Monday, September 10, 2007

Deep Third Point of View

This week the diner staff is talking about characters and characterization, whether through interviews of fictional or real people or essays about how they approach characterization in their writing. Or whatever else they come up with! Makin' a schedule for these gals is like herding cats, I tell ya. On Saturday next (the 22nd) we may be serving up guest blogger Irene Peterson, author of her blog and also some books -- GLORY DAYS and KISSES TO GO from Zebra Contemporary Romance. We gotta find out what kind of pie she likes and have our baker get some ready.
As for me, I'm one of those evil purists who loves 3rd Person Limited Point of View. A confession: I’m obsessed with the things about writing I can control. I can control whether or not my grammar is spiffy and my commas are correct. I can control whether or not I have headhopping or POV glitches. No matter how much about writing is organic, mastering POV has some mechanical aspects. You can’t force a reader to adore your style or your plot or your descriptive choices, but you can master POV shifts and glitches the same way you can master mechanics and grammar. You can learn what they are and make the choice to hop or not to hop, to go deep or stay shallow.
Especially for characterization, I favor Deep 3rd. This is like being so immersed in a character's head, his or her thoughts color everything that shows up on the page. It's got 1st person depth in 3rd person format. Author Susan Vaughan calls it the "voice" level in her article "Point of View: It's More Than You Think".
Tips for Deepening Your POV:
1) You need to know your viewpoint character well to express his deepest reactions. Writing in first a bit and then transferring back to third might help if you want to go deeper.
2) Deep POV reveals actions, senses, thoughts, emotions and voice -- via showing instead of telling.
3) Deep POV means you use terms your vp (viewpoint) character would use so his or her personality flavors the text. Let your readers eat the delicious pie instead of listing the pie’s ingredients. IE: How would a divorced, raunchy truck driver dad pick out a ballerina outfit for his daughter as opposed to a married, overachieving, former prom queen mom?
4) Deep POV allows you to show character unobtrusively and intimately. Characters will not "explain" things to themselves in their own heads that they already know.
5) Look for signal words like "felt", "thought", "wondered" -- they put distance between the reader and the character. (This is a guideline, not a rule!)
6) Look for blanket statements of emotion: "He was mad." Especially when they’re about somebody who isn’t the viewpoint character.
7) Deeper POV will probably increase your wordcount, so watch out for that.
8) Be careful not to dump too much backstory or introspection as you use deep POV because that way lies madness. And boringness.
9) Don't get so caught up in your character's rendition of events you forget to include action and dialogue.
On my website I've got an example of Shallow vs. Deep Third POV featuring Estelle from a diner, written long before I knew I was going to be taking part in a diner themed blog. Synchronous, huh?
So what about you? How do you approach POV?
Jody W.
So much cyberspace, so little time! *


  1. I love deep POV. It makes the character seem so much more real to me. I also gives me a chance to show off my undeniable (:-) wit.

    I think all writers have borderline schizophrenic, with all these voices in our heads


  2. I've written in both first and third, and like them both about the same. For me, which pov I use depends on the story and the character. When I start writing the pov just hits the page and isn't always a conscious effort.

  3. We're not schizophrenic, we just have special radars :)

    Jody W.

  4. Nice explanation of deep third POV! And thanks for looking after all of us! I have cats so the herding metaphor works for me. Plus, I like to be compared to my cats. lol

  5. I prefer writing in third person but wasn't sure if I was doing deep 3rd or not. After reading your great post, I think I tend to write in deep 3rd person - I'm certainly wordy enough. ;-)

  6. I'm with Francesca. Apparently I write deep third, though I just thought I was kind of wordy:-) Your examples are excellent illustrations of the distinction between shallow and deep, and also had me snorting with laughter. Great post!

  7. I think I need to take lessons from you, deep third can be hard for my
    short attention span to conquer. So when is class?