The subtleties of story Point of View
Are you sometimes bamboozled by all of the choices and subtleties of story Point of View (POV)?
You’re not alone. POV is one of the most common errors in fiction manuscripts and even after reading explanations, authors are often still unclear. Should they choose first person, second person, limited third person or omniscient? Which one is right for their story? The mind boggles.
Today we’re going to explore the difference between Point of View and Perspective and the whole reason behind applying them to fiction. I’m not going to go into the different types of POV or how to use them, but will:
Point of View has evolved over time
In the early 19th century the omniscient POV was common place and was used by many of the great literary masters, i.e. Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy, but by the end of the same century it had become frowned upon and called intrusive. By the early 20th century novelists were even swapping between multiple POV in the same book. In the 22st century Deep POV has become increasingly popular, particularly in the romance-based genres.
My point is that the popularity of different POV changes over time, is different in each genre and is often more a judgement call than rule. So do yourself a favour and relax in relation to choosing what’s right for your story.
Some of the rubbish I’ve heard:
The difference between POV and perspective
POV is the vantage point of the narrator
(who is telling the story).
It might be a single character, multiple characters, someone who isn’t even in the story or an all-seeing narrator. The type of POV you choose will determine how much the narrator can see/know and how close to the action they get.
When a writer breaks POV (starts letting the reader see/know things the narrator couldn’t possibly see/know) it distracts the reader from what’s important in the story and tends to prevent them from having a close association with the narrator.
Perspective is how the narrator and characters view and experiences the story world.
The character’s perspective will determine how they view their surroundings, react to situations, process information and make choices about actions to take. Everything that makes up a person, e.g. their past experiences, upbringing and influences, will all affect how the POV narrator experiences and reacts within the story.
When a writer doesn’t delve deep enough into their character profiles, it can cause them to feel two dimensional to the reader. The result is characters who lack motivation to drive their actions, which makes the story fall flat.
The effect of your characters
So, every time a character moves through you story world, put yourself in their shoes and consider their perspective. As you plan a scene, think about what they would see and know, why they would behave a certain way and what is causing them to make choices and take actions. Each one will have a a different perspective.
Then, when you come to write the scene, think about who the POV narrator is and what they can realistically see, hear, feel, taste and know. Stay within these boundaries as you write, which means that some characters will only ever been seen from an external view and others the reader might get to experience up close and personal.
Although Point of View and perspective and interrelated, they are different aspects that work together to keep the reader’s attention focused on the important parts of the story and strengthen their understanding of the characters in play. It’s important to write within the boundaries of your chosen POV, to keep readers focused on the right information, and within each character's perspective, to keep readers engaged.
The most important rule to remember with POV is, be consistent.
This article was originally published in the Hearts Talk magazine, September 2021 edition.
Immersive Deep Point of View (POV)
When Things Happen to the Character
When something is happening to the character, you only show what they can hear, see, touch, taste and intuit. Their mind and body takes in raw information and it appears on the page exactly how they experience it, e.g. how it sounds, looks, feels and tastes to the character. Use physical sensations, body movements and language, e.g. dialogue or thoughts.
Example of normal Third Person POV:
Nervous energy pumped through Anne’s veins as Don stared at her, shaking his head slowly, lips pursed in disappointment.
Example of Deep Third Person POV:
Anne shifted from foot to foot, fingers tapping on her thigh as she waited for Don’s reaction. His mouth pressed into a thin line and he shook his head slowly.
When the Character Reacts
When the character processes or reacts to what’s happening in the story, only share their immediate visceral and physical responses, not the conclusions they reach or the thought process that got them there. The way they experience the situation will depend on their personality, current emotional state, the beliefs and scars from their past and skills.
Continuing with the previous example:
Then Don sighed. He didn’t say a word before he turned and walked away. Pin pricks stabbed at Anne’s eyes and she blinked rapidly, holding her breath least a strangled cry made itself out of her mouth before he was out of earshot.
See how the author doesn’t tell the reader that Don was disappointed and so decided to leave, or that Anne was nervous about his reaction and upset when he turned his back on her, but they can surmise all of this from the characters’ actions.
