Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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DEEP POV—What is It? Why Do Readers LOVE It?

So maybe you’re bee-bopping along on the interwebs, clicking on blogs, checking out writing resources when you see it float across your tweet deck. Or perhaps you’re at a writing conference looking all intellectual and stuff, and in the conversations this phrase deep POV keeps floating past. Deep POV. Deep POV. You keep hearing it, seeing it…

And, if you are anything like me, you don’t want to look like an idiot so you don’t ask that question burning inside you.

Um, what the heck is deep POV?

***Note to self. Google Deep POV at home under cover of darkness.

So what the heck is it and why do we need some?

If you are a writer who has a goal of selling books it is wise to remember that audiences are not static. They change. Their tastes change with the times and we need to understand what is “trending” if we want to connect and entertain. Many new writers look to the classics for inspiration and there isn’t anything per se wrong with that, but we must reinvent the classics, not regurgitate them.

Even if you look at the fashion trends, sure some styles “come back around” but they are not exact replicas of the past. They are a modernized version. But keep in mind that some fashion styles never come back. They’ve outlived their usefulness and belong in the past. Same with fiction.

Story trends and fashions change along with the audience. For instance, Moby Dick spends an excruciatingly long time talking about whales, namely because the audience of the time probably had never seen one and never would. If we did this today? Sure, feel free to walk around in a literary gold-plated cod piece, but er…

Yes, awkward.

Epics were also very popular. Follow a character from the womb until death. FANTASTIC STUFF! Why? Because no one had HBO, Pinterest or Angry Birds. Books were a rare indulgence usually reserved for a handful of literate folks with the money or connections to get their hands on…a book.

Also, since writers were paid by the word, their works were padded more than a freshman term paper. Their motto? No modifier left behind. These days? We have to write leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner.

We’ve talked about POV before, and which one might be the best for your story. I can’t choose for any of you, but before we talk about deep POV, I want to mention that POV is also affected by audience and I believe is a direct reflection of how connected we are as a society.

You guys may or may not know that POV has changed along with communication and connectedness. Waaaaay back in the day, omniscient with a god-like narrator was all the rage. But people didn’t travel at all. Most humans lived and died in the place they were born and in isolation from other communities.

With the early epics, we often had a narrator who was separate from the events.

Dear Reader, come with me for a tale of AWESOME…

Later, after the Dark Ages, people got out more, traveled more, etc. We see the narrator merging into just general god-like presence. Then, after the printing press was invented, more and more people were reading and a lot of monks were out of a job and went off to start the first microbreweries.

Don’t argue. It’s history 😛 .

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 6.44.15 AM
Image via kcxd courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

With pamphlets and papers, people became more engaged and journalism eventually gives birth to this new-fangled invention…first-person. Third person and third-person shifting only became popular after audiences grew accustomed to radio programs (and later television) and could mentally process the idea of a cut-to scene.

As people became networked closer and closer, we see the psychic distance closing. Now that we are a culture of reality TV and social media? Omniscient is a tough sell. I am not telling any of you what POV to choose, but I will say that modern readers will shy away from these older forms of POV because they “feel cold.” Modern readers LOVE being as close as possible, ergo my little side-trip through history.

And this is where we get *drum roll* deep POV.

You hear this word flung around the writing world. Oooh, deep POV. That is deep POV. Deep, Man.

Everyone wants it. Readers love it. Uh, but what IS it? How do I do it? Can I order some off Amazon?

Deep POV is simply a technique that strips the author voice completely out of the prose. There is no author intrusion so we are left only with the characters. The reader is nice and snuggly in the “head” of the character.

Okay, clear as mud. Right? Right.

As an editor, I see the intrusion much more than authors. It is actually shocking how much you guys interrupt. In fact, you are like my mother chaperoning my first date who would swear she was quiet as a mouse.

NOT.

I actually like deep POV because I love tight prose. I loathe unnecessary words. Deep POV not only leans up the writing, it digs deeper into the mental state of the character. We probably aren’t going to stay completely in deep POV, but it’s a nice place to call “home.”

How do we do it? Today, for the sake of brevity, we are just going to talk about simple stylistic changes, not the actual writing. We will do that next time 😉 .

First, Ditch the Tags

Just using the word “said” tells the reader we (the author) are there.

Kristen’s Made-Up Example (don’t judge me, just roll with it)

“No, I always love it when you drop by,” she said. Fifi felt her hands start to shake. She glanced over Tom’s shoulder and saw that the street was deserted. She knew all of her neighbors had already gone out of town for Christmas and no one would hear her scream. She thought, He is going to kill me.

