Friday, December 12, 2008

Deep POV

Writers who are learning craft figure out fairly early the meaning of "POV."

When my friend, Lauren, told me the letters stood for Point of View, my initial reaction was, "Yeah, so? Of course it's all in my point of view. I'm writing the silly thing."


For those just beginning to peel the onion, POV represents the eyes through which you're framing your scene, or your entire story. You choose a character (ideally the one who has the most to lose at the moment) and let events unfold through their viewpoint; their emotions; their eyes.

It can be harder than it sounds. Most of us want to turn "omniscient" from time to time.

Then, there's Deep POV.

Deep POV, truth be told, is at once the hardest place for me to get, and the easiest place to write from once I'm there.

Deep POV requires me to gird my psyche. I need to prepare myself for what's to come, because what's to come is likely to blow a few emotional gaskets I may have been subconsciously working on maintaining for quite a while. My protective barriers have to fall open to write in Deep POV. I must be vulnerable. I must cut open an artery and let my blood flow.

From The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner, describing what he calls "psychic distance":

1. It was winter of the year 1853. A large man stepped out of a doorway.
2. Henry J. Warburton had never much cared for snowstorms.
3. Henry hated snowstorms.
4. God, how he hated these damn snowstorms.
5. Snow. Under your collar, down inside your shoes, freezing and plugging up your miserable soul.

Deep POV should be used to intensify and highlight. A story with nothing but this kind of depth would exhaust a reader before it got going. "Moderation in all things." Although attributed (probably correctly) to Andria Terence, a Roman dramatist, my frame of reference says Julia Child. But whoever, it's a truism worth noting.

As much as I love Deep POV, it can leave me drained, for obvious reasons. It's often the best of what I have to offer and because it can be intensely personal, the risk is that much greater. Deep POV means I have to dig into Peg. I have to feel what my character is feeling.

And it has to be real.

Real, fictionally speaking. But guess what? If I try to evade or side-step? To soften the impact or protect my own emotions? It shows. Rather than a natural diamond, it slides straight past Zircon to plastic. An ugly thing no one wants to waste their time reading.

Deep POV connects both me and my reader to our core's. It's a God-thing, a human thing, an In-The-Moment event that is rare and wonderful and powerful. Not something to fear, but to embrace.

Even when it's the scariest (especially when it's the scariest) moment in your character's life.

CR: The Two Minute Rule by Robert Crais.

Working on: Our part in a neighborhood progressive dinner party tomorrow night (we're the appetizers) and finishing up my Christmas shopping. I'm woefully behind.

And, important to me, finishing a new scene in my story.


  1. Peg, thanks for an insightful article on POV! Very helpful :-)

  2. You know, I entered my first complete novel in the CWG First Novel contest. It was a flop. Now I'm a about to go back through and reread it for "awkward, unclear prose. Credibility issues." I had several people read it before I entered it in the contest, and THEY never mentioned that. Anyway, all that just to tell you that this article helped me to get in the "mood" to see how I can work on POV to make the prose less awkward and unclear. hehehe...

  3. Amy, thank you for your kind words. I'm honored I could help.

    Ms. Ralene, I love it when as writers we can share our "flops" and grow. I'm so glad that in some small way I could help you get mentally prepared to take a closer look and release your ego long enough to take a good hard look and see where you can take the words you've already created and make them stronger.

    You have strength in every area of your life. We all do.

    With respect to writing, a part of strength is admitting when we need to exercise a different muscle group. Sometimes it's POV, sometimes it discipline, sometimes it's characterization or something else. But only a weak writer would flinch and walk away, leaving what they started.

    I think that leaving what is started eventually becomes stench. And stench eventually can make writers quit. Or go crazy.

    The rest of us? We may pinch our noses a bit at first, but we're ready to dive in and see the solid bones; the beauty of what our intent was; and the route we need to take to make it reality.

    We are way too cool to be stinky.