Up Close & Personal

It’s time for the latest part of my “implementing Deep POV” blog series. This is the seventh blog in the series, and this one is all about being up close and personal. Too cryptic I hear you say? Okay, this is all about depth issues. Don’t worry, I’ll explain a bit further down. And no, it’s not about being out of one’s depth. I’m definitely out of my depth, but I’m ploughing on regardless.

Now, in case it wasn’t obvious, this is part of a series of blogs where I’m applying the principles outlined by Marcy Kennedy in her fantastic book: A Busy Writer’s Guide to Deep POV. I’ve been through lots already, and if you missed it, you can find out more below.

The recap (quite long now)

I’m going to persist with this. I think it’s important.

  • The first blog considered whether deep POV was necessary in my writing at all;
  • The second then asked how many perspectives were optimal;
  • The third looks at some of the statistics from the deep POV interrogation of Mandestroy (and also compares with FU);
  • The fourth blog looks at the effect of the deep POV edit on those same statistics (most notably sentence length);
  • In March we looked at “showing vs telling“;
  • And two months ago we tackled “head-hopping“.


What are depth issues?

This has nothing to do with shallow personalities. In reality this is a category I’ve made up, but I think this is the nub of the matter:

Depth issues occur where the reader is given information in a way that distances unnecessarily.

Hmm. I’m not even convinced that this is a good description, but I don’t know a better to put it. Let me try long-form.

In any fiction, there is an author and there are characters. The reader obviously relies on the author to get the words on the page, but beyond that, the reader wants nothing from the author. They want to get into the characters and to feel the story dragging them along. The author is discarded beyond the name on the spine of the book. Even where a book is omniscient, there will be an all-seeing narrator of sorts. Not an author. It is the author’s job to not be seen, and anything that contravenes this is a depth issue. Understand?

Give us an example then. Okay. Here’s a simple one:

James walked down the street

He walked down the street

I walked down the street

Now, the POV is James and all three of these are theoretically saying the same thing. But the problem with the first one is subtle but definitely there. If I write ‘James is walking down the street’, then as a reader, it pushes you out of James’s mind. Who would use the named third person to identify themselves? Apart from certain footballers.

The other two (nameless third and first) are okay. This is easier to see with ‘I walked’, but when a book is written third person, it has the same effect as I. It works fine. Go on, try it.

Even in a narrated book where the phrase James walked down the street might be appropriate, the POV is actually the narrator so the rule still stands. It is just not natural to use one’s name when thinking about one’s own actions.

And this is a very important concept for Deep POV. Just think, we want to be in that person’s head, so anything that throws us out is a fail.

With that in mind, how did I get on?

Is this something I struggle with?

The raw statistics would suggest so, yes. All in all I encountered 370 depth errors in Mandestroy, which equates to about 12% of sentences. Yikes. So what was I so bad at?

Well, it’s quite easy to see really. It is the manifestation of the example I gave above. I often found myself re-working sentences to make sure the ‘he’ was clear and the ‘name’ used then came in at the proper time. But that meant that Jossie was named a lot, as was his later name: Kantal. Now, in a book about General Jossie Kantal, this is a lot of distancing. I wouldn’t have credited that this could be quite that bad, but reading back I can certainly see that it is bad. Deep POV or otherwise, being strict with naming is incredibly important. And this naming issue accounted for 348 of the 370 errors. Wow.

In terms of other areas to watch, the second group that got categorised in here were narrative issues. This basically boils down to ‘she said’ and ‘he said’ issues – why do we need that statement? If someone’s going to say it, they just say it. We don’t need a prompt. I wasn’t too bad at this, only racking up 21 instances, and most of these were more complex variations (he screamed; she blurted; they admitted; etc.)

The final area (of which I was only guilty once) was the use of language that is just inconsistent with how our character would think. You’ll see this example below.

So all in all, quite a bad category, but fortunately quite an easy one to fix. Let’s move onto some embarrassing examples.

Let’s see the good (bad) stuff

Exhibit A

Let’s start off with that final example where I used inappropriate language. Here it is:

It turned out that the baker he’d stolen from the night before was not one to let a financial loss lie, and he’d hunted Kantal all night with the Wings in tow.

So where’s this inappropriate language I hear you cry? Well, it is in the use of ‘night before’. Who says that? You’d just say ‘last night’ wouldn’t you? Sure you would. So I changed it to this:

It turned out that the baker he’d stolen from last night was not one to let a financial loss lie, and he’d been hunted most of the night.

This is more concise and more natural too. Not brilliant, but okay. You’ll also notice that I removed the reference to Kantal here because he’s our POV. That too was a Deep POV depth error.

Exhibit B

Here’s a cracker with two more Deep POV errors in it:

Kantal’s shoulders hung, and he asked the obvious question.

Where are they? Well, Kantal is referenced even though he’s our point of view, and he’s also relaying that he’s asked the obvious question without saying anything. That’s a pretty out of body experience. What does it get cleaned into?

His shoulders sagged as he took in the sight before him.

I’ve just noticed that I’ve put a fresh POV error into this correction, but I won’t point that out here. I’ll save that for next time! This is a lot cleaner and more factual. Much more Deep POV compliant.

Exhibit C

As Kantal left the forge-room, Jeb hissed in his ear.

This actually has the same two depth issues (Kantal’s name and Jeb hissing without actually speaking – who actually hisses at someone else?). There’s also a timing issue for you to try and uncover (we’ll cover this next week). This gets cleaned up to this:

He left the forge-room, but Jeb caught him on his way out.

Much nicer.

Exhibit D

This is a good one. It has two showing versus telling errors, a depth issue, and a timing issue too! Spot the timing issue:

Kantal let the odd-ball weave his magic, calming himself as he watched on.

So, Kantal has ‘let’ which is hardly showing anything. He’s also ‘calming’ himself. And he’s using the named third person too! Note how easy it is to fix the depth issue though – just change Kantal to he. The other stuff is far more time consuming, but this gets changed to:

He concentrated on managing his breathing while the odd-ball wove his magic.

Nice and tidy.

I’m going to leave it there for exhibits because there’s only so many ways I can show how I substituted a name for he. But I will say this…

… Exhibit E

In Fear’s Union where there are fifteen different POVs, this became a much harder task! Working out who was referenced was tough even for me – and I wrote the damn thing. Hours of fun.

In conclusion

This one surprised me, I must say. I had no idea how much power just switching the reference could have, but reading passages back, it really does. In other areas of depth, it didn’t actually seem too bad. And this category is quite an easy fix too, which is nice (unless of course you have fifteen POVs…)

And finally…

…it’s onto our final category – timing issues. See you all then!

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