Okay, so we get that Fifi is in a bad spot. But just that little word said tells us the author is present. So in the next layer we are going to remove the said.

While We Are Here? Thought and Sense Words—Ditch Those, Too

If we really pause and think about it, thought and sense words are frequently redundant. If we are IN the character’s head? We KNOW she is thinking. Who else would be thinking?

We aren’t dumb. Yes, it is my personal opinion, but I feel sensing and thinking words often qualify as holding the reader’s brain. We don’t need to. Readers are pretty smart.

Let’s look at my made-up example.

“No, I always love it when you drop by.” Fifi felt her hands start to shake. She glanced over Tom’s shoulder and saw that the street was deserted. She knew all of her neighbors had already gone out of town for Christmas and no one would hear her scream. She thought, He is going to kill me.

So we ditched the said and that tightened it up. Did you notice how losing the tag tightened the psychic distance? Now let’s remove these stubborn stains  unnecessary sensing and thinking words.

***Also, try to ditch any “starting to”.  Do or do not, there is no try starting to.

“No, I always love it when you drop by.” Fifi’s hands shook. She glanced over Tom’s shoulder. The street was deserted. All of her neighbors had already gone out of town for Christmas and no one would hear her scream. He is going to kill me.

Do you see how just getting rid of those excess words upped the tension of this piece? We (the reader) go from being a distant observer to being in the potentially deadly situation. We don’t need to tell the reader Fifi is thinking or feeling or about to do something. The reader gets that and us putting in glowing directional arrows is a distraction.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 5.19.06 PM

Fifi felt Tom’s hands clamp around her throat.

Just get to it already!

Tom’s hands clamped around her throat.

So I hope this helps clear up some of your “deep POV” questions. Remember that we live in a culture that is spoiled with intimacy and we can give them what they love. Next time, we will discuss characterization and how to write in deep POV beyond the stylistic choices.

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62 thoughts on “DEEP POV—What is It? Why Do Readers LOVE It?”

  1. Christina HawthorneChristina Hawthorne

    LOVE Deep POV. I first stumbled across it about 18 months ago via Marcy Kennedy. Not to say it’s easy. Old habits die hard and I find myself violating, but when I capture it it’s magic. It occupies a position between 1st where I was prone to endless rumination and a more distant 3rd that lacked immediacy.

    • Jini EllyneJini Ellyne

      Yes I get why Deep POV is good. It’s actually better writing than older styles. I promise to always strive for it. However, your comments about epics make me want to weep and when I finish crying I will just give up on publishing my work because today’s Twitter-addicted readers have continually lessening attention spans for anything beyond 140 characters in length. All my favorite novels are epics. I’ve never read anything I liked that was less than 100,000 words. I know I better go with the flow and give the kids what they want. I’m OLD. I’m in my mid forties. But honestly I would never have given up my day job where I was making excellent money as a computer programmer if anyone had warned me that I would have to write stories of 80,000 words or less in single POV in order to have a prayer of selling books. As a minor note, if one IS writing an epic, switching between different character’s POVs can add a lot of interest to the tale. Did anyone ever write a single POV epic that sold well? I can’t think of any. Tell me if I’m wrong. As an even more minor note, If the only goal is to sell lots of books by pandering to the masses, then I advise writing short Erotica and literature be damned, no story really needed.

  2. Stephen H. KingStephen H. King

    Hate to say it, but “Deep POV” seems to be just another way of saying “tight prose” and the old worn-down go-to “show us, don’t tell us.” It’s kinda like my world of education management, where “hands-on learning” became “active learning” which is now a “flipped classroom” because, you know, times change even when minds do not.

    So…yes to Deep POV, though I think I shall continue calling it “tight prose” and reserving the other term for its porn genre.

  3. Cynthia Mahoney / Claire O'SullivanCynthia Mahoney / Claire O'Sullivan

    Kristen,

    Great blog/article/discussion on deep POV. As a newbie, the use of 1st POV grants moi the access to live in my MC’s head. Filtering of any POV kills me. No matter who the writer, published and famous or not. Many newbies (so I hear) use 1st POV for the same reason.

    How I bend rules, those guidelines agents/PH frown upon: my fMC speaks 1st POV. In a crime novel, she doesn’t have access to the evidence (’til she uh, breaks into the evidence locker and photographs everything). Her love interest speaks/thinks in 3rd POV (this gives her access to the PD).

    Crime and Punishment is 1. a crime and 2. punishing to read. The reader suffers (but learns)about filtering, so I recommend reading C&P. I don’t recommend writing it. Ever.

