This article first appeared on the Writers Fun Zone.

We’ve all heard about POV—that’s point of view, the angle of the character who’s telling or seeing the scene. But for all you base-jumping, moto-crossing, ice-climbing literary extremists out there, now there’s deep POV. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I hear you say. Deep POV. How much deeper can POV go? It’s already POV. As in, so not omniscient.

Writers want to use deep POV for the same reason that daredevils want to fling themselves off cliffs grounded only by a rubber band attached to their big toes. It’s about the rush. It’s about digging down and finding the emotion. OK, I can find emotion digging down into a big bucket of popcorn at a Sandra Bullock movie, but we’re not talking about me here. We’re talking about people who want to strip it down to the grain. People like writers.

So let’s look at deep POV, what it is, and how we get it.

No pronouns need apply

For starters: deep POV is not about pronouns. Here’s how it works.

Every scene has a stimulus and a response, repeated until the scene ends. Take my example stimulus: I wrap a rubber band around my big toe and jump off a cliff. The response: I puke my guts out. Bounce up, repeat.

Not the best example. Here’s a better one. The stimulus: The killer pulls out his gun. What’s the response? Our heroine, Sarah—our POV character—ducks behind the stone wall. This response (our heroine ducking) then stimulates the next action: what does the killer do next?

Four parts = harmony

Deep POV comes in when we show readers our heroine’s (our POV character’s) response—how and why she ducked and what she felt. A character’s response to the stimulus has four parts:

  1. emotion
  2. thought
  3. decision
  4. action

and they happen in that order. She won’t jump behind the wall (action) and then feel fear (emotion). She feels the fear first, she thinks what her options are, she decides ducking behind the wall is best, and then she moves. If you work with these four elements—and work them backwards—you’ll find your way to deep POV.

Start with #4: action

Showing only the action component of the response essentially gives us an omniscient POV.

The killer pulled out his gun. (stimulus) Sarah jumped behind a stone wall. (response)

The killer crept forward. (stimulus) Sarah heard a twig snap, and she inched back toward the forest, searching the road for the police. (response)

Notice the use of the word “heard.” Sense words such as heard, felt, saw, or smelled distance the reader. They are not part of deep POV. We’ll get to those in a sec.

Add #3 and #2: decision and thought

You might not always have one thought and one decision running in tandem. A character might have many thoughts and only one decision. Thoughts and decisions together are internalizations.

The killer pulled out his gun. (stimulus) He’d been hunting her since sunrise, and she didn’t know how much longer she could run. (thought) But maybe she could hide until help came. (decision) Sarah jumped behind a stone wall. (response)

The killer crept forward. (stimulus) Sarah heard a twig snap. She had to stay focused, she thought. (thought) She inched back toward the forest, searching the road for the police. (response)

Finally, add #1: emotion

How much emotion you add probably depends on what kind of book you’re writing, as well as what scene you’re in.

The killer pulled out his gun. (stimulus) She sobbed, gasping for breath. (emotion) He’d been hunting her since sunrise, and she didn’t know how much longer she could run. (thought) But maybe she could hide until help came. (decision) Sarah jumped behind a stone wall. (response)

The killer crept forward. (stimulus) Sarah heard a twig snap. He was relentless—she’d never get away! (emotion) She had to stay focused, she thought. (thought) She inched back toward the forest, searching the road for the police. (response)

No telling!

Next we strip out anything that’s “telling”—anything that distances the character from the reader. These include the heard, felt, saw, or smelled words, but also words such as thought or  recalled that have readers watching Sarah’s responses rather than feeling them.

The killer pulled out his gun. (stimulus) She sobbed, gasping for breath. (emotion) He’d been hunting her since sunrise. How much longer could she run? (thought) Could she hide until help came? (decision) Sarah jumped behind a stone wall. (response)

The killer crept forward. (stimulus) A twig snapped. He was relentless—she’d never get away. (emotion) Just stay focused. (thought) She inched back toward the forest, searching the road for the police. (response)

Add some personality

That’s basically it as the process to get to deep POV—but we should still give this section one more pass to add a little bit of Sarah’s personality to her dilemma.

The killer pulled out his gun. She sobbed, gasping for breath. He’d been hunting her since sunrise. How much longer could she run? If only she’d gone to the gym more often! Regrets wouldn’t help her now, but could she hide until the cops came? Sarah jumped behind a stone wall.

The killer crept forward. A twig snapped. He was relentless—she’d never get away. Just stay focused. Just stay alive, minute by minute. She inched back toward the forest, searching the road for the police.

Going deeper

This simple example is just to demonstrate how deep POV works. Of course, nothing is ever absolute, and deep POV can get much deeper than this when you’re working in your own scenes. But this example should help you see how you can use deep POV to strengthen your story, improve your pacing, and help readers engage with your characters.

But let me warn you, you daredevil you, if you’ve got a rubber band wrapped around your big toe, stay away from the cliffs. There’s no POV down there. You can trust me on this.

Thanks to Liz Pelletier for the expanding example format, Jack Bickham for explaining four-part harmony so well, and Suzanne Brockmann for being so awesome with deep POV.

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