once, and it ended up being my first published work, Words. If you want to read it, you can get it free at Smashwords or All Romance eBooks.

Third person doesn't have to be deep. It just happens to be the way I like to read and write. Keeping things deep helps heighten suspense.

Tomorrow, my guest is Helen Smith, talking about literary salons in England. And by Wednesday, I hope to have my ride along notes ready to share. Keep coming back!


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Nice explanation and good tips. Thanks, Terry!

Alison DeLuca said...

Great blog post for a writer who is using deep POV right now. Excellent!

Gwen Hernandez said...

Good explanation, Terry. Deep POV is an area that I'm constantly trying to improve. I wrote some scenes of my last MS in first person just to get in the characters' heads better. It helped, but I keep finding spots where I missed "I" and "my" when switching back to 3rd. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Great pointers. I love deep POV and will often write it as first person in the first draft to make sure I stay in the POV.

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

Your post came at a great time. I was reading over a chapter I want to share with my writers group tomorrow. In it I had my male character "settle his six-foot-three frame on a barstool." I kept studying that phrase. I was writing in his pov, so would he give thought to his height? I'd originally thought it a sly way to give a brief hint to his appearance. Now I wasn't so sure. I took your suggestion: would I think as I sat that I was five-foot-six? Once more, the "delete" key was my friend. Thanks, Terry.

Sharon Hamilton said...

I'm reading one of Suzanne Brockman's books right now. I think deep point of view holds the story together like no other craft or skill.

I'm going to read your post every day before I begin writing. I'm finishing my SEAL story this week.

Such good timing, too. Way to go SEAL team 6!! (Hope you'll allow a little crowing).

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth, as always, my pleasure and thanks so much for the tweet.

Alison - glad the timing is convenient. Thank Suzanne Brockmann for the basics here.

Gwen - nobody said you wouldn't need to proofread after the exercise!

raelyn - I had one story where the character insisted on 1st person, so I never changed it back.

Vonnie - yep - that and "pulled her long, auburn hair into a ponytail" or "her flowered silk skirt fluttered in the breeze." Normally, we don't think these things about ourselves.

Sharon - glad you're finding the blog helpful. (It's okay with me if you tell your friends!)

Wynter said...

Great info - thanks. I find certain POVs distracting, like the combination of first person for one character and third for others. And I despise omniscient POV!

Maryannwrites said...

Very good post. I will alert the client I am currently editing for to the blog. Having characters notice things that they would not, just so she can get some description in, has been a problem with her book. This will help as much as my comments when it comes to her rewrite. Thanks.

Terry Odell said...

Wynter - I'm with you on that omniscient thing, especially when it's one of those, "Later, she'd discover he was lying" kind of comments.

Maryann - glad to be of service. Not saying shallow POV is 'wrong' -- just that I prefer deep. And, of course, getting information across is much easier in a shallower, distant POV where the author sneaks in as a narrator.

Elspeth Futcher said...

Great explanations and tips for success, Terry. I try to write only through which ever character's eyes I'm looking through. My plots unfold through several eyes so the reader can experience what's happening in many different ways.

Renee Carter Hall said...

In terms of definition, I believe I've also heard this type of POV called "third person limited" (as in, limited to what the character is experiencing).

Jodie Renner said...

Excellent post, Terry! And I agree with all of your points and tips. I've also heard this called "close third-person." I'll refer my writing clients to this post, as I agree with you that deep POV helps heighten the suspense. It also draws the reader more deeply into the novel and helps them identify with and bond with the protagonist, as they're completely in their head and their world, at least for that chapter or scene.

Sheila Deeth said...

I like your explanation, will keep it in mind for our writers' group. Thanks.

Terry Odell said...

Elspeth - yes, nothing wrong with deep POV for multiple characters. Helps connect the readers.

Renee - I've never been one for terminology, so it's quite possible you're right. I'm only going by Suzanne Brockmann's term. In the end, it's the execution, not the label.

Jodie - thanks - I hope they'll find it helpful.

Sheila - My pleasure. Let me know if your group finds it useful.

Mary Ricksen said...

But how many of us could get away with writing in first and third POV and sell a book!

Terry Odell said...

Mary - it's been done. Diana Gabaldon sure isn't hurting for her use of 1st for Claire and 3rd for everyone else.

Tara Lain said...

Nice post! Great, easy-to-follow advice. I'm passionate about DPOV because it was the main thing that turned me from an unpublished to a published writer. A lesson i try to continuously learn. : )

Anonymous said...

Very nice! Great post.

Terry Odell said...

Tara - it does give that reader connection, doesn't it? And obviously, agent and editor as well.

Lynn - thanks

Carol Kilgore said...

This is excellent, Terry. Thanks for putting it all together in a concise form. Deep POV is my preferred reading and writing style, too.