Wednesday, March 23, 2011

That’s Deep, Man—3 Tips on Deep POV Part 1

by Michelle Massaro

A lot of people are talking about Deep Point Of View these days. Seems every writer wants to go deeper, but many aren't clear on what that means or how to do it. Where did this trend come from? Think about it. Our culture is immersed in experiential pastimes. We can hop a plane and visit exotic locations around the globe within hours. Surround-sound, HD, and Digital 3D bring everything to life. The Wii allows us to "experience" bowling or tennis. With increased sensory-engaging technology, it takes more to help us escape than it did in generations past. In fiction this translates to Deep POV.

The reader wants to "try on" someone else's life. To climb into a character's skin—tasting, feeling, hearing, smelling what they do. Using a great metaphor or simile won’t suffice. Deep POV isn't simply active voice or showing rather than telling either.

So how do you employ Deep POV? Let me provide some tips and examples. Snack-size morsels you can chew on and digest at your own speed.

Tip #1: Don't use labels.
 Don't label the emotions of your character, describe them.

Example: (sadness)
She felt sad


Her throat clamped and her chin quivered. She blinked away the tears threatening to escape.

This is also true when describing the character's thoughts.

Example: (hate)
She thought how much she hated her ex-boyfriend


She closed her eyes and saw him—felt his fist striking her jaw, smelled his cologne when he hissed in her ear. Bile rose in the back of her throat at the memory. He would pay.

Tip #2: Pretend it's you.
What would you say to yourself if you were the character? Figure it out, then replace the pronouns with "s/he" (unless you're writing in first person, of course.)

Someone very close to you died suddenly. You don't say to yourself "I feel sad" or even "I feel depressed and confused." No, more likely you think:
"How can he be dead?!" or perhaps "Matt, how can you be gone?"

There's an intruder in your house brandishing a knife. You don't say in your own head "I'm terrified!" You'd think:
"He's going to kill me!" You can turn this to third person in one of two ways: He's going to kill her! or Was he going to kill her?

Tip #3: Physiological Responses.

Once you figure out what the character would say to themselves and how to describe (show) an emotion without labels, follow up with physiological responses. Depending on the situation, these might be knees buckling, chest tightening, throat clamping, an adrenaline rush, goose bumps, stomach cramps, tears, nausea, dizziness, heart pounding in ears, sweating, etc. Describe those. This will really pull the reader deep into the story, particularly in those high-intensity moments.

All right love, off you go!

Remember, Deep POV is a skill that must be learned just like anything else. (And we're always learning.) But remembering these tips as you write is a great place to start. Next week in Part 2, I'll apply these tips to a non-pivotal scene and turn it from an invisible transition into an engaging passage. I hope you'll join me. Don't forget to stop by Clash of the Titles this week to meet our three COTT finalists!

Now let's hear from you: What do you like/dislike about Deep POV? Do you have any tips to share? Leave your questions and tips in the comments!

Michelle Massaro is a homeschooling mom and aspiring novelist. She is Assistant Editor for the literary website Clash of the Titles and writes for COTT's 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 (, and her blog Adventures in Writing (


  1. Michelle, you're a sage. Thanks for sharing the lessons you've learned (and used in writing AND critting). Good stuff.

  2. Michelle, let me echo what Bethany said - you've made deep POV so clear! Thanks so much for being on my blog! Blessings - E

  3. Thanks Michelle,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Deep POV.

  4. Great advice! This article is like a mini-cheat sheet. I'm keeping a copy of it in my James Scott Bell book, "Revision and Self-Editing". Thank you.

  5. @Bethany: Thank you! lol I don't think I've ever been called a "sage" before. I like it. ;)

    @Edie: Thank you for the opportunity to visit this week and next. I'm really enjoying it! Glad you found it helpful.

    @Gail: Thanks for stopping by and saying "hello"!

    @Lisa: I am beyond honored! What a fantastic compliment, thank you.

  6. Perfect comparison with our need for sensory-engaging technology. So true! GREAT tips.

  7. Thanks for breaking deep POV down in terms we can all understand.

  8. Thank you, Michelle. This helps tremendously.

  9. Great info, Michelle. One other thing I add at the workshops I do on deep POV is to tell them if they haven't experienced something themselves, find someone who has and pick their brains. It helps you to really get the emotions of your character in sync with what is happening.

  10. @April: Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the article.

    @Sheri: I'm happy this is a portable help, thank you.

    @Christina: You're welcome. Happy writing!

    @Martha: Great point! Thank you for chiming in. Writing what you don't know is definitely more challenging and doing research is a must to understand the phyche/feelings associated with an experience.

    Thanks everybody for saying "hello".

  11. She typed out this comment nodding her head, fingers flying over the keys to add, "So well explained." And she jotted down notes to remember. teeheee.....

  12. Thanks Edie and Michelle!!! So inspiring!! Can't wait to share with my writers group tonight!!


  13. Very nicely expressed, Michelle! I'm looking forward to next week now.

  14. @Karen: LOL!

    @Kristi: Always happy to inspire! Let me know how it goes and if anyone there gives you more food for thought. Come back next week and share!

    @Phoenix: Thank you, I look forward to seeing you in the comments next week!

  15. Great post. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  16. I admit I really struggle with deep POV, because often when I read it, I really don't like it, and I don't want to write something I'm ashamed of. Sometimes I would really rather just be told that someone is terrified, if the alternative is to wade through two pages of trembling and quivering body parts. So on the one hand, I'm working hard to get better at deep POV, but I don't want to go the extremes that I have read and that really repulsed me!

  17. Thanks, Joanne.

    Linda, great point! Next week I'm giving an example of deep POV in action and one of the things we'll look at is knowing how much to apply this style. Like you, I hate when a scene is bogged down with TOO MUCH description. Get on with the story. Good observation. Thanks for weighing in.

  18. I agree POV is important and I try my best to add it.

    But I wonder if you have found an easy way to locate it on the rewrite phase of your manuscript. The first time through I'm trying so hard to get the story out that when I reread it on the rewrite I miss opportunities to take the POV deeper.


  19. "About Me", thanks for being here!

    There is no easy way I'm afraid. It just takes slowing down and looking at.each.line. Aggravating at times to be sure.

    It's always much harder to spot things in our own writing than someone else's. That's why a good critique partner is a huge help in this area. I'll bet you could spot places in your partners MS that could use deeper POV! And she could do the same for you.

    Next Wednesday we are going to rewrite a passage adding deeper POV, perfect for what you are describing.

  20. I noticed you used the word tears and it still worked. My exact point yesterday on our ACFW loop about that still being descriptive and not an emotion.

    And deep POV advantage is why I prefer to write in first person which of course is very "chick littish" just the way I want it. Ha!

  21. Hi, Folake! May I ask how you pronounce your name? I want to hear it right in my head. =)

    I like writing in first person POV as well. When I began I didn't know about any labels or debate about its use, I just liked it. Now that I do know I still prefer it--at least for my current WIP. It lends itself so much to that deep exploration of a character's psyche.

    Glad you enjoyed the article! =)

  22. Thank you for such easy to understand examples! I like deep point of view as long as the writer doesn't get too descriptive. If they do, then I start to tune out and skim.

    Please feel free to stop by: Trailing After God