Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Deep POV- the mint to your book's julep

by Maggie Toussaint

Show of hands here: how many are guilty of serious headhopping in your earlier works or first drafts? (My hand goes up.) It's a problem I struggled with initially. Then I glommed onto POV nuances. I learned how to show the non-POV character's thoughts through their dialogue, behavior, or body language, as observed through the eyes of the POV character.

Along the way to writing prowess, authors learn when to use third person POV, first, and omniscient. Each POV sytle lends itself to various fiction genres. Some use omnisicent to show a larger view at the opening of a chapter/scene and then transition into the main POV style. Many romances traditionally use multiple third person POV, so that the reader can feel at ease in the heads of both the hero and heroine. By contrast, it is quite common for mysteries to be in first person POV, with the sleuth as the only POV character, though there are many exceptions within both romance and mystery genres.

In both third person and first person POV, there exists an opportunity for deep POV. In a third person POV scene, that transition may be signalled by the words he (she) thought or italics. In first person, no such transition is needed because the reader is already inside the head of the POV character. However, in my opinion, deep POV should be used with a light hand.

Case in point: A book I recently read written in first person POV had a heavy dose of deep POV. Consequently, I brooded along with the main character for pages upon pages. I experienced considerable anxiety about the story's direction and the author's mental health. This particular book was well written, and the deep POV wasn't presented as monologue, so there were no technical flaws, as in impedence of the story. Even so, it was dizzying and uncomfortable for me.

Writers want readers to feel connected to their books. But narrowing the lens of the story to deep POV, restricts the flow of information. To me it's like going on a long hike and only being able to stare down at your feet. As a reader, I want to sense more of the panorama of the setting. Being trapped inside someone's mind too long feels too limited, like a horse wearing blinders.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy deep POV, and I think it makes a story. For me, its most enjoyable when its done sparingly, like a sprig of mint in a mint julep.

What are your thoughts on deep POV? Do you notice it? Does it bother you?

Maggie Toussaint


LK Hunsaker said...

I use close third in all of my work, so readers only see/feel/hear what the POV character does. It does make a more involved read, but I have yet to find POV written so deep I was bothered by it. I find the opposite is more often true -- I don't get enough personal perspective. That makes me less interested in the story in general.

My readers have said they laugh and cry with my characters, but it didn't sound like a complaint, lol.

Denise Patrick said...

I like deep POV, but sometimes it can be over done. I recently read a romance where the deep POV went on and on for pages and I lost interest quickly because it was stuff we'd already hashed out in an earlier deep POV moment.

I try to use it in my own writing, but I'm not very good at it. I suspect it's because I tend to get impatient and just want to move along and tell the reader what's happening. I have to force myself not to do that, but it's not easy. I also like to use the occasional omni POV, but I use it sparingly.

Diana Castilleja said...

I use 3rd. I don't consciously try for deep POV. I just write. LOL

Morgan Mandel said...

I use 3rd and try to really get into the character's mind as deep as I can. I like my readers to feel they are the characters.

If there's too repetition in deep point of view the author needs to tighten the manuscript.

Morgan Mandel

Mona Risk said...

Great blog. I write in 3rd and love to go in deep POV. You become your character.

Terry Odell said...

Suzanne Brockmann's article on POV is an excellent lesson for anyone wanting to grasp the mechanics as well as the nuances. "Deep" POV is more like 1st person POV, and I try to get into a POV character's head and stay there. I've never been put off by 'too much' POV -- I think it would simply be overwriting. Regardless of POV or its depth, it's never a good idea to keep telling the reader what you've already told them.

Celia Yeary said...

Hi, Maggie, Celia here. I've had trouble with this POV thing, until I finally got it for my own writing and style of romance novels. The trouble is my two crit partners--whom I love dearly as friends, who insist they write in "Omniscient" POV and pay no attention to anything else. Since I write for TWRP and know to write in two specific, pure POV's,I can't communicate with these two women. Neither have been successful with publication, and they--God bless them--insist that how I write is very "elementary." Well,this is very "off-putting," to say the least. But I know and understand what you're saying, but they wouldn't and couldn't agree. So, I read their pages, and comment on everything else I can---except POV. Ugh. Celia

Viola Estrella said...

