I should preface this by saying that I’m not an expert—we’ll have the expert on POV, Alicia Rasley, with a guest post on Thursday. But I’m happy to give my opinion on your questions, and I’d love to get your opinions. (Plus, I have a question, too—check it out at the end.)
Deep POV and World building
I guess my issue is that I have a bunch of world-building to do (SF genre) so how do I do that in deep POV? If I can’t be a narrator explaining the physics of tethered space stations, then how do I get my characters to do it? My characters already know how their world works. They wind up doing things that makes sense to them (and to me) but my readers don’t get it. So something’s missing. Ideas?
That’s a tough one—truly, a real conundrum. I have this problem all the time with characters who either a.) would never, ever sit around describing their everyday world or b.) think and speak in slang or obscure terms that not every reader is going to understand, but everyone else in the scene would.
The classic deep POV solution is to bring in an outsider who will require some sort of explanation, or who’ll draw attention to the things that other native characters don’t even see anymore. That doesn’t always work, of course. Another approach might be to give one of your characters some sort of emotional reaction to the setting—she’s against something about the station for scientific, moral or political reasons, etc. They’re more likely to notice it (and, thus, describe it) when they care.
Of course, I don’t know of many people with emotional reactions to physics principles. Another option might be to add brief scenes early on to help establish not only the characters but their physical world—conducting scientific tests, maintenance, observations, or even scenes where the characters themselves are showing of the physics principles in their movement.
And when the information is really obscure, sometimes you can get away with one or two unobtrusive sentences conveying information that the POV character might already know, as it relates to the context of the scene and doesn’t duplicate information in dialogue, etc.
Of course, it’s always possible to pull out of deep POV for something like this. But at the same time, a prologue from the author on the physics of tethered space stations is probably going to be one of those parts readers skip. On the other hand, if you can weave the description (or scientific principles) into a scene and make it matter, it’s more likely to stick with your reader at least long enough to understand the story.
Any other suggestions?
Inner thoughts, narration and deep POV
Trisha Puddle says:
Hi, Jordan. First of all I want to tell you that this is my favourite blog. I’m learning so much from your posts and they have improved my writing so much. Thanks for that.
Thank you! And you’re welcome 😀 .
. . . I’m . . . now aware that characters can’t see things through the back of their heads and they don’t notice the colour of their own eyes, but I sometimes struggle with their inner thoughts and end up with narration instead of deep POV. I have to make sure that I think and feel like an eight year old, which isn’t hard for me, but I end up slipping out of deep POV sometimes.
May I be so bold as to give this sample for your advice? Is it in deep POV yet?
“You’re still grounded, Molly.” Her mother headed toward the kitchen.
Molly shuffled behind her. She grabbed the knives and forks out of the drawer and placed them on the table. If only she hadn’t lost her temper and wiped rotten duck eggs on Angela. And why did she have to go and make gobbling sounds at the headmistress? She hadn’t meant it to be so loud. Now she’d miss out on precious time with Furble.
Kate came back to the kitchen and handed Molly a disc. “Here, I’ve copied the photos of Furble for you.”
Molly gave Kate a sad little smile. “Thanks. I won’t get to see Furble anymore. I’m grounded for a week.” Tears clouded her eyes and she ran upstairs to her bedroom. After slamming the door, she threw herself on her bed and punched her pillow. She growled like a grizzly bear, “Grrr.” She wasn’t hungry now.
I’m not an expert on MG and this obviously isn’t a critique, but the POV here looks pretty good to me. The second paragraph seems especially good in that respect (though I’m not familiar enough with MG to know whether we need the review of the things she’s done wrong, and obviously you may or may not have just spent the first part of this scene discussing them).
In the last paragraph, obviously we’re in Molly’s POV, so the “sad little smile” she gives Kate at the end may or may not work—I see and probably use something like that a lot, but does she know her smile is little and sad, or does she make a conscious effort to make them that way?
I’d also like a little more insight into exactly what she’s feeling there. She goes from a sad smile and tears in her eyes to door slamming, punching and growling. In these paragraphs, we see a good view of her penitence and regret, but the rest of the emotional progression could be a little clearer, since we’re in her head with her. (It’s kinda crowded, I know, but it’s where lots of readers like to be.)
Any other suggestions on the POV depth here?
When not to use deep POV
Eileen Astels Watson says:
The deeper POV and more consistent you are, the better for me. I’ve been writing with two POV’s per book, so when I want distance from one character I switch to the other’s POV, but I can see where writers would vary the depth if writing in one POV to help keep some unknowns afloat.
I agree, though you have to be very careful with this. Generally speaking, it’s not okay to keep secrets from the reader when the POV character knows those facts and they’re pertinent to the story. If the whole book is in deep POV except for sections where the deep POV character would be thinking about those facts that would make or break the mystery, for example, the reader will probably feel cheated. While you can mislead the reader, you can’t flat out lie to them—if the POV character knows something, your reader should, too.
However, there are certain types of scenes where deep POV doesn’t work so well. My favorite example is a scene showing a deep emotion. We need some of the character’s thoughts to understand what they’re feeling, but sometimes reading their thoughts directly isn’t the most powerful way to get our readers to feel those same emotions. Alicia Rasley talks about effectively portraying deep, emotional scenes in her articles “Emotion without Sentiment” and “Emotion is Physical.”
Alicia herself will be with us Thursday with a guest post on when not to write in deep POV.
My question: family titles and deep POV
I’m divided on this issue in my WIP, so I’d like to hear your opinions. When reading something in fairly deep POV, is it more natural to refer to the POV character’s family members as “his dad” or just “Dad”? Both have their advantages and disadvantages in my opinion, and I’ve seen both in first-person as well. I’m still pretty torn, so I’m turning it over to you. (Update: I’ve found my final answer.)
So what do you think on all of these issues?