Deep POV Part 2—How to Immerse the Reader in Story

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of FromSandToGlass

So last time we introduced Deep POV. What is it and why do readers love it? Well, as I touched on last time, I think readers love it because it’s just clean, tight writing that pulls them into the story. I also think like all other POVs that have evolved in tandem with social changes, deep POV is a consequence of our world. We are a reality TV generation and we love that intimacy.

But after noodling it a couple days, I thought of yet another reason it behooves writers to learn deep POV. I think the reason readers love it is it hooks them. We live in a world chock full of millions of tiny distractions, which has made all of us more than a little ADD. A hundred years ago, readers weren’t distracted by emotionally distancing words.

They were an easier fish to catch, so to speak.

I think these days, writers really have a challenge. We are already competing with countless distractions, so why add more into our work? We need to hook early, hook hard and drag that reader under before he swims away.

Today is the HOW TO DO THIS.

To accomplish “deep POV” yes, there are style changes we can make, like removing as many tags as we can and ditching extraneous sensing and thinking words. But deep POV is more than just tight writing, it’s also strongly tethered to characterization. Good characterization.

It is essential to know our cast if we hope to successfully write “deep POV.”

KNOW Your Cast

There are all kinds of ways to get to know our characters. I often write detailed character backgrounds before starting a story so it doesn’t become a fish head.

Why we need to know our characters is that deep POV is a reflection of the inner self, how that character sees the world, responds, evades, processes, etc. It is also a reflection of personal history and relationship dynamics. It is his/her PARADIGM.

*cue brain cramp* *hands paper bag*

It’s okay. Breathe. We’re going to unpack this.

Reflection of the Character

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of DualD Flip Flop

Back when I ran a weekly workshop, I had writers do a little exercise to help them learn POV and also strengthen character-building skills. I gave this scenario:

We have a family of four—Mom, Dad, a grandparent (either gender) and a teen (either gender) who has spent a year saving for a family vacation. On the way to their destination, the vehicle breaks down. What happens and tell it from the perspective of EACH family member.

Every week, writers showed with the perspective of one of the four. We had ASTONISHING creativity.

Who These Characters ARE Changes the Story AND Deep POV

When we layer in some background, the characters (and consequently the story, problems and conflict) all change drastically.

What if dad is finally home from his forth tour in Afghanistan and has terrible PTSD?

What if Mom is a closet alcoholic?

What if the teen is recently in remission from Leukemia?

What if Grandma is a tireless flirt who’s antics got her turned into a vampire and the family can’t understand why Granny wants to travel only at night?

What if the teen is an asthmatic and forgot his inhaler?

What if Granddad has early on-set Alzheimer’s?

What if the teen has been recruited for a mandatory deep space mission by the New Earth government and will never see the family again?

What if the teen was adopted and the purpose for the trip was to meet the child’s birth mother? How would this impact the emotions of those in the vehicle?

What if there used to be TWO children and one had died in an accident a year previously?

Do you see how by changing WHO these people are, this cannot HELP but affect everything else?

If Dad has PTSD, he might jump at every lump of roadkill because that’s how insurgents hide IEDs. If the family is stranded and Mom can’t get to a liquor stash, she might start getting belligerent or, left too long, start going through DTs. What would an addict notice? Likely nothing beyond how to get a fix.

While a kid in remission with a new lease on life might enjoy being broken down in the middle of nowhere (appreciating the little things in life) the addict would be hysterical.

All of this will impact Deep POV because we are in the HEAD and EMOTIONS of the character.

Let’s pick on Mom for an illustration. I’m riffing this, so the writing is just an illustration. Just roll with it.

Geiko Caveman.

Geiko Caveman.

Kidding! Lighten up. You seem tense.

Example One:

Fifi clutched the baby picture, the one she’d carried everywhere for fifteen years. She hated she was happy the old van had finally given out. Her husband stared, bewildered at the smoking engine. Other than car trouble, he seemed fine. Fine. How can he be fine?

She glanced back at her daughter, the living reflection her of all her dreams and failures. She’d wanted a baby more than life. Every night on a freezing floor. One miscarriage after another and then came a tiny bundle of everything she’d ever longed for.

That woman hadn’t wanted her. That woman had abandoned her. That woman was Gretchen’s real mother and now Gretchen wanted to meet her. Real mother, like hell. And I’m a real astronaut.

How had she failed? If she’d been a good mother, Gretchen would have forgotten that woman and they wouldn’t be here.

“You okay?” Her daughter bent between the seats and kissed her cheek. “You said this was okay, that we could do this. You’re sure, right?” A wary smile revealed new braces, the braces Fifi paid for with money she’d saved for a new van.