Great post, Maggie! I've written in both 1st and 3rd person and I enjoy going in deep, but only if I feel it adds to the story and/or characterization. Too much and the reader may wonder what's the point? Too little and the reader might not connect to the character. It's tricky! I can only hope I'm doing it right. :-)


Catherine Bybee said...

Great post! I think a deep POV is important for certain type of novels. I don't think Steven King knows any other way to write. Although romance needs you to step into the shoes of the heroine to 'feel' the book, it can be over done if the POV is too deep. If I'm rushing through detail to get to the story then the POV has gone too far. Its a very fine line.

I'm not sure who said this: Easy reading is damn hard writing. But whoever did, they were right!

Cheryl Wright said...

Hi Maggie,

I like deep POV but only when it's used sparingly. I go by the philosophy of 'less is more'.

Overdoing deep POV will often turn the reader off, as you found in the story you mentioned in your post.


Maggie Toussaint said...

WOW!!! I'm so excited to have comments on this blog post. I'm going to start at the top and answer them all.

First up LK: I applaud your mastery of the writing craft. Your readers know a good read when they spot one. If you're getting that kind of feedback, you have this element down pat.

Thanks for posting!

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Denise,

I am right with you on the crafting of POV. I tend to get in a hurry myself, so I have to force myself to edit in a slower pace at times. I want readers to feel like "they get it" like they are in the moment with the character. For that you need to zoom the camera lens into the scene and then back out. Easily said. Harder done.

Thanks for posting!

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Diana C,
I bet you use deep POV, but that you are so good at it, it comes out instinctively.
Thanks for posting!

Maggie Toussaint said...

You made an excellent point, Morgan. If the deep POV feels wrong, perhaps it is a repeat of previous info. Maybe that's another reason I was so annoyed with the book that spawned this post. I felt like it was groundhog day and I was constantly reliving that moment over and over. Who needs that?

Thanks for dropping by SRNWrites

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Mona,
Thanks for dropping by. I admire that you are so versed in POV. You must be very comfortable in your author clothes!

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Terry,
Thanks for stopping by. I love that article Suzanne Brockman wrote. POV is such a great tool for putting us in the cockpit of a character's mind. I think the reason I was discouraged by the deep POV in the book that spawned this prompt is that the character didn't grow. She kept rehashing the same input in a way that put me off. But then, there's different strokes for different folks.

Maggie Toussaint said...

I love your post! And girlfriend, you need new critique partners. I had a similar situation, where folks in my group had stagnated. I managed to graciously extricate myself and eventually found others who were writing the same style of story I was. I'm still friends with my first crit partners but that's because what we built in that first group was more of an emotional support system. That's just as important as critique, so if you can find a way to keep them as friends, and get more versatile crit partners, so much the better.
Thanks for dropping by!

Maggie Toussaint said...

I think the fact that you are aware of deep POV and how tricky it is means that you are doing it right. Thanks for stopping by.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Catherine,
I love the line you posted about easy writing being damn hard. I so agree. And with each book you write, the pressure is on to outdo yourself. Deep POV has always interested me, and from the looks of these comments, its been on the minds of others as well.

Thanks for stopping in.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Cheryl,
I so agree with you about the sparing use of deep POV. Unless a writer is very skilled, it can be off-putting. However, in the hands of a great writer, extended deep POV is a beautiful thing. Sigh. Such a fine line between excellence and lets-not-go-there.

Thanks for stopping by!

LK Hunsaker said...

Hi Maggie, a few replies to the above..

Thank you! POV/characterization comes easily for me personally, but other aspects of writing don't, lol. The struggle is part of the fun, though.

Repetition kills a story for me, also. Once I know your hunk is a hunk or your main character has anger issues, I can remember that, thanks. Move along ... and show me, don't tell me.

Omniscient POV is rarely used well. Mark Twain excelled at it. Most new writers don't, though. It's hard to get to know characters that way, unless the writer is highly skilled. I've also seen POV called omniscient when it's actually multiple third. There's a huge difference.

Enjoying the technique conversation. :-)

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi LK,
I appreciate your follow-up comments. POV, I think, is one of the most overlooked craft elements. Everyone thinks they have it down pat, but they are just skimming the surface. I've found that the more I write the more comfortable I am in a person's head, and I hope, the less apt to make glaring errors.
Thanks for swinging back by SRNWrites!


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