When you dream, how do you experience the dream world? Are you yourself? Do you see things from your own eyes or from the outside? What kinds of dreams stick with you after you wake up?
Do you jump out of your head and into someone else’s, mid-dream?
If you were taken aback by that last question, hang on to that feeling because I’m coming back to it.
I want to invite you into a conversation, one in which a CP (critique partner) and I discussed a problem he was having with his WIP. I posed the dream questions as a way to understand how he sees the characters, because POV was the heart of the problem (check out this post for a basic description of the different POVs you can use for your story).
I’m sharing the conversation with you because in many published and pre-published work I read, I believe a deeper POV would strengthen the emotional punch of the story. But what is deeper POV, and why would it strengthen anything? Walking through my CP’s problem leads us to the answer, but if you’re already wanting to write in deeper POV and are here just for concrete steps, scroll to the bottom of this post.
First, a little background on his project. He’s mixing scenes featuring a primary POV MC with other “omniscient” scenes where she’s not on stage. It got messy when he tried to jump to someone else’s POV when the MC was present.
Him: When I write a scene, would you suggest I pick a head and just stay there?
Me: Yeah, staying closer to one character is good. So we should never know what’s going on in Nikki’s, Sam’s, Summer’s, or Cero’s heads.
Him: But I want to do that. They have thoughts.
Me: I’m sure they do. We get to see those in their reactions and speech.
I was trying to steer him towards using deeper POV (limited third in this case). That means the reader sees the story solely from the character’s experience and with elements of “authorship” removed (I’ll get to that in a minute). We see what the character sees and feel what the character feels. Any back story is already known by the character, and the character/reader can’t know what’s happening when he’s not around unless someone tells him.
Him: limited 3rd = a fly on the wall, almost?
Me: Limited 3rd = 1st but with third person pronouns.
I intentionally used that description because this CP has written most of his previous work in first person, and it’s easier to write in deep POV in first person than in third.
But why bother going into deeper POV at all? Wouldn’t it be easier to stay mostly with one character and leave said character when extra information is required?
Let’s pick up the conversation again, as we discussed the POV of a scene where his MC was with a friend.
Him: It wasn’t intentionally in either girls’ head.
Which was true. He wrote as an outsider, as if he were watching the characters in a play. The problem is one of those girls is his primary POV MC.
Him: I was watching the two girls do whatever happened in the scene.
Which is a little creepy, but we’ll let that go.
Me: Not being in a character’s head is why the scene feels distant.
This was the heart of the problem. The scene in question felt like a news report, with no internal thoughts or emotional reactions. As a reader, I didn’t really care what happened to the MC because I was emotionally detached.
The solution is for my CP to write the scene from his MC’s head, not as an outsider. We should feel her reactions and possibly analyze her friend’s motivations with her.
I’d guess most readers put themselves into a character’s head, even if the author didn’t intend to tell the story from that character’s perspective. This comment was about one of the omniscient scenes:
Me: And as a reader, I’m inside someone’s head, seeing from their eyes. In the Tommy/Stacie scenes, I’m in Stacie’s head.
Readers adopt a POV character as a proxy to experience the story. It just happens, and it gets confusing when head hopping occurs – that’s when the POV suddenly jumps from one character to another. This can happen in omniscient POV, because the author/reader are privy to the internals of every character, but let me ask this again: Do you jump into a different head in a dream?
Him: What I’m saying is, I almost head hop, but I know I shouldn’t so I avoid doing that and use 3rd pronouns.
Me: 3rd person pronouns don’t guarantee a lack of head hopping.
It’s just easier to avoid head hopping in first person.
Him: But by not going into a head, I tend to pass over their emotion. I figured of I said I was omni, I was golden, I can go wherever.
Here he’s arguing with me against the use of deep POV.
Me: Technically you can, but we’re back to the “it was ok but I can’t say why it wasn’t better” problem.
I’m referring to something another author in our critique group said when talking about POV: Have you ever finished a book that you thought was okay, and it was entertaining, but not great? Could you put your finger on what kept it from being great?
