Deep P.O.V. Part Two—Crawling Inside Your Characters

This GORGEOUS image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Aimannesse Photography

This GORGEOUS image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Aimannesse Photography

Last time we talked about the history and evolution of POV (Point of View) and why certain types of POV might not be the best choice for a modern reader. We also talked about what is often called “deep POV” which, until I looked it up one day? I thought was just tight writing. Who knew it had a name?

Today we’re going to dive deeper into deep POV.

Wow, deep.

Yes, there are style changes we can make, like removing as many tags as we can and ditching extraneous sensing and thinking words. But deep POV is strongly tethered to characterization. Good characterization. Before we get to that, let’s talk about what we often do when we’re new.

The Fishy Flashback

When we’re new writers, we often don’t understand plotting. We don’t yet have the skill set to structure a work spanning anywhere from 60,000 to 110,000 words (depending on genre). This is NOT a criticism. Yes, I had to write stories and essays, but the longest thing I ever wrote was 32 pages. And that was a term paper and not fiction.

Yet, I was dumb enough to believe that because I made As in English, that clearly I was NYTBSA material. Pshaw! I knew how to write *rolls eyes*.

Um, no. NO.

And if you won’t cop to this I will because I have no pride. New writers often get an image, a scene, a snatch of dialogue and then GO. Often the first hundred pages of a first-time novel is almost all flashbacks. Going back in TIME to know whyyyyyy. Why is this character the way he/she IS? What happened in childhood, young adulthood, that random college party back in ’03?

It’s also where we get brilliant ideas like journals and letters and coming to grips with “the past.”

Just so y’all know, no one cares about the past unless it impacts the future. Not in fiction and, bluntly, not in life. The past has already happened. In real life, we have to pay people by the hour to care about our past. They’re called psychiatrists.

Thus, the past (in a vacuum) is not interesting fiction. By definition, it has already happened. There is no pressing danger and so it becomes, as the famous late Blake Snyder would say, “Watch out for that iceberg! It is moving at an inch a year, but watch out!”

 

Flashbacks are a BIG sign of weak writing. And, since this is NOT a blog about why most editors want to stab flashbacks in the face…we’ll go over that next time😀.

****And don’t argue in the comments that Such-And-Such uses loads of flashbacks and now is taking baths in diamonds and crisp Benjamins. Anything CAN be done and often what y’all might think is a flashback is actually an unorthodox plotting structure. Same with use of journals and letters. So hold the torches and pitchforks until next time. I love you *SMOOCH*

Anyway…

A lot of new writers go about a hundred pages with no clear story, a crap-ton of flashbacks and thus create what is called the “fish head.” Unless you are my weird Scandinavian family, what do we do with fish heads? We cut them off and throw away. We DO NOT INGEST THEM.

The fish head is not necessarily “bad”, it just doesn’t belong in the novel and good editors will cut it. Often the fish head is the writer getting to know the cast, which is actually VERY important, lest we have a book of talking heads who all sound like the author.

It is essential to know our cast if we hope to successfully write “Deep POV.”

KNOW Your Cast

There are all kinds of ways to get to know our characters. I often write detailed character backgrounds before starting a story so it doesn’t become a fish head.

Why we need to know our characters is that deep POV is a reflection of the inner self, how that character sees the world, responds, evades, processes, etc. It is also a reflection of personal history and relationship dynamics.

*cue brain cramp* *hands paper bag*

It’s okay. Breathe. We’re going to unpack this.

Reflection of the Character

Image via Flickr Creative Commons. Bansky's "Peaceful hearts Doctor" courtesy of Eva Blue.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons. Bansky’s “Peaceful hearts Doctor” courtesy of Eva Blue.

Back when I used to run a weekly workshop, I had writers do a little exercise to help them learn POV and also strengthen character-building skills. I gave this scenario:

We have a family of four—Mom, Dad, a grandparent (either gender) and a teen (either gender) who has spent a year saving for a family vacation. On the way to their destination, the vehicle breaks down. What happens and tell it from the perspective of EACH family member.

Every week, writers showed with the perspective of one of the four. We had ASTONISHING creativity. Some families were aliens on an interstellar vacation. Some had wandered into cartel territory. One family went back in time. But no matter where the story was set, the characters were recognizable in their roles. The perspective of a grandparent was markedly different than the teen.

The language was unique, the dialogue and what that character might notice or feel. What was upsetting?

While a mother might be thrilled to have the family together for a vacation, the teen might be sulking in the back upset that there is no wi-fi. The mom might be worried they will have to go home while the teen is happy because she doesn’t want to be trapped in a car with “old people.”