“I’m fine, Honey.” She crumpled the baby picture and opened the van door. She needed air.


Example Two:

Fifi clutched the baby picture, the one her daughter had given her a week ago for Mother’s Day when they picked her up from rehab. Ninety days clean. At least that was the lie she’d packed along with her swimsuit and the hairspray can with the secret compartment and the only pills they hadn’t found.

The pills that were now gone.

They should have already been at the resort, the one staffed with eager friends willing to help her out. Friends with first names only who took cash and asked no questions.

Fifi scratched at her arms. Millions of insects boiled beneath her skin, invaded her nerve endings and chewed them to bleeding bits. Pain like lightning struck her spine, the section crushed then reconstructed. Pain like lightning spidered her brain, frying her thoughts. She glanced again at the baby picture, then at the fine young woman in back. Her daughter Gretchen.

What am I doing?

Maybe she would be okay. Maybe she hadn’t had enough pills to completely undo her. Maybe she could ride this out. And maybe I’m the Queen of England.

Gretchen bent between the seats and kissed her on the cheek. “I love you, Mom. You okay?”

Tears clotted her throat. She nodded. “Yes, I’m fine, Honey.”

“You mean it?”

She hesitated then smiled. “Yes. Yes I do.”

She tucked the baby picture in her shirt pocket, close to her heart and opened the van door. She needed air. She also needed to change their plans. Visit somewhere with no friends. With no one who took cash.

Do you see how changing WHO Fifi is changes everything? Everything she is sensing, feeling, thinking. Being in the emotions of a heartbroken mother who feels betrayed is a very different experience from being in the head of a sympathetic addict who’s struggling to get clean and stay clean.


Both women are impacted by the daughter. One Fifi is hurt by the daughter, the other Fifi finds hope in the daughter. Both women are conflicted. One is tormented with feelings of failure and betrayal and the other is tormented by failure, but very real physical problems of addiction that impact the story.

Deep POV has thrust us into the head and emotions of both women. We feel what they feel. The author is invisible because there are no tags. The sensations are raw and visceral because we have gotten rid of the coaching words.

Instead of:

Fifi felt millions of insects boiling beneath her skin….

We get right to it.

Millions of insects boiled beneath her skin…

The sensation is CLOSER. There is no psychic distance. She isn’t thinking she is going to lose it. She isn’t wondering if she can keep it together. She is experiencing everything real-time and up-close.

Instead of:

Fifi thought, What am I doing?

She just does. We KNOW Fifi is thinking because we are camped in her head.

Deep POV is Akin To Method Acting

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 9.49.06 AM

Couldn’t resist. I LOVE “Tropic Thunder”!

When we know our characters, who they are, how they came to be, the formative experiences, what they want from life, etc. we can then crawl in that skin and become that person. By us becoming that character, we then have the power to transport our reader into the skins we have fashioned.

I hope this helps you guys understand the magical, mystical deep POV and now you’re all excited about writing stronger characters. What are your thoughts?

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What are your thoughts?

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  1. Great post! I’m headed in the right direction. 🙂 Thanks for being you! 🙂

  2. In some novels I felt character development detracted from the story if it was so intense that such took up a quarter or so of the reading and in others too little diminished an understanding of the how and why characters were motivated to act the way they did during the story. I like the idea of transporting ourselves into a character in addition to transporting ourselves into the story. I lamented completing the read of some novels because the character was no longer part of my day and I’d miss them. That’s really quite a hook the author created.

  3. Terrific post. Great way to show what you’re talking about.

  4. You are so right. I have written in deep POV for a long time and readers love it. I get many reviews where people tell me they are living it with the characters. It doesn’t get any better than that…at least, not for me.

  5. Great follow-up, as always — and thanks for the examples, the best learning tool.
    What I’ve found in writing deep POV is that it forces me deeper into the character, broadens my own perspective of that character and their relationship with the world I’m creating. This also keeps me from being lazy, falling back on brittle old mainstays of generalities. The sting of betrayal to the character is more acute when the ‘pen’ lifts from the page and my mind wanders…
    Hard work maintaining deep POV…
    I also have found that writing deep POV makes me more mindful of other people and their quirks, why they react as they do, and how often I sieve their actions/words through my filters. Write deep POV and you cannot help but see people more clearly.
    Great post — got any more in ya on this subject? :o)

  6. This is a great post and supports the previous. Both of them have me going back into my manuscript to make some changes. I hope you will agree, there are times when using deep POV is inappropriate. I found when dialogue between three or more, you have to go back to using “said”.
    I have a question. Should you always use italics to identify the thoughts of POV character? Are there other techniques other than saying, “he thought… he said to himself, etc.”?

