Going deep...

Published by: Squidge on 6th Apr 2018 | View all blogs by Squidge

Have been musing about something called 'Deep POV', which apparently is a modern(ish), conscious choice in how novels are written.

From the examples given in the article, I think I do a lot of the things that are described as deep POV, but I'm not convinced that it's a Thing all on its own. 

It sounds a bit like a combination of the closer end of psychic distance and more 'showing' than 'telling'.

The blog's here if you want to take a look at the articles I've linked to - would be interested to hear opinions from fellow cloudies.




  • Debi
    by Debi 19 days ago
    Yes - deep - or close - POV is just another way of talking about psychic distance at PD4-5. And, of course, PD is intimately tied up with showing and telling, voice, character etc.
  • Squidge
    by Squidge 19 days ago
    That's what I thought, Debi! Is it really a recent thing, or is deep POV something that's being used more nowadays than it was? A 'fashion' in modern novels, if you will?
  • Debi
    by Debi 19 days ago
    Jane Austen was the game-changer. Since then, PD4/free indirect style has become much more commonly used as a way to get us closer to characters. So, not that recent!
  • RichardB
    by RichardB 19 days ago
    Yes, I would have assumed that deep POV is more or less the same as close psychic distance. It's just a matter of terminology. Come to that, I still don't know why the technique of incorporating a character's thoughts into the narrative is called 'free indirect style.'

    My own latest effort is written in close PD / deep POV. It was a conscious choice from the start, and nothing to do with literary trends and fashions. It was simply that I wanted the reader to know, at any time, only what the MC knows.
  • Donna
    by Donna 19 days ago
    I´ve been using Deep POV since I started writing fiction. Luckily for me, my first critique came from someone in the publishing business that steered my writing in that direction and even though she did not mention it by name at the time, possibly to make it easy for me to understand as I was a complete novice and ignorant of any techniques, she explained it very well: cut everything that does not relate to the POV and tighten your writing as much as possible. Less is more, she said.
    My writing shifted a gear up and I´ve found Deep POV to be my natural habitat as a fiction writer.
    From my researches I gather that Deep POV has been around for a long time but it may have acquired more popularity in our digital age when attention spans are limited and readers often skim-read.
    If you Google up Deep POV you´ll find a torrente of information by gurus and bloggers.
    This one that I´ve bookmarked for myself is very straight forward:
  • EmmaD
    by EmmaD 19 days ago
    Interesting topic. I think the drawback of thinking of it as a single thing - either you're Deep, or you're not - is that actually writing doesn't work like that. It's like saying either you're swimming on the surface, or you're at the bottom of the ocean. In reality, all swimmers have the whole range to play with - it's a matter of understanding what the joys and dangers are of each level.

    Which is why I always talk about it as one section the spectrum of psychic distance, to keep everyone aware that it's not the only answer. There's no denying that thinking in terms of deep PoV can result in some powerful writing, and a lot of beginners haven't yet discovered how to work well in those close-in areas. But deep PoV can also be claustrophobic, and land you in real, practical problems when it comes to covering the ground, conveying information, changing point-of-view to best effect, and so on. Which is why I'd always say, don't give up on the un-deep levels, just because they're harder for a beginner to do well - you'll have more storytelling options if instead you learn to do them well.

    Besides, I love a storyteller. Who doesn't? Cutting out a storyteller-narrator's perspective is a perfect valid creative decision, but it's worth considering whether a story is even richer if you exploit those further-out, narrator perspectives as well...

    If anyone's wondering what we're on about a propos psychic distance, my blog about it is here: http://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/psychic-distance-what-it-is-and-how-to-use-it.html

    Our self-editing course grads, like Richard, will testify to just how big a game-changer PD can be to your writing ...
  • Squidge
    by Squidge 19 days ago
    Emma - you're right. If you were only stuck in the MC's head, noticing only what they notice, it'd be so hard to tell a story!
  • EmmaD
    by EmmaD 19 days ago
    "If you were only stuck in the MC's head, noticing only what they notice, it'd be so hard to tell a story!"

    Well - it depends, doesn't it. Your MC does have their own wider context and understanding - I know, because first-person is my natural territory, and yes, it can make plotting and stuff tricky. But you have to think of your MC as two entities - the narrator/channel for that wider context, and an actor in the events... And move to and fro between them. Which, of course, is yet another thing that psychic distance makes it easy to get a grip on.

    But if you can never move outwards, to that place of context and understanding, information and perspective, then, yes, it's going to be very hard to tell a big story...
  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 19 days ago
    I was thinking the same thing, Squidge. In particular, the notion that ‘every word in a deep POV is coming straight out of your character’s head’. People just don’t narrate their own lives. Well, most don’t, and certainly not for much of the time. The author has to frame what the character experiences. I can’t help feeling here what’s packaged as this new, wonderful technique for providing an HD experience in the reader’s mind is a slightly confused mishmash of ideas that are already well understood, framed as rules you ought to follow if not to let yor reader down. A bit of PD, a bit of filtering, a bit of ‘show don’t tell’... I suppose losing speech tags altogether is the next natural step in their falling out of fashion apart from ‘said’. I’m sceptical that ‘deep POV’ is a thing, still more so that it is intrinsically more desirable than any other style.
  • Squidge
    by Squidge 19 days ago
    Emma - I was thinking of being stuck just in the deeper POV, the stream of consciousness kind of thing - but all the way through a novel! There might be a story there, but it'd be hidden in between the random thoughts that most people have in their own heads.

