Deep POV: What do you think?

This entry is part 8 of 14 in the series Deep POV

So far this month, we’ve taken an in-depth look at deep POV. We’ve looked at why deep POV is popular, and a number of techniques to establish deep POV and stay there. And soon we’ll discuss when not to use deep POV with a guest post from an amazing author.

But before we finish up, I want to know what your thoughts are on deep POV in general. What do you think about deep POV? Does it jar you to read a book with inconsistent POV depth (ie in one sentence we’re getting the character’s thoughts directly and in the next it’s like we’re watching the scene from 10 feet away)? Do you enjoy writing in deep POV? Do you find it easy or challenging?

Is there anything we haven’t covered yet that you’d like to see explained here? Are there any nagging questions or “mistakes” that you see (or make) that you’d like to see answered/cured?

If you want to have your website reviewed by two professionals, be sure to sign up by Monday!

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

So when shouldn’t you use deep POV?

This entry is part 10 of 14 in the series Deep POV

By Alicia Rasley

Let me start by saying that there are no absolutes in fiction-writing. Deep POV is now trendy, and it’s appropriate for many types of stories, and also for our highly interactive culture. However, it’s only one of several POV approaches, and it’s not right for every genre, every book, and every author.

First, I should quickly define deep point of view. (I go into this in much greater depth in my book, The Power of Point of View.) Deep POV is a variety of single POV, where an entire scene (or chapter, or book) is told through the perspective (or point of view) of one of the characters in the scene. Deep POV takes this further—the narration is done not just in the perspective but in the voice of the POV character. It’s meant to establish almost no distance between the narrator and the reader—rather like a first-person feel with third-person pronouns. Here’s an example:

Allie thought Saturday was never going to come. All day Friday she kept waiting for school to be over, but it was taking forever. Every time Allie looked at the watch her daddy had bought her for Christmas, the numbers had barely changed at all. She thought maybe the battery wasn’t so good anymore, but if it wasn’t, then the clocks at school weren’t working either, ’cause when her teacher dismissed them for lunch, it was the exact time on Allie’s watch that it was s’posed to be. (Tara Taylor Quinn, Jacob’s Girls.)

The character is a child, and so the deep-POV narration uses the diction and sentence construction of a child. This lets the reader get an intense experience of who this person is and how she thinks.

Very useful. However, there are two points I want to make:

  1. Most writers who think they’re doing deep POV aren’t. They are doing single POV and confining the narration to one character’s thoughts and perceptions (and that’s FINE). But they are writing more in their own voice. There’s nothing wrong with that (single POV is by far the most common and accepted POV approach). What’s wrong is the writers who say they’re doing deep POV because they’re following a list of rules they got from somewhere, like “In deep POV, you never use the character’s name, and you never use ‘she thought’.” Deep POV is not about rules. It’s about being so into the character that you feel with her body, think with her mind, and write with her voice. It’s writing from inside the character, and those rules imposed from the outside? Worse than useless.
  2. Deep POV is not right for every story.

And since (2) is what I’m supposed to address in this blog post, let me get going on that.

A) Deep POV is not right for every author.

I’ve concluded that most of us have a natural POV approach, one that feels comfortable and right for us. And we can learn to write in other POVs, but when we’re writing most naturally, we’re probably going to write in our natural POV, and that’s going to sound most authentic. I’m not saying you should only write in your natural POV (my natural is single-third POV, but I’ve been writing a lot of first-person and enjoying it). But you shouldn’t feel you have to force yourself to write deep POV if every word feels wrong.

Why might it feel wrong? Well, if you’ve spent a lot of time working on your own voice, making it beautiful and evocative, you might not want to cede control of your prose style to a character. I’m an English teacher, and I spend way too much time every semester helping students distinguish sentences from fragments and comma splices.