Me: That’s why I personally don’t like omni. Because then I have to move my brain to a new set of eyes. And if that happens every other line, it’s irritating.
Turns out, he wasn’t confused about third person POV. He was confused about the difference between objective and subjective third person POV, and that was keeping him from going into deeper POV.
Him: But that’s a key – movie viewpoint would be 3rd right?
Me: A movie would be objective 3rd, because we can’t possibly be in the character’s head.
That rang a bell.
Him: That makes complete sense.
Hooray! So let’s carry that new understanding into head hopping.
Me: Objective 3rd = in no one’s head. Subjective 3rd = in someone’s head. Head hopping = jumping around subjective 3rd.
Head hopping is disorienting and irritating because we have to move from one head to another in a short space. I am not talking about switching perspectives with a new scene or chapter. That happens all the time in literature. Head hopping happens within a scene. Here’s how I avoid head hopping as a writer:
Me: It’s the same when I read and write. I’m in a head, seeing through someone’s eyes. I’m never just observing the scene as an outsider.
If I’m writing a scene where my POV gets slapped, he feels the slap. A burning sensation moves across his cheek. It’s more than him simply being aware of the slap.
Right about here I feel like my CP is getting it, until this:
Him: I don’t get slapped, I don’t feel the slap. To express the pain, I have to go into his head and get slapped and feel the pain and describe it, then come back out and be not him and be objective. That last part is probably where I mess up.
Me: Why do you need to leave his head? Let him feel the slap and then the lingering effects of it.
Him: 3rd isn’t in a head.
Me: It is if it’s subjective. Drake is 100% third person subjective POV, all in Drake’s head. Never objective.
Him: I don’t understand those terms.
Me: Subjective = you feel it. Objective = news report.
Him: Okay, so Gina and the prince kiss. Who feels it? She will, right?
Me: Yes. That’s in Gina’s head.
Now he’s worried about being inside a teenage girl’s head for a kissing scene.
Me: You can do it. I wrote a love scene from the perspective of a 30-year-old man.
Him: Yes, but I always suspected you were a big hairy guy.
We eventually got back on track, and considering our conversation and what I’ve seen in other works, I thought some suggestions for writing in deeper POV would be useful.
1.Stay in one character’s head.
We experience the world through a single set of senses – our own. It’s easiest for us to connect with a single character at a time. We only get to know the thoughts and emotions of other characters as the POV character observes them.
2. Cut the filter words.
When I talked about “authory” words earlier, these are what I meant. They distance the reader from the POV character by telling what the character saw, smelled, felt, noticed, etc.
Joe smelled the coffee brewing.
The aroma of brewed coffee wafted through the air.
See the difference? Check out this post for more information about filters and avoiding them.
3. If writing in third person POV, write a bit of it in first person and then change it.
I discovered this one by accident. I suggested it as a way for my CP to switch from first to third POV, but then I tried it. I took a chunk of my third person POV MS and rewrote it in first person. I discovered a few places that needed more emotional reaction, which was easier to see because using first person required me to go deeper into his head.
Bottom line: deep POV gets your reader into the middle of the story. It allows them to experience a new world and new circumstances in the most direct way possible.
Do you agree? What types of POV do you prefer in your writing?
19 thoughts on “We Need To Go Deeper – Into POV, That Is”
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Love this post! You really got into the gritty details that make the difference in POVs and now I feel the need to read over all my short stories to improve them.
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Those gritty details is where things get confusing. I’m thankful my CP let me use him to illustrate. 🙂
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A very useful and informative post, thank you Allison. I agree with Cathleen about head hopping, I don’t like having to work out what angle I’m experiencing the story from. Same with time hopping, I’m easily confused. This comment comes from a new author who’s first book began with a scene from two thirds of the way into the story, but I hope it was clear that I was setting the scene, then going on to explain the back story and outcome.
I love the ‘aroma of the brewed coffee’ approach, and I am trying more and more to use that, for example in my second book I described the atmosphere in one scene by writing ‘Lisa opened the curtains and swung open the window to let some air in, dispersing the stench of grief.’ It’s probably not the best, but it’s better than I would have written six months ago.