  7. How do you manage to crank out brilliant post after brilliant post? Love this, thanks Kristen.

    1. Thanks for the compliment. Answer? A crap ton of practice. Though most of my posts are new, I also harvest examples and content from older posts and recycle. Deep POV I haven’t talked about in over a year, so it’s new to plenty of people and a good refresher.

    • Charlotte Firbank-King on April 12, 2017 at 12:57 pm
    • Reply

    This, recently surface “Deep POV” in creative writing amuses me. We have all these buzz words that come out. Yet, I’ve been teaching my clients this sort of writing for more than a decade. The only difference, I had a number of things that dealt with each aspect. Avoid tags, use emotions and action, stick to one POV for at least a page, preferably more, show don’t tell, etc. One of my clients Skyped me in a panic. She had just submitted a short story for a competition and her story was one of those chosen, but the judges told her to read up on deep POV, (she does have a problem with some aspects of this subject) but I hadn’t heard the phrase until then. Then it pops up in your blog, Kristen, so thank you, but it ain’t new from what I can gather 🙂 or am I missing something? LOL

    • Charlotte Firbank-King on April 12, 2017 at 1:00 pm
    • Reply

    Sorry, I made a few typos–LOL, too late for me here in Cape Town SA

  8. Thanks, Kristen.

    I’m guilty of using “felts”; your explanation helped me understand what to do instead.

    Warmest Regards,
    Michele Khoury

  9. This was great, very informative ~ Thank you! 🙂

  10. Once again you got my head a spinning with all the possibilities for my current WIP. Thank you!!

  11. I really like the idea of going into the head of the character and becoming that person. Your examples make it easier to understand how to do that. And the simple thing to leave out the tags makes sense.

  12. This… is… awesome. Both of your posts on deep POV are what I’ll direct my authors to read. So many writers don’t grasp the concept, it’s challenging for me to explain, and you do an incredible job! Thank you for your excellent blog resources and all of your classes. 🙂

    • Belinda Grant on April 12, 2017 at 6:14 pm
    • Reply

    So useful! I have a question that is unrelated but I’m not sure who else to ask 🙂 . Everyone says that reading is so important to being a good writer. I read a great deal, but most it is re-reading (I read all my favourite books on my shelf at least once a year). Does that count, or is it not as helpful as mostly reading new novels.

  13. I wish I could write like you. Thanks for your deep POV posts.

    I’ve been reading a legal thriller series by Joel Goldman who uses the deep POV technique. Your posts helped me recognize that.

  14. Kirk Lazarus was the perfect example.

  15. Awesome post, talking about the style of deep POV has already helped me tighten up my writing. Thanks!

    • Kate Johnston on April 13, 2017 at 5:21 pm
    • Reply

    Over the past year, I have been swapping out many of my he saids/she saids for actions and am totally noticing a difference with how the story reads with more immediacy, even with third-person POV. Love reading that I’m finally doing something right with my ficiton! 😉

  16. Great post! Will refer to it often. Thanks.

  17. Great post!

    Yes! Becoming the characters is key. I discovered that quite by accident the first time I wrote in first person. It was only a scene about a childhood birthday party, but the writing bled out of my heart on to the paper. Living the experience made describing the emotions much easier. And it was what led to being published.

    The only drawback for me is that I have very little direct control over what the characters do. If I don’t like the way the story’s going, I need to go back and change the character or tweak the initial situation. Otherwise they’ll never cooperate. And forcing them ruins the effect.


    • Cheryl on April 16, 2017 at 7:03 pm
    • Reply

    I really enjoyed this two part post. The examples you used are great and help to clarify Deep POV. Thank you!

    • Doug on April 30, 2017 at 9:35 am
    • Reply

    Choosing between deep third and first: What are the tradeoffs? So much of what I’m reading now is written in a rich, intimate first person (The Hate U Give; Sweetgirl). Deep third is cooler, less frothy, though potentially just as affecting (Six of Crows). Is voice the deciding factor in how the story is told?

    • Anne Skyvington on June 5, 2017 at 8:10 am
    • Reply

    Is Deep POV the same as Close POV? I’m from “Down Under” so not surpising we use different names for things.

    It’s been great following your posts.
    My website has moved and I’d love to have you as a reader.
    Could you subscribe to my new mailing list at the following link:

    Hope to stay in touch,
    Anne Skyvington

  1. […] Kristen Lamb continues her series on point of view with How to Immerse the Reader in Story. […]

  2. […] blurb of their newest release. Why? These authors understand deep PoV (Kristin Lamb had an awesome post on this last week) and drag me into their character’s emotions and turmoil […]

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