Who These Characters ARE Changes the Story AND Deep POV

When we layer in some background, the characters (and consequently the story, problems and conflict) all change drastically.

What if dad is finally home from his forth tour in Afghanistan and has terrible PTSD?

What if Mom is a closet alcoholic?

What if the teen is recently in remission from Leukemia?

What if Grandma is a tireless flirt who dresses in short skirts and hits on every man in a ten-mile radius?

What if the teen is an asthmatic and forgot his inhaler?

What if Granddad has early on-set Alzheimer’s?

What if the teen has been recruited for a mandatory deep space mission by the New Earth government and will never see the family again?

What if the teen was adopted and the purpose for the trip was to meet the child’s birth mother? How would this impact the emotions of those in the vehicle?

What if there used to be TWO children and one had died in an accident a year previously?

Do you see how by changing WHO these people are, this cannot HELP but affect everything else?

If Dad has PTSD, he might jump at every lump of roadkill because that’s how insurgents hide IEDs. If the family is stranded and Mom can’t get to a liquor stash, she might start getting belligerent or, left too long, start going through DTs. What would an addict notice? Likely nothing beyond how to get a fix.

While a kid in remission with a new lease on life might enjoy being broken down in the middle of nowhere (appreciating the little things in life) the addict would be hysterical.

All of this will impact Deep POV because we are in the HEAD and EMOTIONS of the character.

Let’s pick on Mom for an illustration. I’m riffing this, so the writing is just an illustration. Just roll with it.

Geiko Caveman.

Geiko Caveman.

Kidding! Lighten up. You seem tense.

Example One:

Fifi clutched the baby picture, the one she’d carried everywhere for fifteen years. She hated she was happy the old van had finally given out. Her husband stared, bewildered at the smoking engine. Other than car trouble, he seemed fine. Fine. How can he be fine?

She glanced back at her daughter, the living reflection her of all her dreams and failures. She’d wanted a baby more than life. Every night on a freezing floor. One miscarriage after another and then came a tiny bundle of everything she’d ever longed for.

That woman hadn’t wanted her. That woman had abandoned her. That woman was Gretchen’s real mother and now Gretchen wanted to meet her. Real mother, like hell. And I’m a real astronaut.

How had she failed? If she’d been a good mother, Gretchen would have forgotten that woman and they wouldn’t be here.

“You okay?” Her daughter bent between the seats and kissed her cheek. “You said this was okay, that we could do this. You’re sure, right?” A wary smile revealed new braces, the braces Fifi paid for with money she’d saved for a new van.

“I’m fine, Honey.” She crumpled the baby picture and opened the van door. She needed air.

***

Example Two:

Fifi clutched the baby picture, the one her daughter had given her a week ago for Mother’s Day when they picked her up from rehab. Ninety days clean. At least that was the lie she’d packed along with her swimsuit and the hairspray can with the secret compartment and the only pills they hadn’t found.

The pills that were now gone.

They should have already been at the resort, the one staffed with eager friends willing to help her out. Friends with first names only who took cash and asked no questions.

Fifi scratched at her arms. Millions of insects boiled beneath her skin, invaded her nerve endings and chewed them to bleeding bits. Pain like lightning struck her spine, the section crushed then reconstructed. Pain like lightning spidered her brain, frying her thoughts. She glanced again at the baby picture, then at the fine young woman in back. Her daughter Gretchen.

What am I doing?

Maybe she would be okay. Maybe she hadn’t had enough pills to completely undo her. Maybe she could ride this out. And maybe I’m the Queen of England.

Gretchen bent between the seats and kissed her on the cheek. “I love you, Mom. You okay?”

Tears clotted her throat. She nodded. “Yes, I’m fine, Honey.”

“You mean it?”

She hesitated then smiled. “Yes. Yes I do.”

She tucked the baby picture in her shirt pocket, close to her heart and opened the van door. She needed air. She also needed to change their plans. Visit somewhere with no friends. With no one who took cash.

Do you see how changing WHO Fifi is changes everything? Everything she is sensing, feeling, thinking. Being in the emotions of a heartbroken mother who feels betrayed is a very different experience from being in the head of a sympathetic addict who’s struggling to get clean and stay clean.

***

Both women are impacted by the daughter. One Fifi is hurt by the daughter, the other Fifi finds hope in the daughter. Both women are conflicted. One is tormented with feelings of failure and betrayal and the other is tormented by failure, but very real physical problems of addiction that impact the story.

