Sunday, October 19, 2014

3 Ways to Start Writing Deep POV Today

Have you ever gotten to the end of a story without caring about the protagonist? Or worse, have you ever put a book down after a chapter or two because you just couldn’t be bothered to continue? Chances are great that the author kept you at arm’s length by writing too shallow a point of view. Basically, the protagonist didn’t love you enough to let them into your head. It’s not you. It’s them. So don’t take it too seriously.

On second thought... do. Because you’ve got this story of your own, right? And you don’t want to let your own readers down. You want to be emotionally available to them. You want to make them ache. You want to make them scream. You want to make them laugh and cry.

So resolve to be different. To do better. 

But how? How do you engage your reader? How do you make them fall in love with the characters that live so vividly inside your head?

The answer is all about point of view.

What is deep point of view?

Shallow point of view: Red Riding Hood decided to take a walk. The road she walked on was rocky and long, so by the time she got to her grandmother’s house, she was tired.
Deep point of view: It was a cool, breezy fall day, and Red wasn’t really up for housework. She needed to be outside. Why not take a walk in the forest and visit grandmother? Instant karma, right? By the time she arrived, her muscles throbbed and her feet ached, but it was a good ache. Totally worth it.


Okay, so, shallow point of view tells the story from outside the mind of the viewpoint character. A well-defined POV will be right over the character’s shoulder, but might still be from outside. The language is clean and sterile. Details will be from the reader’s perspective, not from the character’s.
Deep POV slips right behind the character’s eyes. The narrative language is the narrative inside the character’s head. Their words, not yours. The reader feels, not in response to the character and the events, but with the character and through the events.

So how can I start?

Here are three simple ways to start writing Deep POV. This list is a jumping off point, not a comprehensive guide. Deep POV is an art form, not a science. There’s no one right way to do it. As you think about these tips, be reading other stories, particularly modern fantasy and sci-fi, and watch how the writer sharpens her POV.

1.       See What the Character Sees

When you walk into your living room, do you take in all the details at once, in a counter-clock-wise motion, while also noting the exact shade of the paint on the wall and the family history behind the displayed artwork? Course not! You’re seeing what’s important right now. If you’re tired, you see only your chair. You sink into it, noting how comfy the cushions feel under your aching muscles. You see the magazine you knock to the floor when you put your feet up and then you notice the dust crusting the TV when you flick it on. When the phone rings and you have to drag yourself out of the chair, you notice that the one of the screws that holds the phone to the wall is coming undone and the lime green paint is started to chip loose where the base of the phone is rubbing against the wall each time you bump it. And why the hell is your apartment so small that you’re bumping against the phone, anyway? Clearly you need a better-paying job. Of course it’s your boss on the other end of the line and while he berates you through the receiver, you peer into the connecting kitchen, hypnotized by the second hand spinning around the Elvis-themed clock your grandmother gave you last Christmas, and as he talks and talks, the hand seems to slow almost to a crawl. Now, I’ve never met you, and I’ve never been in your apartment before, but I see the whole thing now, all through your eyes.

2.       Talk the Way the Character Talks

In our geek and writing group, there are people from all different parts of America and all across the world. Rcently, we had a weekend-long conversation, with almost five hundred comments. About what? Beans on toast: yes or no? Through that conversation, we learned about different kinds of food in different parts of the world, different words that mean different things to different people, and different ways that people feel about things that you would think were the same.

Mostly, we learned that we’re all different. That those differences make us interesting, and they don’t have to make us dislike each other. We can learn from each other.

Your characters need to have these same kinds of differences. How do they think about the world? For example, what word do they use for people of a different gender? A man who thinks about lovely ladies is a very different sort of man than the sort who thinks about sexy chicks. Another man entirely might categorize different women using words like sluts, bitches, and dykes. Your reader probably won’t like that man — I only just wrote him and I already kind of hate him — but it’s a strong way to define a character, isn’t it?

Here are just a few ways to differentiate narrative voice. There are many, many more:

Education: Is your character intelligent or poorly educated? Do they use long, poetic words or short, punchy ones?

Slang: Do they use slang? How much? What kind of slang? Are they using is habitually, or are they being ironic?

Geographic background: Where are they from? How does that affect their words?

3.       Feel the Way the Character Feels

Traditional narration is emotionless. Deep POV swims with emotion. Drips in all over the reader. If something exciting is happening, the narrator may use obscenities or ejaculations. The narration may express surprise, disappointment, reluctance, or judgement.

Shallow POV: Susan was confused and felt sad. She didn’t understand why this was happening.
Deep POV: Why was this happening to her? What had she done to deserve it? Susan’s eyes stung with unshed tears. Life just wasn’t fair.

Shallow POV: Landon had waited impatiently for the names on the list. When it was finally released, he was disappointed to be named the understudy rather than the lead actor. He didn’t feel that Jerry was as good as an actor as he was, but he resolved to learn the part anyway.
Deep POV: Bullshit. Jerry? Jerry got the part? Jerry couldn’t act his way out of a detention, let along play Peter Pan with the flair and panache the part deserved. Bullshit! Mrs. Haney liked him better; that was all. Kiss-ass. Whatever. Maybe Jerry would get sick and he’d need to step in. Landon Harrison would be the best damn understudy the Steelton High Drama Club had ever seen.

Well, what do you think?

Can you make your reader care about your main character? Try it right now. Even if you are already working through deep POV, take a few paragraphs out of your WIP and follow each of these steps to deepen it further. Share the results with us in the comments below!