Last month I promised to talk about the reviews I’ve had so far, and to share my thoughts on where I’m going next. Well, apologies for this, but I changed my mind! That’s the self-published author’s right, I suppose…
But instead, I am going to talk about deep POV. It’s interesting – honest. But where’s this come from? Well, I’ve been doing a bit of writing research – trying to tighten up my craft following feedback I’ve had so far – and the first step I’ve taken is to buy this little beauty here: Deep POV in Fiction by Marcy Kennedy. Brilliant.
But what on Earth is deep POV I hear you cry? Well…
What is Deep POV?
So, apparently, deep POV is a style of writing where the prose is written in very close proximity to the POV character. It can be executed in the third person, or maybe more naturally (though not necessarily) in first person, but ultimately, in this format, the idea is to remove author voice entirely and to immerse the reader into the “head” of the character. It is popular and widely appealing in today’s world where the advent of social media is driving a hunger for emotional proximity – hence readers are likely to be drawn to this style of writing. So on that basis, it’s got to merit some consideration, doesn’t it?
Are there any drawbacks?
Yes, of course there are. The main and most obvious drawback is that everything in the book has to be shown through the ‘senses’ of the POV character (important distinction here between senses and eyes, since we don’t only interact with the world through our eyes!) That sounds a bit limiting, doesn’t it? Well, maybe not.
In many cases this is actually fine. After all, we see the world unfold through our own senses, and there is nothing wrong with that. But there are circumstances in which we (as an author) would like to show what’s going on somewhere else in the ‘wider world’ because it’s important for the story. But this may break the deep POV rules, so we need to be careful. Or creative!
Ironically, one way around this is to not ‘show’ the events on the other side of the world, but rather to ‘tell’ them through a more mundane medium – a letter perhaps, or dialogue with another character. Now, this is obviously okay – that’s how we gather information in our own lives after all – but it does feel to me as though it’s a bit value destructive. I could have been right in the middle of that awesome event, but instead I’ve read about it in a letter. That’s a bit of a shame really…
However, the more creative response is to weave our character into the event we need to relay. If this can be done, brilliant! But unfortunately, it’s rarely that easy.
So, deep POV has its drawback (or drawbacks – I’m sure there are others). How, then, does it stack up against the competition?
So, after investigating deep POV, I’ve decided to ditch it and use another perspective (not really – that’s a hypothetical statement!) I could use omniscient and install a god-like narrator, so that I can see everything and anything. This, however, feels cold to my taste, because although I want to immerse myself in the wider events, I need the characters to bring the events to life. The story is told by the characters after all.
The other approach is to use a multiple third person POV model, and this is popular in the epic fantasy genre that I like to write in. Think George RR Martin & Robin Hobb (and many many others – the list is endless). Now, I haven’t been back and checked that these masterpieces adhere strictly to the deep POV model (though my latest read, the Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks certainly doesn’t), but I do know that they are very character-centric and (therefore) sympathetic reads. So this is probably the model for me, right? And they don’t need deep POV.
But hang on, what does multiple third person really mean (because deep POV can be applied in the multi third-person framework)? And what does it therefore really mean for deep POV? Unfortunately I am still left with the following question…
Do I really need deep POV?
Well, it turns out I have absolutely no idea how to answer that question, probably because it is a choice – there is no right or wrong answer. Unfortunate, right? Yes. So let’s go about this logically, and work out what we think.
Now, as a reader, I am not wedded to the idea of deep POV. Having read ‘Deep POV in Fiction’, I can see the logic behind all the guidance Marcy offers, and I can see how the rules create a deep character-centric experience. But even despite all this, the overall framework is not essential to me as a reader. So, not a great start for deep POV. But let’s think a bit more about this. Why is it not important for me as a reader?
Well, I think it’s because I am what I will call a ‘macro reader’. By this I mean that I naturally pick up wider threads, and the characters (even the main POV) melt into parts of a whole. I do want to sympathise with the character, and the emotion is absolutely essential in the pivot points, but I don’t think I ever truly lock myself into the head of the main character. I ghost the character, and sometimes look around to see what else is going on. That’s just how I read!
And in fact, verbose rich thought processes (what would be traditionally called the showing rather than telling) can actually bore me, and I find myself skimming such sections. If I’m told that so and so ‘thought’ this rather than being shown the evidence, do I care? Not really. What I really want to know are the wider consequences. So get to it!
So if deep POV is not for me, I’m going to ignore it, right?
Hang on, you’re an author
Good point, brain. As an author, I have to think about other readers – my view is only partly relevant. Now, I’m fairly certain that my reading temperament is different to most others – in fact I’m pretty sure my mind works differently to most people, full stop! And in fact, whereas the world appears to have fallen in love with social media and the wide-reaching emotional togetherness it offers, I’m entirely ambivalent. I don’t enjoy being on social media. I would rather have a beer with an actual person.
So to tailor my books to my way of reading would be foolish. I need to write to the current market, and if the current market craves deep POV, who am I to argue?
Surely you want to stay true to yourself?
Yes, I certainly need to be true to myself and my story, and indeed I need to write in a style that I’m happy with. Otherwise this writing gig would become very challenging, and it’s supposed to be fun. I write because I like it.
But… There’s always a but isn’t there? It’s what makes life fun after all. But, although I don’t think deep POV is essential as a reader, I’m certainly not against it. I don’t think it destroys the experience, even if I personally skim some of the ‘show’ passages. As long as the pace is there, and the wider intrigue exists, then I’m happy.
And indeed, what I write are ‘stories’ with ‘characters’ and ‘events’, usually set in a ‘world’ of imagining. Nowhere in that is the authorial perspective dictated. Indeed, the POV choice is just that – a choice. So by choosing deep POV, I am not being untrue to myself or my story. Tick.
So I can press on and implement deep POV?
I’m going to approach this with caution. From my limited reviews of Fear’s Union so far, there has been some tough feedback, and I suspect a lot of it will be will be remedied by adopting the deep POV principles (and in fact some of the principles of deep POV should be adopted anyway – it’s just better writing craft). However, some people really liked the book as it is, and the worst thing I can do is to re-write to one audience and alienate another.
And indeed, although deep POV will remedy some of the feedback, it won’t make everyone like the book. Some people will just not like it – and that’s fine. But what I want to make sure is that the work is accessible enough to allow readers to properly make up their mind, and I don’t think this is currently the case.
Is that it for deep POV?
Definitely not. What I’m going to do is to look at implementing deep POV using the principles and steps outlined in this brilliant little book. How am I going to do this? Well, I’m going to start by applying them to Mandestroy (my most representative current writing) before I rush off and think about Fear’s Union. Having said that, I will also reference Fear’s Union as I go through my research.
And best of all, I’m going to document my findings in my blog. Great!
So, this is what I have lined up for the next couple of months (though of course, my agenda is somewhat flaky):
- October: how many POVs should I have? (Analysis of multi-third person in a deep POV framework).
- November: show don’t tell! (How badly do I show the reader rather than giving them the juicy stuff?)
This will continue as I explore other principles of deep POV and lock them into Mandestroy. I think it’s going to be a really interesting experience – I hope you enjoy it too!