Go Deep! Eliminate Distancing Phrases for Deep POV

Ah, Deep POV, or Deep Penetration, as Orson Scott Card calls it. There’s nothing quite as titillating.

And no, we’re talking about writing guys, get your mind out of the gutter, jeez. (Sorry couldn’t resist. *clears throat*). Anyway, my current WIP is written in Deep POV. For those unfamiliar with this, it’s a style of 3rd person POV (Point of View) and sounds very much like 1st. It’s a very popular choice for romance writers, because it allows the reader to be in the character’s head, but also reaps the benefits of 3rd.

My first introduction to it was in Card’s book Elements of Fiction Writing – Characters & Viewpoint, but it only whet my appetite and it wasn’t enough for me to go on. I wanted more! So, I scoured writing blogs and read tips and tricks. One online resource I found useful was Jordan McCollum’s 12 post series on Deep POV.  However, alas, my poor emerging writer brain still had a hard time fully grasping how to achieve this immersive style of writing. I understood some of the easy, take-home tenets, but I felt like I wasn’t fully getting the rest. And I’m still learning!

So, I took a 2-week online class over the summer with the inestimable Camy Tang, and it was exactly what I needed. Each day she had a specific tip for us to use as homework that night and she’d comment back the next day. Some of them I’d read before, but it really helped having an author verify or push you further.

One of her tips you see a lot: eliminate distancing phrases like ‘he said’, ‘he heard’, etc. This is almost always covered in any blog post on Deep POV. But I thought it bears repeating since this is something I see a lot in submissions I critique. Anytime we use phrases like this, we’re yanking the reader out of the character’s head and telling them what the character is sensing as if we’re watching them in a movie. It’s like we’re telling the reader, “this is how the character feels right now,” instead of describing it in a way that makes the reader feel what the character is feeling. Since everything we narrate is what they see, hear, taste, etc., it’s best to take them straight to it. Sometimes we can’t get around it or it won’t make sense, but when we can, it will make the immersion deeper for our reader.

Do a search in your WIP for the following verbs and see if you can get rid of them:

  • saw
  • watched
  • felt
  • heard
  • thought
  • knew
  • wondered/wondering
  • realized/realizing
  • remembered/remembering
  • decided/deciding
  • noticed/noticing
  • wished/wishing

For examples on how these can be changed, see Ms. Tang’s writing tips. This is only a shortened version of her great online class. See also Girls With Pens’ post on writing in Deep POV.

And since no writing tips post is completely useful without embarrassing myself giving examples, here’s the before and after I submitted to Ms. Tang. The hero at this point has only recently learned she’s from the future and has found the item that will allow her to return. It is written from the hero’s POV, hence the old-fashioned tone (the parts in bold are parts that changed):

Ten minutes later Miss Rochon returned with a wooden bowl that she placed on a table between them. “These are the items that were with me when I came here. Normally I would have much more in my purse, but since I was going to a ball, and my purse was small, I only had the essentials.” She held up a clump of clinking metal objects and passed it to Miss Byron, “These are my keys. They are much different than the keys you are used to, but they open my house – your house, Phineas – another opens my office in the British Museum, another goes to my car.”

Of course they questioned the meaning of the last item named, and Miss Rochon went into a lengthy discussion of the automobile, its usage and ubiquity in her time. Next, she pulled out a hard, flat rectangle, calling it a debit card, and explained it; showed her “Georgia driver’s license,” the American bank notes she had, her tube of lipstick – which fascinated Miss Byron — and then she produced a thick black object. (‘fascinated’ wasn’t in the list, but it’s telling what can be better shown)

“Is that… I do believe that is the device you had the first night we became acquainted, is it not?” asked Phineas.

“Yes, but it’s lost its power. Kind of like how you use gas to power the lights on the street, this takes a different kind of power to work and it’s run out. But we use it to talk to who are in a different place, read news as it happens… That night I tried to contact my friends with it. Remember I wanted to meet some friends at a place nearby?”

Phineas understood, finally, how different was her normal lifestyle. He also suspected that the device did much more than what she had revealed and she held back for his sake. He felt overwhelmed and obsolete. (this part I cut out completely on the rewrite as it became clear that it was redundant when I deepened the POV) How could he compete? (this part I had to change so that it would match the new metaphor I came up with on the rewrite)

Miss Byron interjected to relate other wonders it performed, confirming his suspicion. “And that is not all. She captured a likeness of me at the ball, and I saw myself in there, in my dress. And it can also add numbers, as I told you Mr. Babbage is attempting to do.”

