Tag Archives: details

Your character’s thoughts—in real time

This entry is part 5 of 14 in the series Deep POV

So we’ve established that it’s important to get your readers into your character’s head right at the start of the scene, and to convey the character’s voice. Once you’ve got that down, we stay in deep POV by living the character’s perceptions and thoughts—including their thought process—along with them.

Show, don’t tell—for real

The deeper the POV, the more important it is to show instead of tell. In a fairly limited POV, you often get simply the conclusions the character reaches: “She was dowdy.” “He was tall.” In deeper POV, we want to see more of the character’s thoughts that led to these conclusions.

Contrast these two:

Andrea turned around to find a very tall, very angry man looming behind her.

Andrea turned around to find a set of shirt buttons. Shirt buttons? She followed the column of buttons up, her neck arching back to peer at the scowl looming above the crisp collar.

In both passages, we get that the man’s considerably taller than Andrea, and that’s he unhappy. You could take the showing further by describing the scowl. This all depends on the context—if she’s only got enough time to catch a glimpse of him before he robs her/hits her/runs away, you’ll want to skip to the conclusion. If meeting this man is important or you want a specific effect, you can draw it out even more.

This showing requires you to create images that your readers can visualize through specific detail.

Use detail

Detail helps us to sets us in place. Using our characters’ interests and passions as a guide to what they notice and how they talk about it, we can convey a stronger sense of the events, people and places in our story.

Be specific in your detail. Specific images convey much more meaning than vague, generic references. A Beemer gives a very different interpretation than a beater, and both of which are more useful to us as writers than the word “car.”

Then draw the conclusion

The conclusions our characters reach about people, places and events are more powerful when they’re supported by details. But instead of laying out the character’s conclusion and then backing it up with the specific evidence, take things in a logical order to make those conclusions comprehensible and powerful.

So, first we notice the details (through showing, not telling), and then we put those specific details together to come to a conclusion. Here’s another comparison to illustrate the difference:

Jack hid in the corner just before Erica walked in. She was eager to see him. She scanned the room for him.

No true details, conclusion first—this comes off to me as very much “telling” instead of “showing.”

Jack hid in the corner just before Erica walked in. Leaning forward, she cast her eyes about hopefully, eyebrows drawn up as if she silently asked herself where he was. She was eager to see him.

This paints a much more vivid picture—we know what Jack sees, and with the detail, we see it ourselves. In this instance, the detail might be so strong we don’t need the conclusion at all.

Now, everything has its reasonable limits. The amount of detail—or even its use at all—depends, of course, on the specific context. We can skip to conclusions in the middle of a car chase. The hero and heroine meeting for the first time calls for a bit more notice of detail. To keep the thoughts “feeling” like real time, be sure to match the amount of detail—and how you work it in—with the pace.

Next week, we’ll look at the words you should—and shouldn’t—avoid for deep POV!

How do you show your characters’ thought process to help portray the places, events and people in your story?

Photo credits: buttons—Emily Lucima; eyes—Charlie Balch