It reminds me of a conversation I was having with Dan, about writing romance. The crazy feelings that you get, lingering feelings of heartache, arousal and longing as you write. I hadn’t linked the two until now, but those feelings are a good indicator that you are getting inside the character and feeling the POV, making it much easier to put it out there.
I’ll be bookmarking this post, it’s great material to improve writing. Thank you.
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I like the curtain line! 🙂
I agree that your own emotions are a good indicator of writing deeply enough. I certainly experienced more of them when I did my first person experiment.
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When I dream… when I dream…
How do I experience the dream world?
Since you asked, it was me and Cameron Diaz and we were making out, but we were also in the middle of a home improvement project at some odd house. A few of my childhood neighbors were living there, but I’m pretty sure it was my house Cam was helping me remodel. And yes we were naked but mostly because there was only one shower working and we were in a rush because the building inspector was due to show up at any minute.
But to answer your question, it wasn’t me watching me in the shower with Cameron Diaz, it was me IN the shower making out with Cameron Diaz. Was she a good kisser? I don’t remember. Honest. The inspector was due any minute. If you’ve ever done a remodel, you know you’d pass up kissing Cameron Diaz to get your inspection done.
Are you yourself?
Do you see things from your own eyes or from the outside?
I am seeing the scene through my eyes. I saw Cammy naked.
What kinds of dreams stick with you after you wake up?
Well, THAT one did, but not for the reason you’d think. I’m not that big of a fan of Cameron Diaz. I was as surprised as anyone to find her in my shower. I was totally stressed about that inspector. And where was my wife? Next door with Tom Cruise? (I wasn’t cheating on her; apparently this shower took place before I got married.)
When I started writing The Water Castle, I wrote chapter one in 1st person. “I” was the dad and it was all about setting up what was to come. Then I had dinner with my wife and realized that a big part of the story is about the mom’s relationship with the daughter – it is so strained that the daughter chooses to live in another world when the chance comes up. Dad didn’t play a big necessary role, so I killed him off. I started chapter two with him dead.
Which kinda ruined the “I” stuff because he wasn’t supposed to be a ghost telling the story! But since chapter one was written as “I,” it was fairly easy to switch to “he” and “they.” My first pass got 90% of the changes, and when a CP read it, she found all but one of the rest that needed to switch. That’s not to imply it was easy; it wasn’t. But it made for a uniform POV for chapter one.
Later, as I added characters and subplots, a lot happened when the MC wasn’t around. Solution? Omni! I can be everywhere!
Only I didn’t.
I mean, I thought I did, but here and there the story generated comments indicating it wasn’t connecting the way it should.
Now, I can make readers cry. I actually enjoy it. I can also make them laugh, which to most writers is much harder (and I enjoy MUCH more). But if you are going to make them do either, they have to feel connected at that level. They have to swoon and be afraid and run and jump and everything else, or you’ll end up with a good story that a lot of people like, but not a great story they have to tell their friends about.
And that’s okay for beginners, but that’s not what I want. And as I have said many times, you have to put yourself out there as a writer. You have to bare your soul and your emotion or the reader doesn’t bare theirs with you.
It also means seeking out and getting guidance when you realize things aren’t 100% where they need to be, and trusting your critique partners’ input(s). When I’ve done that in the past, the story was the better for it.
If I go all out, the story reads like it. If that means getting a lesson here and there, I need to be confident enough to learn what I need to know. It’s important.
Important enough to stop kissing Cameron Diaz in the shower to meet with the building inspector.
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Well I read this comment at work and now I’m laughing at work. 😆
I like the idea of being confident enough to learn what you need to learn. We always have more to learn.
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Gosh, we don’t want people laughing at work!
I know you’re only laughing because you know I’m telling you the truth. Me and Cameron Diaz. I never saw that coming.
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Nice post, Allison. Head-hopping distracts me, and it’s one of the major reasons I put a book down.
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That’s a key! If the readers don’t like it, what’s the point?
Same here. Maybe that’s why I’m such a stickler. 😉