    Why not one POV for each? I made the decision on who is speaking? Deep POV for my fMC is stronger, yet filtering is stamped out for the love interest. Ditching tags is easy, esp in long dialogue. fMC says or thinks his name, or vice versa every now and again–even when they are the only ones talking. I also give each character a different speech pattern.

    This may be why I get a lot of rejections, lol. One or the other, one or the other.

  4. Renee WittmanRenee Wittman

    I asked my husband if I could take the ‘Be a Better Hooker’ class, and he shot soda out his nose. I heartily approve of your punning. 😉

    It hadn’t occurred to me that ‘said’ would kick the reader out of deep POV. I thought it was mostly invisible?

  5. Beabe ThompsonBeabe Thompson

    I’ve seen some workshop speakers stumble over the meaning of “Deep POV”, but you’ve nailed it.

  6. Rennie St JamesRennie St James

    This blog works perfectly with an earlier one. I just searched for all the ‘started go’s and ‘moved to’ in my manuscript. I love that you include theories for lack of a better term – deep POV was a new term for me. However your practical application examples are priceless! Thank you for another great one!

  7. Jeff BauerJeff Bauer

    I’ve always thought felt only belongs in fashion or on the tips of pens.

  8. MariaMaria

    I had to chuckle with your note to self about being careful when Googling deep PoV. I mentioned it in my translation class (in Greece, with Greek students) and I saw a couple of younger guys snickering just with the mention of “POV”. I got suspicious, so I Googled the acronym and Urbandictionary gave me a very vivid picture of what it means … in a different context 😀

  9. Lyn Fairchild HawksLyn Fairchild Hawks

    Oh, wow. Red pen in hand, ready to eradicate all “feels” and “thoughts” and “starting tos.” I have so, so many in the first drafts, maybe because first drafts have that tentativeness, our brains warming up to actions and characters we’re not fully committed to. But it’s also a mindset, a “get to it” mindset. And I guess while I’m at it, I better watch how happy I get with the quotation marks. 😉

    Another area to explore–another post, maybe?–is whether the story demands that the reader see the world only through the lens of that character (if the writer is committing to third person close) in order to go deep in a way that blank action of third person objective can’t provide. Third person objective is less likely to be deep POV as much as it is tight, close camera POV. I was taught that Hemingway did the fly-on-the-wall camera pan, letting action speak for itself. Everything seen, but nothing seen inside the head. So no depth there but lots of panning.

    Thanks for a great post.

  10. Jan M. FlynnJan M. Flynn

    Just finished a rough draft of a novel, and just from the wisdom in this post I bet I can go in and reduce its bloat by a third. I use thinking and feeling and sensing words like Mardi Gras partiers use shiny beads. Of course, I’m going to let that draft sit long enough for me to be able to view it with some aha-there’s-the-forest distance, but when I get back to it . . . look out! Thank you, Kristen 🙂

  11. Elizabeth DrakeElizabeth Drake

    Not even daring to Google deep POV.

    Yes, I’ve seen this tighter writing particularly in thrillersome, but even in romance novels lately.

    As a reader, I definitely prefer it. As a writer, I strive for it.

  12. Saralyn RichardSaralyn Richard

    No modifier left behind? Hilarious wit, Kristen! Thanks for bringing clarity to a very complicated topic.

  13. Vanessa FowlerVanessa Fowler

    I remember you writing about this before, and it had a huge impact on my writing. But I’m soooo thankful for this refresher because I realized that I only applied some parts of what you said and forgot the others. Now I need to remove excess sensing and thinking words.
    Thanks Kristen! I think I’m going to sign up for your writing courses!

  14. Tam FrancisTam Francis

    Great examples. I’m sharing with my crit group. We call those “filter words” and try to point them out as much as possible. We’ve got a couple newbies to the group, and it’s always good to back up critique suggestions with authorities like you! Woo hoo! Thank you!

    A few more, we look for in our critiquing:
    Heard/hear
    saw/see
    touch/touched
    wonder/wondered
    realize/realized
    watch/watched
    look/looked
    seem/seemed
    can/could
    decide/decided
    sound/sounded (or sound(ed) like)

  15. Sharon SchlesingerSharon Schlesinger

    You da bomb

  16. Reg QuistReg Quist

    I have eliminated most of the redundant words from my writing already so I appreciate your thoughts (approval)of that. In westerns, which is what I write, Elmer Kelton more or less pioneered this change. BTW,I hate “you guys”. It’s probably an age thing.