Every time I write in deep POV, I find myself echoing the character (as I should in deep POV), who is invariably uncaring of grammar, not to mention easily distracted. So half his sentences are actually fragments, and half of hers are run-ons. That might be quite effective. But what if one of my students would brandish a highlighted page of Tony’s POV and yell, “Fragments all over the place!” (Well, actually, if one of my students could so effectively identify fragments, I’d give him an A right away. 🙂 )

Many writers are proud of their voice, and rightly so. You can be poetic and evocative in deep POV—even an illiterate character can think in lovely if broken prose—but it’s not, at base, YOUR voice (if it is your voice, you’re not really doing deep POV). It’s not supposed to be. And if you want to write in your own voice, if you think the reader will get more from “hearing” you, well, why not? The whole point of writing is to create an experience for the reader, and creating an interesting or lovely experience is a valid aim.

POV approach also connects to your worldview. Now no one else agrees with me on this, so take it with a grain of salt. But I think your natural POV might reflect your understanding of reality. Hey, give me a chance! Let’s say that you think that there is an absolute reality, but it’s not necessarily knowable by most of us. That worldview is the one expressed by omniscient POV—the “godlike narrator” knows everything, within and without the characters, and knows more than all the characters together.

But maybe you think there’s no absolute reality, and that the only way to get close to knowing reality is to juxtapose the accounts of several people, a collage-like effect that is very similar to multiple POV. Now we single-POV types, we don’t know if there’s an absolute reality, and in fact, we don’t much care. We’re mostly concerned with the inner reality of characters, what they think and notice and value.

Well, you know, if you have one of those worldviews, your story choice and your POV choice will probably reflect that. And that’s good. It takes all kinds. That’s why we have several POV approaches, several genres, and many writers. There isn’t just one worldview out there, so there shouldn’t be only one POV approach. And you should at least start with the one that lets you express your worldview and voice, and—you didn’t really think I was going to say, “Anything goes,” did you?—refine it and reinvent it and revise it so that your writing is the best possible proof that your POV approach is right.

No, you won’t get it right the first time. Yes, you still must revise to make sure that your reader will experience what you want her to experience. But making your story and voice work well is plenty hard enough without adding in the pain of trying to write in a way that doesn’t feel right to you.

B) Deep POV is not right for every genre.

Most genres and sub-genres have their own preferred POV approach. Private-eye stories are usually in first-person. Mysteries are usually in some form of omniscient. Romances are usually in single-third POV. General (mainstream) fiction is often in either multiple or first person. The preferred POV reflects something about how the genre works—the mystery is about the mystery, not particularly about the character of the sleuth, so omniscient works well (as it does in many plot-driven stories).

Private-eye novels, on the other hand, are indeed about the character of the detective (and the detective’s voice), so that snarky first-person narration allows that. The genres evolved a preferred POV approach because that approach usually (never say always 🙂 ) allows writers to create the experience for the reader which is desired in that genre (chills and fear in the thriller, thoughtfulness in the mystery, etc.).

You are likely to be drawn to the POV approach and/or the genre which feel right to you, which explore the themes and issues that are most important to you. So trust tradition. You can innovate if you understand WHY the horror novel is usually in single POV or sf/f is often in omniscient. The preferred POV approach usually helps create the desired experiences of that genre. So that’s a good place to start. And for most genres, deep POV is not the default (third person, at least—first-person can be pretty deep too).

C) Deep POV is not right for many stories.

Many stories would be pretty much unwriteable in deep POV. Plot-driven books, where information must be conveyed which the main character doesn’t have and action must be shown that the main character doesn’t witness, are usually told in a form of omniscient POV. Sweeping epics where worldbuilding or setting description are essential are better from omniscient too. Books where you are using an unreliable narrator are better from first-person.

Even tightly-focused character books can often be better-handled in a single-third person where your voice dominates. Dialogue-heavy books often benefit from the contrast of the conversational quality of the dialogue and the more formal quality of an omniscient or third-person narration. Stories with several major characters and a fast pace will often sound more coherent with multiple point of view. Comedy, which relies so much on the author voice, is usually in an omniscient ironic viewpoint.

That is, never feel pressured to write deep POV. It is not the only or best viewpoint approach. It’s only best if it’s right for you, the genre, and the story. Otherwise, try out the more traditional approaches and find the one that fits best.

About the author
Alicia Rasley is a nationally known writing workshop leader and the author of The Power of Point of View, a Writer’s Digest book. Her website,, and blog ( have much free advice for writers.