Move In and Out of Deep POV
Being up close to emotions constantly can be tiring, so I prefer to save Deep POV for times when there are high emotional stakes. At other times you can pull back to a more distant POV, so the character (and reader) have time to process emotions, think through how the situation affects them and make decisions based on what the experience means to them.
As characters move through you story, put yourself in their shoes and experience situations as they would. When you translate this onto the page, focus on their immediate visceral and physical responses. Show the reader what they are thinking and feeling through facial expressions, body language, dialogue and tone of voice. Rather than explaining what is happening, just show the action as it unfolds and let readers draw their own conclusions. This will more thoroughly engage them emotionally and intellectually, resulting in a more satisfying experience for them.
This article first appeared on the Romance Writers of Australia blog on 23/08/21.
By Sandy Vaile
I used to think Deep Third-person Point of View (DPOV) was one of those tricky sixth-sense kind of concepts that only the Dalai Lama understood.
Have you ever had feedback that says ‘author intrusion’ or ‘lacks emotional punch’? Have you heard DPOV mentioned in literary circles, but figured it was only for writers of erotic stories? Did you see DPOV fly past at a workshop, but weren’t able to catch hold of it? Then breathe easy, because I’m here to reassure you that DPOV is something already lurking on your pages, you just have to learn to identify and make the most of it.
Deep POV is a relatively recent concept (the last couple of decades), but it is all the rage, particularly in romance literature.
Clearing up any confusion
First up I want to promise that you don’t have to learn a new POV. Unfortunately, I don’t have the space to discuss the pros and cons of the different POVs, so I’m going to assume you understand how to write in third person POV, as most romance stories are told.
When you’re writing in the third-person subjective (showing the story through one character at a time), DPOV is simply a way of bringing the reader even closer to your character, which will result in a strong emotional response. And that’s a good thing!
So what is it?
Rather than telling the reader the story, DPOV is a way of moving them closer to the POV character, and using her senses so the reader can experience it through her. Pretend for a moment that you’re watching your POV character ¾ let’s call her Alice ¾ through the lens of a movie camera. Alice is strolling through a lush, tropical garden, reaching out to touch a bright orange Bird of Paradise flower.
Now zoom the camera in so that you are sitting on Alice’s shoulder, where you can better see the textures of the plants and the vivid blue centre of the flower. But you still haven’t reached DPOV.
It’s time to put the camera down and use your magic powers ¾ otherwise known as an imagination ¾ to transport yourself into Alice’s mind. Now you can feel the prickle of the grass under her bare feet, see the waxy texture of the stiff, orange flower, hear the musical lilt of the nearby creek flowing through the gorge, smell the damp moss on the stones, and when she licks her lips, taste the remnants of the chocolate she has been sucking.
Do you see what DPOV has achieved? Rather than watching Alice’s life unfold, you are experiencing it as she does.
Ideally you don’t want readers to notice how cleverly you’ve used the language, because you want them to be so engaged with your character, that they are completely immersed in her thoughts and sensations. The danger of not fully engaging the reader, is that they won’t feel emotionally invested in the story, and are more likely to walk away from it.
Getting into your character’s head
It’s important to know your character intimately, so you will know how she thinks, feels and acts. You can do this by understanding what she thinks and feels, and why, where she came from and where she’s going, and events and persons who have influenced her. The deeper your character development, the more likely you are to be able to experience the world the way your character would.
If each of us entered the same lounge room, we would experience it differently because of the influences of our life experiences, hopes and fears. A seamstress might notice the crooked seam on the curtains, a horse-rider might notice the jodhpurs hung over a chair, a gardener would marvel at the delicate blooms on the window sill, etc.
Remember that your characters are likely to have their own speech patterns, phobias, ideas about social etiquette, etc. All of these things will add layers to your character, but their flaws especially will help readers relate to and sympathise with them.
