Is Deep POV Always the Best Choice?
It’s time for another one of my guest posts over at Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s Writers Helping Writers site. As one of their Resident Writing Coaches, I’ve previously shared:
- insights on how to approach an overwhelming revision
- how to increase the stakes (the consequences for failure) in our story
- 7 ways to indicate time passage in our stories (and 2 issues to watch out for)
- how to translate story beats to any genre
- how and why we should avoid episodic writing
- how to find and fix unintended themes
- how “plot” holes can sneak into our characters and worldbuilding
- how TV shows can help us learn to hook our readers
- what we can learn from stories that successfully break the rules
- how to ensure revisions aren’t creating rips in our story
- how to create strong story goals that won’t slow our pacing
- how to keep readers supportive through our characters’ changes
- how to use bridging conflict to kick off our story’s momentum
- how to create the right pace for our story (and make it strong)
- how to make the “right” first impression for our character
- what options we have if our story doesn’t fit the usual approach to conflict
- 3 ways to improve our use of tropes (because they aren’t all bad)
- knowing when to treat our setting like a character
- how we can make setting details meaningful rather than boring
- how to fix broken stories by delving into story structure
- how a focus on the plot arc vs. the character arc affects our story
- understanding scenes and sequels and figuring out a good balance
- how to create story stakes that matter and give meaning
With this turn for another coaching article at WHW, I’m digging into the pros and cons of using deep point of view (POV) in our stories. We’ll explore why deep POV is so popular and when we should ignore the advice pushing us to think deep POV is always the best choice for our storytelling. Let’s take a look…
Recap: What Is Deep POV?
Before we get into the rest of the post, let’s first review what we mean by “deep POV.” (Feel free to skip down to the next section if you don’t need this refresher.)
If we write in 1st or 2nd person POV, the emotions, thoughts, and perceptions center on the character telling the story, using I/me or you pronouns, respectively. Readers don’t learn anything beyond that character’s experience.
In contrast, with 3rd-person POV, the emotions, thoughts, and perceptions shared with the reader depend on the type of 3rd-person POV used. And as all these types use the same pronouns (such as he/him or she/her), it can be hard to tell which style applies to our writing.Most POV writing advice focuses on deep POV, so does that means it's our *only* choice? Or always the *best* choice for our story? Click To Tweet
What changes between these different types of 3rd-person POV is how close—and how limited—the reader’s “camera” into the story is to the main character(s). At one end of the spectrum, we’re meant to feel removed enough to see a bigger picture, like an audience member watching a story play out on the stage of the story’s pages. At the other end, we’re meant to feel very near to the POV character—experiencing their story from the inside, as if we are them.
It’s that latter end of the spectrum that we’re talking about today, as deep 3rd-person POV stories are written at the same depth as well-done 1st person POV, just with different pronouns. Deep POV stories use the character’s voice for every line of the narrative, including descriptions, introspection/internal monologue, action details, etc. The author’s voice does not exist on the page.
Readers experience the story as the POV character. For this experience to work, authors using deep POV must eliminate writing techniques that adds distance between readers and the POV character: filtering words, thought tags, telling rather than showing, etc.
The Push to Use Deeper POVs
I’ve mentioned here in other posts about POV that the use of deep POV is a relatively new trend in storytelling. Taking an educated guess, I’d say it began to change with the introduction of movies and their “you are there” immersion into the story, especially once they took advantage of multiple cameras and camera angles for close-ups.Why has deep point of view gotten so popular? How can deep POV help or hurt our storytelling? Click To Tweet
Deep POV is the written word’s version of the close-up, as it delivers a story with the same type of “you are there” immersion as movies. Readers who want a strong emotional connection to the characters often prefer deep POV. Same with readers who want an immersive experience, the sense that they’re not just reading words on a page—they’re experiencing the story. In general, the deeper the POV, the deeper many readers fall into the story and the experience, right down to tandem visceral responses along with our characters.
Because of those benefits, virtually every article on writing-advice blogs about point of view focuses on how to make our POV even deeper. Situations that weren’t a common issue with more distant POVs, such as headhopping, are now major no-no’s. Reviews often focus on whether readers felt “connected” to the character rather than anything about the quality of the prose itself (or sometimes even about the quality of the plot or story itself).