Phineas stared (looking and staring are so common in my drafts, argh! They don’t really add much) at Miss Rochon who caught his look and gave a half shrug. His stomach in turmoil, he cleared his throat. “Miss Rochon, I believe I have found the means for your return to this wondrous future,” and he retrieved the silver case from inside his pocket, wrapped now in satin cloth.

He heard Miss Rochon gasp and he looked up to see that she held herself perfectly still. Setting the object on the table, he pulled back the cloth.

After:

Ten minutes later, Isabelle returned with a wooden bowl that she placed on a table between them. “These are the items that were with me when I came here. Normally, I would have had much more in my purse, but since I was going to a ball, my purse was small and I only had the essentials.” She held up a clump of clinking metal objects and passed it to Miss Byron. “These are my keys. They are much different than the keys you are used to, but they open my house — your house Phineas — another opens my office in the British Museum, another goes to my car.”

Of course they questioned the meaning of the last item named, and Isabelle went into a lengthy discussion of the automobile, its usage and ubiquity in her time. Next, she pulled out a hard, flat rectangle, calling it a debit card, and explained it; showed her “Georgia driver’s license,” the American bank notes she had, her tube of lipstick — which Miss Byron kept spiraling open and closed, eyes wide — and then she produced a thin black object.

“Is that… I do believe that is the device you had the first night we became acquainted, is it not?” asked Phineas.

“Yes, but it’s lost its power. Kind of like how you use gas to power the lights on the street, this takes a different kind of power to work and it’s run out. But we use it to talk to people who are in a different place, read news as it happens… That night I tried to contact my friends with it. Remember I wanted to meet some friends at a place nearby?”

He suspected that the device did much more than what she had revealed, and she held back for his sake. A chasm opened in his mind’s eye, Isabelle, occupying the other side and retreating. How could he hope to bridge the gap?

Miss Byron interjected to relate other wonders it performed, confirming his suspicion. “And that is not all. She captured a likeness of me at the ball, and I saw myself in there, in my dress. Moreover, it can also make mathematical calculations, as I told you Mr. Babbage is attempting to do.”

Isabelle gave a half shrug. His stomach in turmoil, he cleared his throat. “Miss Rochon, I believe I have found the means for your return to this wondrous future.” He retrieved the silver case from inside his pocket, wrapped now in satin cloth.

She gasped and Phineas looked up. She held herself perfectly still. Setting the object on the table, he pulled back the cloth.

So how about you? Are you writing in Deep POV? What aspects of Deep POV have you found to be the hardest to grasp? Have you found any online resources that do a good job of helping writers learn Deep POV?

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5 Comments

  1. I am writing from two POVs. My narrator is in 1st. And believe it or not, it is not as deep as 3rd POV. As Card explains, the 1st POV narrator has the distance in time. The reader expects her to look back and tell what she’s been through. Now, I do try to deepenfy her, but to do this entirely, as in Deep 1st, confuses the reader, because readers assume the first POV character “survived to tell the story.”

    So… I move to my 3rd POV character. He is to be deep, except for a few profound moments when he comments on himself as if an outsider. You know those moments when you don’t want to accept something and you berate yourself or talk back to yourself? Those, I hope, are the sole exceptions. Otherwise, he’s right in the scene.

    To embarrass myself, here’s an excerpt I worked on yesterday.

    Before:
    Footsteps thudded behind me. I gasped and crawled on my hands and knees to scurry under a bush. Someone lifted me by the waist. My chest crunched to the top of my knees and knocked my wind out. A man swung me on his shoulder and lumbered away from the house.

    “Where are you taking me? Let me go.” I pounded on his back. He set me down and clamped a filthy hand over my mouth. The acrid smell of his sweat assaulted me as I struggled to escape.

    After:
    Footsteps thudded behind me. I gulped for air and clawed on my hands and knees toward a juniper bush. Someone lifted me by the waist. My chest crunched to the top of my knees and knocked my wind out. A man swung me over his shoulder and lumbered away from the house.

    “Where are you taking me? Let me go.” I pounded on his back. He set me down and clamped a smelly hand over my mouth. The acrid odor of his sweat drilled into my nostrils. I bore my weight to the ground and pushed against his chest, but he clamped my head under his armpit and dragged me over the dry leaves.

    Reply
    • Awesome rewrite! And the details you added helped with the immersion.

      I know, it seems counterintuitive that 1st isn’t as deep at times as third; many assume it’s the opposite.

      Reply
  2. Camy Tang

     /  October 24, 2011

    I’m so glad you enjoyed my class and thanks for the mention! Great post!

    Reply
  3. I’m glad you found my POV series useful. And what great examples you share here. Thanks for the link!

    Reply
  1. Deep POV: Befores and Untils, do you need them? Truly? | Angela Quarles | Geek girl romance writer

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