Photo credits: plunge—Konrad Mostert; get out—StillSearc; notebook—typofi

Prizes all around!

This entry is part 11 of 14 in the series Deep POV

Today’s the big day: the Blog RSS contest conclusion. Did you see the secret message?

Well, someone did. <drum roll please>

Andrew Rosenberg

will get The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley AND Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass.

But wait, there’s more!
Livia King, neuroscience grad student, writer, intrepid volunteer and very very soon to be bride, wins How to Write a Damn Good Novel: A Step-by-Step No Nonsense Guide to Dramatic Storytelling by James N. Frey.

Deb Smythe wins How to Write a Damn Good Novel, II: Advanced Techniques For Dramatic Storytelling by James N. Frey.

Thanks to everyone who entered, and congrats to our winners!

Note to prizewinners: if you already have a copy of your prize, then we can talk substitutions. Email me with your shipping information: jordan (at)

And there’s still more!

Free Deep POV guideDon’t be disappointed if you didn’t win one of our fabulous prizes (I know it’s hard, but please try.) I have something for everyone.

Our blog series on deep POV has come to a close, but there’s always more to learn. I’ve assembled the posts from the blog series into a free PDF guide to deep POV—with bonus features not found in the blog series.

All our guides will be available on the new Free Writing Guides page.

What would you like to see for future contests and prizes?

Handling multiple POVs: first person

This entry is part 12 of 14 in the series Deep POV

Sometimes, using more than one POV in a novel can be tricky. Handling multiple POV styles can be even trickier. Last time, we looked at how to transition effectively between multiple POV characters in third person, and today we’re looking at multiple first person narrators and mixing first and third.

Multiple first-person POV characters

Ooh, now we’re getting tricky! Is that even allowed?

Oh yes. However, you want to be careful in doing this. It’s easy to confuse the reader when both or all of your POV characters call themselves “I.” So here are some quick guidelines on keeping the “I”s dotted straight.

  • Only change POVs at chapter breaks. Absolutely never head hop within a single scene. It might be possible to change first person narrators at a scene break, but it still might be jarring. (One of my books has two first person narrators and I always changed narrators ONLY at chapter breaks—and I didn’t use a chapter break unless I was changing viewpoint characters.)
  • Don’t be afraid of the “idiot light.” Put the viewpoint character’s name at the top of the chapter! (My band director in middle school used this term to describe a dome light that came on when you opened your door, as if you didn’t realize your door was open. He was using it to describe accidentals in music designed to cancel out the previous measure’s accidentals, which are automatically cancelled by a measure bar—just a reminder in case you’re not smart enough to remember those accidentals are no longer in effect.)
  • Make sure your characters have truly distinctive voices. This is important in third person, but critical in first. If they sound too much alike, your POV probably isn’t deep enough—and your readers are going to get confused, no matter what other precautions you take.

Multiple narrators, different persons

Whaaa? Can you even do that?

Yes! You can mix first- and third-person narration. My multiple first-person POVs book I mentioned? It also had some interspersed “scenes” that weren’t “in” chapters—and those were in third person, present tense (vs. past tense for the rest of the book). I needed a more distant POV for the narrator in those sections—and I really couldn’t put his name at the top of his chapters (since it would give away the villain’s identity, a major twist in the novel).

As with everything else we’ve discussed, if you’re going to mix first person and third person, do it on purpose and with purpose. You can even use different persons for the same character (in different scenes)—just be sure you know what effect you’re going for, and make sure it’s working for that effect. Another example would be Heather Gudenkauf’s The Weight of Silence. It has six or more narrators, all in first person except for the character who is an elective mute. But at the end of the novel, <spoiler alert!> the elective mute breaks her silence and concludes the novel in a first-person epilogue.

Just in case you’re wondering, as with multiple first person stories, I think it’s helpful to label the chapters with the viewpoint characters’ names, especially if two or more of your POV characters are in first person. (In The Weight of Silence, the chapters were all labeled with the viewpoint character’s name.) You can do this in third person as well, but I find it a lot clumsier than handling multiple third person narrators organically.