    I completely agree that there have to be levels of 'being in your character's head' in order to tell the best story. I suppose as Daeds pointed out, you have to read these kind of articles as potential ways of writing your characters rather than rules - another facet that helps you build them up, rather than an absolute 'you must write your character like THIS'.

    Ultimately, I suppose we each have to find our own way as writers to immerse the reader in the story we want to tell through our characters, using bits and bobs of all the good stuff as we feel we need them.
  • Donna
    by Donna 19 days ago
    I don´t think it would be possible (or advisable) to write a whole novel from a strict Deep POV. It would not sound natural. And what we aim to achieve is an easy fluidity.
    When I´m writing I´m not thinking of POVs, Psychic Distance or Showing vs Telling. I just write the story in my head in my own voice / style. Much later when re-reading and editing, I may look at why something is not working out and that´s when I look at the techniques and think of rules: have I infringed any major ones?
    When I find something new in a book or blog I may think how it applies to my work. Sometimes it gives me the opportunity to improve and learn. But if it´s irrelevante to me, I ignore it. I´m never a slave to whatever techniques
    are in fashion.
    Deep POV is very useful and effective but is not the only way to tell a story. In any good novel we find a miriad of techniques, not just the one.
  • L.
    by L. 19 days ago
    Writing a whole novel as stream of consciousness/deep POV has been done twice by Eimear McBride with A Girl is A Half Formed thing and The Lesser Bohemians. It’s a challenging reading structure but personally as soon as I got use to the style I have absolutely loved both books but I know others hate that style. Emma Glass has done it to an extend with Peach although not as extreme.
  • EmmaD
    by EmmaD 19 days ago
    I think that's the thing - it's one thing to have in the tool-kit, but only a very particular kind of novel - Joyce, of course, Woolf, various modernists - work that way for the whole thing. The BIG mistake is to assume that it's the one key to writing brilliantly. It can be done brilliantly, or badly. What's useful about Psychic Distance is that it actually draws together all the others. You don't have to ask yourself anything except "How close-in or far-out should I be here?", and everything falls into place. A lot of the time - especially as you get more experienced - it operates instinctively, or at least with no more analysis than that apparently simple question, and the answer. The prose follows as night follows day. But as Donna says, the useful thing about also understanding it consciously is when your editorial intuition tells you that your original writerly intuition has made the wrong calle, or missed a trick ...

    One thing you do notice, whether it's Ulysses, or A Girl, is that the plot/story of the novel has to be very simple if you're going to make it challenging to get a handle on sentence by sentence. "Nothing happens," you could say, in To The Lighthouse - or very little ... Not strictly true, of course, but Woolf would be hard put to it to put in the amount of plot that there is in, say, J B Priestly's The Good Companions, which is roughly contemporaneous, I think.

    I remember Eimear McBride saying at a Goldsmiths Prize evening, "Fuck story. I don't care about story". Which makes sense ... but only if you want to.
  • L.
    by L. 18 days ago
    In those books, I believe the characters are the story, and it makes sense that they are completely character-driven rather than plot-driven as they exist in the world of the main character's head. I agree it isn't the key to writing brilliantly, it is the key to write a heavily character-driven story in my opinion.
  • RichardB
    by RichardB 18 days ago
    I think, Squidge, you were right in your original post: deep POV, or whatever you want to call it, isn't a thing in itself but part of a spectrum, part of your writer's tool-kit. Probably what had you puzzled was that the original article you referenced came on like an advert. Pep up your writing with the new magic ingredient! Deep POV! Get some today! And, of course, writing ain't like that. Or shouldn't be.

    And yes, Emma, having made the original decision to write from close POV I never thought much about it, but just wrote the story as it came to me naturally. I never stopped to ask myself how deep I was, or what PD number it was.
  • mike
    by mike 18 days ago
    I must confess to being a bear of little brain and don't quite follow these arguments. But, last year, I wrote a play in which the main protagonist is a professor of creative writing. The impulse behind this play was purely comic.
    Shakespeare is a bit it of a model for me. Wouldn't a soliloquy count as deep POV?
    I have a Samuel Beckett book on my table . Ii is underscored and has comments written in the text. I think the pre-owner had been an actor or student. I would call the book a prose poem rather than a novel. I don't understand it all that well and am reading Stephen King novel at the moment. I often find his prose style even more confusing than Beckett and this is in part due to, I thick, pov,
    and describing what someone is thinking and what he is saying in the same sentence.
    I really enjoyed a play I saw last night. My one query would be that the narration was carried out by the actors. A gauss backdrop was used. An actor came to the front of the stage and addressed the audience. He told part of the narrative from the present, and then returned to the main action.in the past. Anything goes in the theatre now and I rather like this.
  • JD
    by JD 18 days ago
    To me it seems the trickiest thing about Deep POV is that writers may assume it means writing about only internal stuff; what the character is thinking and feeling or what their body is doing and so forth. It can get very I-heavy, but unless our MC suffers from locked-in syndrome, they can still experience the world through the senses and draw upon memory and comment upon that.
  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 18 days ago
    That’s the key, I think - accept/adapt/reject works for writing advice as well as feedback. When articles like the one linked in the OP start talking about rules, I tend to get twitchy, but even as a different way to look at your writing, it can be useful I think
  • Squidge
    by Squidge 18 days ago
    Exactamundo, Daeds - I tend to read these articles because sometimes they present the same info in a slightly different way, and that might 'click' with me a bit more than a different article I've read about the same thing...And if I understand it, then I can use it! While always bearing in mind of course the accept/amend/reject rule, which is probably the ONLY rule I apply to my writing. ;)
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