Deep POV questions and answers

This entry is part 9 of 14 in the series Deep POV

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

Iapetus999 says:

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?

Photo credits: globe—Sanja Gjenero; frustrate—John De Boer; question—Svilen Mushkatov

Series NavigationDeep POV: What do you think?So when shouldn’t you use deep POV?

10 thoughts on “Deep POV questions and answers”

  1. Regarding science fiction: you don’t necessarily have to break deep POV to introduce new worlds. In fact, the deep POV can be an asset. Orson Scott Card has an excellent chapter on that in “How to Write Fantasy and Science Fiction”. I summarized his point recently on my blog.

  2. Thanks for sharing your link, Livia!

    I love the example of a village as a “comfortable mudwalled place,” as you cited there. But, speaking very strictly—perhaps too strictly—and without having read the story that came from, I have to wonder whether that’s really deep POV. I mean, a character might think of her medieval hometown as a “mudwalled,” but on the other hand, if every village the character has ever encountered has mud walls, would she even think to note it?

    I’m not trying to critique the phrase in itself, but just illustrate the difficulty in this technique. On the other hand, if that’s how someone who came from a castle or a city is describing the place, or if the native has something to contrast it with or some big reason to notice the construction materials (and I might be taking the phrase too literally, too), then it could work.

    But this is definitely on the right track. I’d love to hear more about what Card says about this, though!

    Andrew’s problem seems specifically to be the physics of the station, and knowing nothing about physics myself, I would probably need some sort of explanation or illustration (probably an actual illustration 😉 ) to understand.

  3. Thanks for the explanation. BTW I got the mudwall thing…treat it like a verb and I get a sense that it took effort to construct these things, but the constructor had choices. Like there were non-mudwalled places. Otherwise why mention it?

    I do have a character who’s “new” to the station, be she’s not completely ignorant.
    It’s not like when you enter an airplane for the first time, you demand to know exactly how it stays in the air. You’ve heard it works, you’ve seen them fly around, so you just go. That’s my problem. I just want to tell the readers, “here’s this thing. Don’t ask how it works, just trust me. Now get on the plane.”

  4. LOL. The newbie can be an avenue for that. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had Bernoulli’s principle explained to me. It’s less “demanding to know” and more “know-it-alls who want to show off.” That can work to your advantage, too.

  5. Except in this case…the “plane” is going down in flames. Not a great time to stop for explanations 🙂
    What’s Bernoulli’s Principle?

  6. LOL. “I told you something this heavy couldn’t fly!”

    Bernoulli’s principle = a fast moving flow (of air) has a lower pressure than a slow moving one. It’s what creates lift. (It’s also what makes that funny noise when you blow air between loose lips.)

  7. Thanks for the advice, Jordan and Eileen. ‘The sad little smile’ was supposed to be Molly’s sorrowful expression that she does on purpose. She knows she’s in trouble, but feels justified. In the previous chapters, the reader knows what she’s done and why she did it, and should want her to be able to see Furble the bandicoot again. They know she’s not in the wrong, but her mother doesn’t believe her.

    I love your question, Jordan. I have the same worry about using ‘her dad’ or just ‘Dad’. I’ve changed it a few times, but can’t decide which one is best. At the moment I’m using her father, but you’ve got me thinking about Deep POV and this question. I’m going to go and think about it.

    Sorry for the late response. I’ve been away for two weeks. (I had to go interstate to see my beautiful new granddaughter.)

    Thanks again. I’ve missed this blog.

  8. @Trisha—Okay, that makes sense, then. If it’s an expression that she thinks of as “my sad little smile,” then that’s great deep POV (hard to do these things out of context sometimes!). Congrats on the new granddaughter!

    On my question—for the most part, I’ve come down on the side of “Dad,” but I still wasn’t sure about it, and then I came across a place where my WIP said “his dad.” But I think in that context (comparing his dad, who isn’t around, to the guy who’s about to give him a lecture), “his dad” might actually work better, and “Dad” would be awkward. Maybe it’s another context issue!

  9. An update, if anyone is still interested—I’ve revised my former thinking once I rephrased it in terms of how I’d tell the story out loud in first person. Unless I was telling it to my sisters, I’d say “my dad.” So “his dad” is my final answer 😉 .

  10. I agree, ‘his dad’ sounds better for that sentence.

    I sometimes have a problem working out how to refer to a parent when there is another adult in the scene. It’s quite challenging sometimes, for me anyway.

    When I get stuck again, I’ll post it on here.:)

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