Deep POV has thrust us into the head and emotions of both women. We feel what they feel. The author is invisible because there are no tags. The sensations are raw and visceral because we have gotten rid of the coaching words.

Instead of:

Fifi felt millions of insects boiling beneath her skin….

We get right to it.

Millions of insects boiled beneath her skin…

The sensation is CLOSER. There is no psychic distance. She isn’t thinking she is going to lose it. She isn’t wondering if she can keep it together. She is experiencing everything real-time and up-close.

Instead of:

Fifi thought, What am I doing?

She just does. We KNOW Fifi is thinking because we are camped in her head.

Deep POV is Akin To Method Acting

When we know our characters, who they are, how they came to be, the formative experiences, we can then crawl in that skin and become that person. By us becoming that character, we then have the power to transport our reader into the skins we have fashioned.

I hope this helps you guys understand the magical, mystical Deep POV and now you’re all excited about writing stronger characters.

Before we go, y’all asked for it so here goes. I have two classes coming up. The class on log-lines Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line is $35 and as a BONUS, the first ten sign-ups get to be victims. IF YOU ARE QUERYING AN AGENT, YOU NEED A PITCH. I will pull apart and torture your log-line until it is agent-ready for FREE. 

Beyond the first ten folks? We will work out something super affordable as a bonus for being in the class so don’t fret. I’ll take good care of you. AND, it is two hours and on a Saturday (June 27th) and recorded so no excuses😛 .

I am also running Hooking the Reader–Your First Five Pages.  Class is on June 30th so let’s make Tuesdays interesting. General Admission is $40 and Gold Level is $55 but with Gold Level, you get the class, the recording and I look at your first five and give detailed edit.

Our first five pages are essential for trying to attract an agent or even selling BOOKS. Readers give us a page…maybe five. Can we hook them enough to part with cold hard CASH? Also, I can generally tell all bad habits in 5 pages so probably can save you a ton in content edit.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JUNE, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Remember, for MORE chances to win and better ODDS, also comment over at Dojo Diva. I am blogging for my home dojo and it will help the blog gain traction.

Winner for May is Ugirid Haprasad and the Dojo Diva winner is Amy Kennedy. Please send 20 pages (5000 words) in a WORD document to kristen at wana intl.com. Congratulations!

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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  1. #1 by Melissa Lewicki on June 11, 2015 - 11:41 am

    I look forward to tomorrow. My detective just found a journal under the mattress of the the second victim….

  2. #2 by Chris Bloom on June 11, 2015 - 12:09 pm

    Thanks for another great post on Deep POV. Rethinking that journal idea of mine too.

  3. #3 by Charley on June 11, 2015 - 12:14 pm

    There’s also an interesting evolution to this that bugs some readers, particularly grammar puritans. I’ve read that since you’re in the character’s head, you should stop using distracting italics for their thoughts or reactions. This results in a past tense story that occasionally has a present tense sentence in it. Doesn’t bother me at all — I can see it’s the character’s thought at the time, and prefer it without italics to highlight that. But as I say, I’ve seen complaints about tense-hopping from those not used to it.

    Sigh.

    • #4 by Author Kristen Lamb on June 11, 2015 - 2:09 pm

      That is a stylistic preference. I LIKE the italics if there is a perspective shift. If we are in deep third, the character will THINK in first-person, so the italics serves to smooth the writing so the reader doesn’t suddenly get confused when the pronoun changes. If I am in DEEP FIRST? Probably could lose the italics.

  4. #5 by Henrietta Handy on June 11, 2015 - 12:41 pm

    Reblogged this on Kentucky Mountain Girl News.

  5. #6 by Lynette Mirie on June 11, 2015 - 1:00 pm

    You should put together a book called Fiction Writing for Dummies. It would be your next NYTBS. Your breakdown explanations beat any I’ve come across in all my writing craft studies.

  6. #7 by Lynette Mirie on June 11, 2015 - 1:01 pm

    Oh, that book’s been written, LOL. I haven’t read it, but you’d probably do it better.

  7. #8 by anijioforlawrence on June 11, 2015 - 1:54 pm

    Reblogged this on xdayschocolate.

  8. #9 by ontyrepassages on June 11, 2015 - 2:01 pm

    Brilliant post. I’ve long used elements of Deep POV in my writing, the key word being “elements.” I haven’t used it completely or consistently, which is why I’m setting aside my impending fame and fortune😉 and am focusing on wrapping my writing brain around utilizing Deep POV completely—no matter how long it takes.🙂

  9. #10 by peggylchambers on June 11, 2015 - 2:15 pm

  10. #11 by lori beasley bradley on June 11, 2015 - 2:31 pm

    Reblogged this on Lori Beasley Bradley my writing.