The endless focus is enough to make us think that deep POV is the only choice for modern writing, or that other POV choices—at least for 3rd-person POV—are somehow inadequate or less-than. But let’s establish the truth right now: Deep POV is not always our best choice, especially not for every line of our story.
3 Reasons Why Deep POV Isn’t Always the Best Choice
Reason #1: Deep POV Isn’t the Best Fit for the Story at All
Just as not every story is a good fit for 1st-person POV, not every story is a good fit for deep POV. (Remember that deep POV is essentially 1st-person with 3rd-person pronouns.)
With deep POV, because the “camera” is deep inside the character’s head, hearing their thoughts and feeling their emotions, the writing cannot share perceptions that the POV character isn’t aware of. It is 100% subjective, focused from the inside of the POV character.
Some examples of stories that might not be a good fit for deep POV include:
- those that follow a large cast of main characters
- those where the goal is to create a connection between the reader and the overall story itself rather than with any particular character
- those where we want the reader experience to be more objective than subjective, more straight-forwardly told than subtextually shown (such as most stories for younger readers), etc.
- those where we want to create reader emotions independent from character emotions, such as where reader tension is better maintained due to the story itself with a more distance perspective (some high-dread premises, true-crime, or similar villain-centered stories, for example).
Reason #2: We Haven’t Yet Learned How to Avoid Head-Hopping or Other Out-of-POV Issues
Unfortunately, as we climb the learning curve, we often learn how to add deep POV elements to our stories before learning all the ways to avoid out-of-POV issues. Newer writers, especially, tend to struggle with or simply not know about some of these POV lessons:
- Deep POV can have more than one POV character, but the handoff typically happens at scene/line breaks (see most modern romances for examples of dual-deep-POV writing).
- POV changes without a clean handoff results in head-hopping, which distances (and often confuses) readers.
- Head-hopping is lazy writing because we can share information from non-POV characters without switching to their POV, including sharing their emotions.
- While deep POV can show only what the POV character knows (which means they (usually) can’t know other characters’ thoughts, emotions, or the reasons or motivations for actions), the strong use of showing allows the POV character to witness evidence of other characters’ perspectives.
- Deep POV shapes every aspect of our storytelling choices, not just what the POV character notices or writing in their voice for every story element, but it also affects the story flow of events, the emotional flow of scenes, and what goals, details, or aspects of the story have priority or special meaning.
Reason #3: Even with a Deep POV Story, Some Non-Deep POV Lines Might Help the Story
While the fourth bullet point above in Reason #2 mentions that deep POV shouldn’t include even minor out-of-POV phrases, the truth is that to some extent, we can slide a story’s POV along the distance spectrum. The point is that if we’re trying to write in deep POV, we want any shallower POV lines to be purposeful and exist for a specific reason that improves the storytelling experience for readers.What are 3 reasons why deep point of view isn't always the best choice for every line of our story? Click To Tweet
Most shallower or out-of-POV phrases or lines are included unintentionally, often because the author doesn’t see the switch or because they don’t know how to get the information across any other way. With an unintentional and/or poorly handled slide to a shallower POV, the reader’s experience is very likely to be negatively affected, such as by adding confusion, reducing immersion, harming the emotional connection to the character and the story, etc.
However, if we intentionally shift to a shallower POV—for a reader-focused reason—we can actually improve the reader’s experience. That’s the difference between out-of-POV problems and what we’re talking about with this Reason #3: We need to make the reader experience the driver of our POV choices, not our needs as a writer trying to communicate.
When might a shallower POV improve the reader’s experience? That’s exactly what my guest post is about… *grin*
Writers Helping Writers: Resident Writing Coach Program
Point of View: Is Deeper Always Better?
Come join me at WHW above, where I’m sharing more about our POV options and when not use deep POV in our stories, including:
- how our POV choice shapes readers’ experience of our story
- the effects of deep POV on readers that make it so popular
- 5 situations when a shallower POV might deliver a better reader experience
- examples of those situations we might encounter in our story
- the most important issue to keep in mind when making our POV choices
Do you prefer deep POV stories or shallower POV stories (and why)? What pros and cons have you noticed with deep POV stories? Have you noticed the push to use deep POV? Do you agree or disagree with that push? Do you have any questions about this topic? (My WHW posts are limited in word count, but I’m happy to go deeper here if anyone wants more info. *smile*)
Comments — What do you think?