  17. Ernesto San GiacomoErnesto San Giacomo

    Liked the step by step samples. Although, we (The Queen and I) have been scrubbing those sentences for a while.
    Phew *wipes brow.

  18. Maria D'MarcoMaria D'Marco

    Have been editing for years as a closet Deep POV’er…so thankful you also mentioned my pet peeve: trying and almost doing something. Just do it, for goodness sake! I have railed at my author clients for decades about their characters ‘trying’ to do something. It is so nice to hear you point the ‘do it’ thang (as they say in Texas).

    Wonderful post, as always — can’t wait to see the next iteration!

  19. David AndersonDavid Anderson

    Deep POV. That’s what I’ve been trying to do and didn’t know what it was called. I used to call it getting totally inside the character’s skin.

  20. Sherry BessetteSherry Bessette

    Do you think deep POV should be used through the whole story or maybe just in spots to really bring home the intensity of certain scenes and emotions?

    • cynthia mahoney/claire o'sullivancynthia mahoney/claire o'sullivan

      My thought is no, if in the entire novel, one will put it down. Filtering yes get rid of, but not every aspect of being in a person’s head. It can get tiresome to read. A good balance. Setting up a scene someone has not seen. Turning his head, might be necessary so that one avoids author intrusion.

      • Sherry BessetteSherry Bessette

        Cynthia, That’s pretty much what I was thinking. If we stay in deep POV the whole story the reader never gets a chance to breathe. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather keep my readers alive. lol

        • cindy mahoney/claire o'sullivancindy mahoney/claire o'sullivan

          LOL. I read something on deep POV that would drive me nuts. I am serious. There are three levels of deep POV. SERIOUSLY. See which one makes you crazy.

          1. Icy rivulets leaked down the back of her coat before she could tighten her hood and hide.
          2. Boots soaked, she lifted each foot from the puddle to run; fear laced her fingers around her hood as the woman hobbled toward her.
          3. Her throat, gripped with icy fingers of fear–no! The witch might find me, she’ll kill me with her spells. Mustn’t be found, hide,hide, my coat–oh no! She sees me!

          GAG I find #3 a bit too much.

  21. John GreerJohn Greer

    Great post! I’m going to put this one in practice straight away.

  22. Deborah MakariosDeborah Makarios

    I think deep POV adds a lot to certain genres, invisibly making the book ‘better’ but I don’t like it all the time. It feels claustrophobic, being stuck inside someone’s head and not being able to ‘see’ anything but their limited perspective at that moment. But it appears I am in a minority on this.

    • DeborahDeborah

      Oh I like to intrude in some areas, if I feel the information given will either propel the plot or reveal character. I’m also a fan of free indirect discourse, which is way old, but enjoyable to read. At least, it is to me.

  23. Linda FultonLinda Fulton

    Love this Deep POV article. Best explanation I’ve seen!

  24. Bev BairdBev Baird

    THis is what I have been told to do for the novel I finished – and now need to do a major revision of. Thanks for a most informative post!

  25. CherylCheryl

    Thank you for this. I’m relatively new to this writing gig, and people in my local writing group throw ‘Deep POV’ around all the time, but I was never really sure what they were talking about. I’ve learned the hard way not to Google ‘deep’ anything. I look forward to more on the subject.

  26. AdamAdam

    Thank you once again. This is a very insightful post about some of the less obvious aspects of word choice. Reading your example, I’m struck by the idea of shifting between the two styles to denote distance from self.
    For example, if a POV character suddenly learns something horrifying/traumatic, like the death of someone significant in their life, it might be fitting to slip into “said”, “felt”, etc., as a way of showing how the character retreats from the world, and stop using those terms when the character comes back; similar to how many films will cut out ambient sound when a character is in shock.
    Certainly some interesting food for thought.

  27. Linda CostarellaLinda Costarella

    Kristen, thanks for another great post. The information is very helpful, and your examples make the point crystal clear. I look forward to reading your blog. Linda

  28. "Lonesome" Lee West"Lonesome" Lee West

    Sure, as long as the reader is absolutely sure of who is speaking. So the writer had better be very, very sharp. Any confusion whatsoever about who is speaking, and the only future that particular book has is the barbecue grill. Just add lighter fluid, toss in a lit match, and your job is done.