  11. #12 by Alice White Author on June 11, 2015 - 2:36 pm

    Reblogged this on Alice White Author and commented:
    Part two of Kristen Lamb’s fabulous advice on DEEP POV.

  12. #13 by Sherry on June 11, 2015 - 4:03 pm

    I’m learning a lot from your blogs, and now see the characters in my story have been paper-dolls. (if anyone remembers what those are.) Absolutely no depth to them at all. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and skills.

  13. #14 by kim on June 11, 2015 - 6:08 pm

    I don’t write fiction, but I wonder if the deep voice in non fiction, would be the depth of the character, the honesty, the raw secrets the true feelings and thoughts of the author or Is that just first person?

  14. #15 by Ms. Stretchy Pants on June 11, 2015 - 8:33 pm

    Reblogged this on 10 Minutes Past Coffee and commented:
    Deep POV Part Two by Kristin Lamb… more of the same and all of it brilliant! As a reader I find that there’s nothing better than getting “deep” inside a character’s head. Kristin explains how the character’s past, personality can attribute to the voice of the character.

  15. #16 by Today, You Will Write on June 11, 2015 - 9:03 pm

    Reblogged this on Today, You Will Write and commented:
    Crawling Inside Your Characters…why not learn a thing or two?

  16. #17 by bevbaird on June 11, 2015 - 10:23 pm

    Your great advice about deep POV continues – really helps to have the examples. Thank you.

  17. #18 by lynnkelleyauthor on June 12, 2015 - 1:45 am

    I love this post. Great stuff! Thank you!

  18. #19 by Erin Darby Herrington on June 12, 2015 - 5:52 am

    Consider this new writer’s mind cracked wide open! I’m guilty of ALL of the above no-no’s and this post just opened my eyes in a big way. This excites me, to know that I am forming an awareness of weaknesses in my writing and that I’m capable of fixing them. Thanks again for your valuable insight, Kristen!

    • #20 by Author Kristen Lamb on June 12, 2015 - 8:56 am

      ACK! I need to get to your pages! Our AC went KABLOOEY this week so I have been messing with that.

      • #21 by Erin Darby Herrington on June 12, 2015 - 9:29 pm

        Totally okay! Don’t worry, i’m patient. As long as you get to them sometime, I’m good. And EXTREMELY appreciative!

  19. #22 by Bree on June 12, 2015 - 7:17 am

    A question: What about when two people are having a conversation? Wouldn’t it just look like:
    “Shut up.”
    “No, you shut up.”
    “No, YOU shut up.”
    etc. etc.?? I have written a few passages like this, and have had feedback that it’s difficult to follow. Is there a better way?

    • #23 by Author Kristen Lamb on June 12, 2015 - 8:55 am

      If you are writing in Deep POV, there would be a line of action to denote who was who. Also, you CAN use “said”. There is no rule we have to stay in Deep POV the whole time. But your selection might look like this.

      “Shut up.” Penelope giggled and play-punched his arm.
      “No, you shut up.” Rob tickled her, making her scream.
      “No, YOU shut up.” She swatted his hand and rolled off the bed. A moment later a pillow hit him square in the face. Game on.

  20. #24 by Vicky McHenry on June 12, 2015 - 9:28 am

    Just found this blog (thanks to RWA post today) and am recommending it to everyone in my local chapter. I can’t tell you how many members have asked “What is deep POV?” Thanks so much

  21. #25 by Elizabeth Logotheti on June 12, 2015 - 1:28 pm

    Great stuff, thanks for giving us so much to consider.

  22. #26 by Dawn DeSousa on June 12, 2015 - 1:56 pm

    Hey Girl, as always you make complex ideas easy to understand! Burst out laughing because, I did need to lighten up!! So when do we get to read more of your writing? I know you have a few books that you have painstakingly been working on. Enough editing already and let us read it!!!!

  23. #27 by Elizabeth Logotheti on June 12, 2015 - 2:31 pm

    Gosh, I just went back over my work. I’ve been using all of those tags way too much. So spent a few minutes to change a paragraph and the difference is amazing. Hard work though!!!

  24. #28 by Linda Tillis/ writing as Chloe Gibson on June 12, 2015 - 3:30 pm

    This is going to help me SO much! Thanks a bunch.

