Tuesday, March 29, 2011

That's Deep, Man

3 Tips on Deep POV Part 2
by Michelle Massaro, COTT Assistant Editor

Last week we defined Deep Point Of View, and I shared 3 tips for using it in your writing:

Tip 1: Don't label emotions, describe them.
Tip 2: Pretend it's you (find realistic internal dialogue)
Tip 3: Add physiological responses

Today I'm going to answer a couple related questions and walk you through an example.

Let's get to it!

Q: What about scenes that aren't emotional? How does that work?

A: Every scene is emotional to an extent. That's what Deep POV is all about. Emotions come in many flavors. They aren't all as bold as terror or grief but they are always present.

Example: You character is finishing up in the office and looking forward to a special date with her boyfriend. Your scene intends to move her from her desk, out to the car, arriving at the restaurant. Not much action. You want to get her to the restaurant so you can write the next good scene. Right? So you might say:

Mary finished entering the final receipt into the accounts payable file. She was eager to get to the restaurant where Tom would be waiting. She was sure tonight was the night. She heard a knock on the door. Mr. Jenkins asked her to deliver a stack of envelopes to the mailroom on her way out. It would be a quick stop. Slightly irritated, she smiled at her boss. "Sure thing!" She hoped nothing else would pop up to delay her.

Or you could go deeper and make it more interesting:

Mary hit the enter key and sighed. Finally done! She glanced at the bouquet of roses on her desk, inhaled their sweet scent, and smiled. Just half an hour—twenty-five minutes if she hurried—and she'd be sitting with Tom at Le Cordon Bleu, watching his knee bounce and sweat bead on his forehead as he tried to conceal the velvet box in his pocket. Good thing she'd worn her best dress today. Thanks for the heads-up, Tina. She slipped her feet back into her red heels, reached for her matching Gucci clutch and stood. Her stomach fluttered with a thousand bees and she reigned in the squeal forming behind her grin. A rap sounded at the door, then Mr. Jenkins strode in with a pile of envelopes. Her smile fled. Crud.

"Mary, I need you to drop these off in the mailroom on your way out." He plopped them on the desk. Just great.

"Sure thing!" She forced a fake smile as she snatched up the stack.

She could do this in less than a minute—if she didn't get sucked into a conversation with Larry the mail guy. Her heels clacked down the hall as she power-walked to the elevators. After this, she better not run into any more delays between her and her car. Or her car and the restaurant. If she hit every red light on Buckner drive today she was going to have some serious words with the Man Upstairs.

You'll notice there were few physiological responses here (tip #3), because the emotions aren't as raw. But we are much deeper in her POV than in the first example and you can better imagine what it's like to be Mary, anxiously trying to get to the restaurant where you expect a marriage proposal.

I used tips #1 and #2 .

In the example passage, I showed Mary's eagerness (tip #1) with the line: Just half an hour—twenty-five minutes if she hurried—...

I showed her expectation by picturing Tom bouncing his knee, hiding the ring, etc. and hinted that someone had spilled the beans to her. (tip #1) All of this instead of "she was sure tonight was the night." I answered the question WHY is she sure, and WHAT does "the night" look like? How does this make her feel?

I demonstrated her hope that nothing else would slow her down by using realistic internal dialogue (tip #2) about Larry the mail guy, the red lights, and Who she'd blame (playfully) for them. So I accomplished tip #1 by employing tip #2, which is not uncommon.

I only added one quick physiological detail (tip #3) by describing the excitement like bees buzzing inside.

Q: If a writer must choose between deep POV and using a passive verb, which is better?

Ex: A knock sounded at the door, She heard a knock on the door, or There was a knock on the door.

A: The short answer is "it depends". I am not one to slash every passive verb. Not at all. Writing tips are only useful to the extent that they make the experience smooth and engaging to the reader. The moment a rule-following phrase becomes so odd that it causes the reader to stumble, that rule should be ignored.