What do you think? What’s the most unusual POV or the most unusual POV combination you’ve ever used? How did you handle it? Come join in the conversation!

Photo credits: couple eating—Mr. Thomas; I-Spy badge by Leo Reynolds; Silent—Jennifer Moo

Handling multiple POVs

This entry is part 13 of 14 in the series Deep POV

Sometimes, using more than one POV in a novel can be tricky. Handling multiple POV styles can be even trickier. Today we’ll look at how to transition effectively between multiple POV characters in third person, and next time we’ll take it to the next level, looking at multiple first person narrators and mixing first and third.

Multiple third-person POV characters

In general, the guideline is that we don’t change POV characters within a scene. I’ve even seen this rule phrased as “you can’t change POV characters within a chapter” but from all that I’ve read and seen, I think that’s far stricter than general publishing guidelines. I’ve also seen some writers state that you can’t change POVs within a chapter, but that’s patently ridiculous, to put it mildly.

When changing between viewpoint characters with all third-person POVs, you will want to use a scene break (denoted by white space or other marks in novels, denoted by centered asterisks or octothorpes in manuscripts) or a chapter break. As with any scene ending, you’ll probably want to give us something to look forward to for the next time we see that character or we get that character’s POV (a hook, if you will).

In the new scene, orient the readers to the new POV character as quickly as you can. You have a number of options of narrative modes to start the scene, but orienting to the POV character can make it a little tougher. Using dialogue can be hit or miss. Thoughts, in general—such as the sequel from the previous scene in this character’s POV—aren’t the best way to switch off the POVs.

I think of opening with thoughts like starting a movie scene with a black screen and a voiceover—without the advantage of recognizing the voice right away. There’s a certain stark effect there, but if you’re not going for that, use the anchor and marble in those thoughts amid the present action.

The easiest way to orient the reader to the new POV character is to begin with a physical action anchor. I do try to avoid falling into a formula, but this beginning is also a good place to orient the reader and character in place and time, include a short sequel from the last scene we saw the POV character in (especially if something important happened and we need their reaction) and state the scene goal (which is often related to the sequel).

Seems like a lot? You can do all that in as little as three sentences.

Another personal rule that I use with multiple POV characters (and this is totally my option, a guideline I gave myself, you don’t have to follow it, but I do) is that any character whose role in the story is important enough to warrant getting their own POV should probably have their POV introduced within the first 3-5 chapters or 30-50 pages.

I find POV characters that jump out of nowhere jarring, especially later in a book (especially if it’s for a single scene—drive-by POV—and most especially if that single scene isn’t needed or didn’t need an additional POV character). They don’t have to come up in a regular rotation, but I try to keep the “minor viewpoint characters” in the loop every few chapters as well.

Multiple third-person POVs within a single scene

Seriously? Didn’t I just say we shouldn’t do this?

All right, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen in published books. At this point, I avoid this (I’m very strict on myself about POV, actually). But if you really, really, really want to do it, here are some tips:

  • Make sure the transition is necessary. Gratuitous changes can feel like indiscriminate head hopping. Limit the number of heads you pop into in a single scene
  • Make sure the transition is obvious (i.e. obviously intentional). The reader needs to feel like we’ve passed the POV baton onto this new character and the character has accepted it, not like “we’re just in this character’s head for a visit, and then we’ll pop back into the real POV character’s head.”
  • Make sure the transition is smooth. (Obvious and smooth? I’m not asking much, right? Maybe this is why this has fallen out of favor.)

This is not quite like omniscient POV, because in omniscient, you don’t have to be quite so strict about transitions. You want to be systematic in omniscient, but once you’ve established your POV expectations (that you can dip into all characters’ thoughts), you can continue to operate in those parameters.

Unless you’re already published, you have to prove you know what you’re doing with POV, so tread carefully here.

What do you think? What “person” do you typically use? How many viewpoint characters do you typically have? What is the most you’ve ever juggled? Come join in the conversation!

Photo credits: couple eating—Mr. Thomas;
anchor & compass (Falkland Islands War Memorial)—Ambernectar 13; leap frog (for head hopping)—TRiver