  25. #29 by Hayson Manning on June 14, 2015 - 1:11 am

    Great post. I went back over the ms that is taking longer to birth than the universe and deleted all the felts. I’m too embarrassed to say how many there were. Looking forward to the log line course.

  26. #30 by Lori Ericson on June 14, 2015 - 7:43 am

    I was just turned on to this blog by members of my writer’s group. This is stuff we talk about a lot in group. You are great about keeping it simple and easy to get! Thanks for your efforts on behalf of good writing and writers who need you.

  27. #31 by conniecockrell on June 14, 2015 - 8:46 am

    Awesome lesson. I’m really learning from these two sessions on deep POV and have already begun incorporating them into my daily writing. Thanks so much.

  28. #32 by drakes1 on June 14, 2015 - 3:58 pm

    Thanks Kristen! Very very helpful. Thank you! I’ve given myself a pat on the back as well. 30,000 words into my first novel and no sign of any flashbacks! The thought had not even crossed my mind if I’m honest. A good thing obviously!🙂 thanks again. Mark

  29. #33 by moirainori77 on June 15, 2015 - 4:16 am

    Reblogged this on Sunflowers for Moira and commented:
    More posts I learn a lot from.

  30. #34 by quirkywritingcorner on June 17, 2015 - 5:02 pm

    Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner and commented:
    I believe making our characters more than letters on a page is necessary to have a good book, but it’s not the only thing.

  31. #35 by Glynis Jolly on June 18, 2015 - 5:55 pm

    I must get better at creating character development sheets. Terrific illustration, Kristen.

  32. #36 by chickinwhite on June 19, 2015 - 12:41 pm

    Late to the party, I´m sorry😛
    But as always, I appreciate your teaching style. It´s rare to get such profound support in such an entertaining style!!
    (Hah! And I just checked on my first pages of my current fiction: Think I got it, well almost. Puuuhh, so happy for that!)
    Thanks, Kristen! Stay awesome!*winks*

  33. #37 by aurorajeanalexander on June 22, 2015 - 3:08 pm

    This is great. Thank you for sharing Kristen.
    Lately I have written a blog post where I actually created a character just there within the post. I wish you could read it.🙂 I’d be curious what you think.

  34. #38 by Laura Russell on June 23, 2015 - 5:19 am

    Lesson 2 is helping to hammer those traps home. This is great. Thx.

  35. #39 by Elissaveta on June 24, 2015 - 5:37 pm

    And another insightful post that gets bookmarked. Thank you!

  36. #40 by katkent2014 on June 29, 2015 - 11:53 pm

    Reblogged this on writersback and commented:
    I love deep POV. The writing is so much smoother. Awesome and great post!

  37. #41 by katkent2014 on June 29, 2015 - 11:59 pm

    I am seriously loving deep POV! It is surprisingly easy, my writing is so much smoother and my characters are more alive. Thank you for the awesome examples, Kristen. You made it so much easier to understand.

  38. #42 by lovessiamese on March 12, 2016 - 4:34 pm

    Awesome, awesome, awesome! I’m an older emerging writer who grew up with the flashbacks and omniscient POV. I have some changes to make in my contemporary stories. Even my historical can use an update. Thanks so much. Re-blogging and sharing on my Google+.

  39. #43 by lovessiamese on March 12, 2016 - 4:35 pm

    Reblogged this on TheKingsKidChronicles and commented:
    I sure needed these two posts on POV. As an older emerging write, I have some changes to make. Hope these will help other older emerging writers who grew up with the old style of POV.

  40. #44 by Dido's Desolate Domain on August 7, 2016 - 7:20 pm

    A great article. I must say, I do like some omniscient POV though, as a stylistic change. And I also feel I would need to pull out of Deep POV sometimes when either writing or reading.

    But I definitely agree with cutting back on author intrusion, as I was a massive sinner when it came to 1)- Sensing/Thinking/Feeling words and 2)- Flashbacks. I’ve just finished writing out a plot timeline for my latest work and it flows a lot faster now that I’ve erased the junk, a.k.a flashbacks.

    I also agree with writing detailed character sheets. Sometimes I write my notes as interviews between the author and a journalist, or sometimes as a Wikipedia entry. I used to be a pantser when it came to characterization and that ship sank pretty quickly.

    (Oh and I’m with the Scandinavian family. My Nigerian parents eat fish heads too. Yum!)

  1. Deep Point of View Part 2 by Kristen Lamb – Macjoyful's Minimal Musings
  2. Why Flashbacks Ruin Fiction | Kristen Lamb's Blog

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