  29. Debbie JohanssonDebbie Johansson

    Love this explanation Kristen. Thank you! I might need to enroll in another one of your classes. 🙂

  30. Catherine CadeCatherine Cade

    For the first time, I understand! I’m a beginner – still learning. I got the ‘show don’t tell’ and avoidance of words like ‘feel’ and ‘saw’ but merely dredged my thesaurus for alternatives. Your examples have brought it home. I was going to frame them over my laptop (a challenge, since I write in front of a window…) but after trying it for myself I know the difference. I’ve been lurking for a while and picked up some useful insights. Bought the book – will read when I’ve something to market. Many thanks

    • cynthia mahoney/pen name Claire O'Sullivancynthia mahoney/pen name Claire O'Sullivan

      SHOCK!!! My fMC’s name is Catherine Cade… goes by Cat on rare occasion but doesn’t like it much. Middle name, Marie.

      🙂 Just HAD to reply

      • Catherine CadeCatherine Cade

        And my middle name’s Mary… Spooky

        • cindy mahoney/claire o'sullivancindy mahoney/claire o'sullivan

          holy moly

          the CC in my story is an identity thief. LOL. I think I stole your identity.

  31. JenJen

    Wow – 1,100 posts down! I am clearly late to the party. Loved the example of deep POV and great timing as I’ve been thinking about best POV for my first novel (which is in the idea formation stage but, you know, gotta start somewhere). I love how clean and active this perspective is; definitely want to try this out.

  32. Joe BirdJoe Bird

    Yo, Kristen.

    With my current novel, I’m 30,000 words in and have yet to use a dialog tag. I just started writing that way, and then it became a challenge to see if I could keep it up. I didn’t know I was delving into Deep POV. As a matter of keeping the writing tight, I’ve been limiting the sense words, too. Again, I didn’t know it was a thing. Thanks, as always, for your good advice.

    Joe

  33. DeborahDeborah

    I’ve been trying to incorporate Deep POV into my work for a while now, although there are places and times where author intrusion seems stylistically appropriate to me. I’m working on some big projects at the moment, so will have plenty of time to practice.

  34. Diane SylvesterDiane Sylvester

    Thank you! Great post. I knew about the ‘he said/she said,’ but my writing is full of “he thought” and “she felt.” Going to removed the and tighten up my writing. Yeah!

  35. HR SinclairHR Sinclair

    You post was…deep.?

    The example was great and really shed light on the meaning.

  36. Maryann MillerMaryann Miller

    Thanks for the great explanation of deep POV and the wonderful example. That made the points clearer than had you not included the example and showed how it improved with each rewrite.

  37. Scott PettyScott Petty

    From your description, I’ve got pockes of Deep POV without even knowing it! Huh, whatta ya know. Now time to go through the WHOLE draft and make it ALL Deep POV.

    • Scott PettyScott Petty

      I meant “pockets”. Ugh, hit enter too quickly.

  38. KitKit

    I’ve been working on a piece which I now realize uses “mostly” deep POV. Now that I have better understanding of the idea, I can clean it up and make it consistently Deep POV. This blog post couldn’t have come at a better time. Thanks!

  39. Calisa RhoseCalisa Rhose

    And ly words.
    This. It’s my favorite part to edit, read and write! I love helping authors find deep POV. It can also help keep edits less painful (once an editor has your story). Deep POV comes naturally in my stories now, so it’s not hard work, but I do still have to pick each draft apart and elimenate or fix all those other grammar parts I’m horrible at. Not so much in other writing. LOL
    Love this post, Kristen!!

  40. Eva BlaskovicEva Blaskovic

    This is a stellar article. I’ve been working with the technique but did not have a name for it until now. I was so happy to see this. I will be featuring your article and definition of Deep POV in a blog article on April 19.

  41. RobinRobin

    I’m late commenting. xP Just wanted to say, thanks for this. It’s goid to have a refresher on what to do with this pov.

    On the first chapter it’s about 90% deep pov thdn I tighten more each chapter.

    I find that a change of scene (will remembering to keep the description in the pov too) is one of the good spots to pull back a bit. I don’t ever fully drop out of deep pov, but loosen the grip so to speek.

    Huge ego bost today from a reader on a reading/writing site. When readers love deep pov, they really love it. O.O It makes ne happy when someone had fun reading my storry, that’s what we all want right? Woooo! Never give up finsh those books!

  42. DougDoug

    Seems like tight/close/deep third is approaching a substitute for first person POV. Like first, in close third the reader cannot be told anything the main character doesn’t sense or know directly.

    Does the fashion for deep POV limit the author’s ability to use foreshadowing? How, for instance, might the author signal to the reader that it’s Tom knocking on the door, even as Fifi is taken (perhaps fatally) by surprise?

  43. Rachel C. ThompsonRachel C. Thompson

    For clarity, sometimes there is no getting around tags like when there are more than two characters.

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