Same thing applies with Deep POV. Depth can vary as needed. Think of it like a camera lens with a zoom function. We don't need to be zoomed all the way in for every paragraph of your novel. But don't pan out too far or you'll lose that Deep POV feel. Stay in your character's head, but the reader doesn't always need to read about every synapse that fires. Reserve those meticulous details for the tenser moments.

So if you are zoomed way in on a character during an intense moment, the first choice (A knock sounded at the door) is probably better. But if the moment isn't quite so personal, the third choice (there was a knock on the door) might work just fine. Or you might choose an in-between feel (She heard a knock at the door). Once you've assessed the depth needed for the scene, it's your call. As long as you understand the techniques you are using and why.

Deep POV is only one tool in a writer's box. It's not a strict rule like punctuation. As the author, you choose when and how often to embrace this style. But you must understand the techniques you are using and why. I hope these tips help you the way they've helped me. If you have a question, feel free to comment or send me an email. I'd love to hear from you!

Michelle Massaro is a homeschooling mom and aspiring novelist. She is Assistant Editor for the literary website Clash of the Titles and writes for their Blog Alliance. Michelle also serves on the worship team and teaches origins science to the youth at her church. She and her husband of 15 years live in sunny So Cal with their four children. Connect with her on twitter @MLMassaro, facebook (https://www.facebook.com/MichelleMassaroBooks), and her blog Adventures in Writing (www.michellemassarobooks.com)


  1. Great sample. Often we need to pull back just for pacing's sake as well. Like the difference in your two samples; the deep POV is three or four times longer!

    Michelle, this is one of the best examples I've seen. Very nice!

  2. Very clear and informative. Thank you! It really got me thinking about all of this with more precision.

  3. @Debra- Thank you! You are right, it does take longer. You have to choose when to take the time to develop snippets into engaging scenes. Many authors looking to deepen their writing have often missed this opportunity in their manuscripts and will benefit from finding those places they can mine and come up with jewels. =)

    @Lora: Thank you very much for stopping by and for taking the time to encourage me with your comment! =)

  4. Excellent examples! I love deeper POV and really try hard to do it in my work. Great job!!

  5. Absolutely spot-on article, Michelle! I loved the example you gave. I write in deep POV most of the time. I know the reader needs a break on occasion, but generally, the best books are ones where deep POV is used. :)

    Now I've got to bookmark this blog. :)

  6. Michelle,
    Liked your post, how you suggested using the senses, but allowed room for writer's options too. Thanks.

  7. @Ane: Thank you so much, I'm so glad the article is helpful. And thank you for telling others! You absolutely should bookmark Edie's site, it's great stuff.

    @Jude: Thank you, too, for leaving your encouraging words. I do try to leave room for writer's to flex their own creative muscles. I love a good passive or weasel word on occassion myself. (Key phrase: on occassion) I just know to watch out for them and make sure I'm consciously using them.

    In my view, you can't produce a great piece of fiction by strictly following a set of rules 100% of the time. It has to breathe. There's an art to knowing when to follow a rule or...not. Great crit partners and beta readers are a must to knowing if you're striking a good balance.

    Thanks for your observation!

  8. Great post. I enjoy reading the examples-those word pictures seem to stay in my mind better! :)

  9. @Karen: Me too! I need both--an explanation and examples, often several, for something to "click". But once it does, I take off running...until the next hard lesson comes along, lol.

    @Folake: Thank you, again! =)

    You have all brought a huge smile to my face. Thank you for taking the time to let me know the article helped. It's a huge blessing for me to hear.

    ~ Michelle

  10. Nicely done, Michelle! I've referenced your blog and this post on my site today :o)

  11. Awesome, Phoenix--thanks! I'm honored. :-)


  12. Hi and Happy 2016
    This is the clearest "teachingest" explanation I have seen of how to rewrite stilted, barren cardboard-doll passages. I've added it to my Newbie Novelists' Links page under General Writing Skills as: Raising the Dead: Bringing Dead Narration to Life.
    Linnie Peterson

  13. Thank you, Linnie! I'm happy to know this article is still helping people five years later. Many blessings on your writing! =)