When to use DPOV
It can feel a bit scary when you first start to explore DPOV, because it almost feels like you’re slipping into first person, but you’re not. You’re still using ‘he’ and ‘she’, but you’re getting rid of the narrator as much as possible, and just leaving the fabulous story and charming characters.
It’s not appropriate to use DPOV all the time, just as you can’t always show instead of tell. There are times when you just need to drive the story forwards, like explaining the relationship between characters, or showing a big-picture scene. But only take that route if you can’t deliver the information another way, like through dialogue or interactions. Once you get used to using DPOV, you’ll be surprised at how it will affect everything you write. One of the huge benefits is making your writing more direct, because you will get rid of superfluous filter words.
As you can imagine, it would be exhausting to feel every emotion your character feels about everything from a cup of tea to the neighbour’s new car, but you can still use DPOV by incorporating your character’s senses. Let your reader see, hear, smell, touch and taste the environment as your character interacts with it.
Let’s talk tactics
DPOV makes your words work harder. Not only are they telling a story, but everyone is chosen carefully to layer in character development, emotions, tone, themes and attitude.
For example, instead of: Bob decided that this dawn signalled a new start for him.
Dig deeper: Bob threw open the door and sucked in a lungful of crisp mountain air. It was the best air he’d ever breathed. No city fumes or skyscrapers blocking the sun, and best of all, no Jenny strangling him with impossible rules and requirements.
So, do you have to use italics when you’re in a character’s head? If the character wants to break from third-person POV and think ‘I did this’, then yes, but the beauty of DPOV is that this is hardly ever necessary, and that helps the story to flow.
Don’t pre-empt actions and feelings, just show them happening.
Instead of: Sally’s skin began to prickle, and she wondered when the snarling dog would attack.
Try: Sally’s skin prickled. The snarling dog stalked closer, muscles bunch, haunches lowered, ready to launch at her.
Steer clear of passive voice, which is telling the reader that something is being done to someone, rather than by your character.
Instead of: Her face was stroked.
Try: He stroked her face.
Drawing on your own experiences and emotions can be helpful to really immerse yourself in the world of your character. The situation your character is in may be different, but you’ll be able to draw on the details you remember of a time, place or event, and the emotions they evoked for you.
[Top Secret: I find “The Emotional Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression” by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, a very helpful tool when I run out of different ways to show similar emotional responses.]
Many romance writers alternate between the hero and heroine’s POVs. If you do this, keep in mind that you want to experiencing the story through the character who has the most to lose, or will be most affected at that time. While you are in a character’s head, remember that you can only view the world as he/she genuinely would.
Using a lot of dialogue tags is another reminder that the reader is being told a story. Sure, they are necessary sometimes, but don’t overdo them. Quite often you can use language and movements that the reader associates with that character.
One of the most helpful things I learnt was to banish any distancing words, because they immediately let the reader know they are being told a story, rather than just letting them experience it. They also make your writing less direct, which provides yet another opportunity for your reader to wonder if there is still a piece of cake in the fridge, and put your book down.
Here are some examples of distancing words: saw, watched, thought, wondered, felt, seemed, looked, almost, noticed, realised, decided, heard.
Instead of: Alice felt sad at leaving her sister, Liz, behind.
Try experiencing it through her: Alice blinked furiously to stymie her tears, and waved as Liz raced along the train platform. It was only for a year, and Liz was old enough to fend for herself now. She hoped.
The second example uses DPOV to let the reader experience what Alice’s emotions feel like, with the added bonus of providing more insight into her hopes and fears.
Instead of: Alice heard footsteps behind her and turned to survey the dark alley.
Try: There it was again; a muffled footstep. Alice whirled around and glared into the dark mouth of the alley, heart thumping a staccato beat.
DPOV is all about weaving a character’s senses and emotions through the narrative. By inviting your reader right into the minds and hearts of your characters, you will allow them to experience the characters’ hopes and fears, exhilarating first kisses and heart-wrenching losses. For a little while the reader will be completely immersed in the story, and remember it long after he/she puts the book down.
I hope I have demystified DPOV and made you feel comfortable using it.
Empowering modern fiction writers