Deep point of view (POV) is almost as much a catch-phrase these days as “high concept.”
Readers want deep POV because it creates a stronger connection between them and the characters, and because it results in that can’t-eat-can’t-sleep-must-keep-reading feeling. Writers want it because it helps us write a page-turner.
Let’s look at how Katniss rocks deep POV in The Hunger Games to see how we can do the same.
1. Limit Characters’ Knowledge
We’ll be sharing what a single character knows and experiences at a single point in time. That limits what we can show and when we can show it, but it adds layers we wouldn’t have otherwise had.
Our characters can misunderstand the intentions of other characters.
- Katniss doesn’t know why Peeta teamed up with the Career tributes: “And Peeta had the gall to talk to me about disgrace? Obviously, the noble boy on the rooftop was playing just one more game with me.” (HG Ch.11).
They can be unsure about the emotions of other characters.
- Katniss wonders why she needs to be coached about how to act post-Games when Peeta doesn’t: “Already thinking ahead of me in the Games again and well aware of the danger we’re in? Or . . . already desperately in love?” (HG Ch. 26).
And they can be confused about the truth of a situation, adding to the tension.
- Katniss tries to sneak out to see Peeta: “I find my own bedroom door has been locked from the outside. I suspect Haymitch initially, but then there’s a more insidious fear that the Capitol may be monitoring and confining me.” (HG Ch. 27).
2. Point the “Camera Lens” From the Inside Out
Deep POV is all about sharing a story in such a way that the reader feels like they are the character or that they’re being carried along inside the character.
The way we experience our own life is different from how we experience the lives of people who are separate from us. We experience the world from the inside out, whereas we watch other people from the outside.
- Katniss doesn’t know she looks almost bored until she sees herself on the screen: “I catch a glimpse of myself on the television screen on the wall that’s airing my arrival live and feel gratified that I appear almost bored.” (HG Ch. 2).
- Katniss shares how she feels from the inside, but she observes how Peeta looks on the outside: “Now that the meal’s over, I’m fighting to keep the food down. I can see Peeta’s looking a little green, too.” (HG Ch. 3).
3. Show What’s Happening Inside
What’s happening inside includes motivations (why our character acts the way they do), internal dialogue (character thoughts), and visceral, instinctive bodily reactions (the physical things we can’t control).
- Katniss shows her motivation when she explains why she smiled for the cameras right after deciding that Peeta betrayed her: “Until I work out exactly how to play that, I’d better at least act on top of things.” (HG Ch. 12).
- Katniss shows her internal dialogue when she tries to figure out why Haymitch hasn’t sent her water: “…a small voice in the back of my head whispers an answer. Maybe he’s sending you a message, it says.” (HG Ch. 12).
- Katniss shows her visceral reactions when she is suffering from dehydration: “…my head is aching, and there’s a dry patch on my tongue that refuses to moisten. The sun hurts my eyes…” (HG Ch. 12).
4. Make It Judgmental (In a Good Way)
A deep POV story should be an interpretation of events rather than an unbiased report of them.
Interpretation means that the story is filtered through our viewpoint character’s rose-colored glasses or violet-colored glasses or gray-colored glasses. They have opinions on what they experience.
- Katniss describes the square on Reaping Day: “But today, despite the bright banners hanging on the buildings, there’s an air of grimness. The camera crews, perched like buzzards on rooftops, only add to the effect.” (HG Ch.1).
- Katniss interprets the word tribute when she volunteers as tribute in Prim’s place: “But in District 12, where the word tribute is pretty much synonymous with the word corpse, volunteers are all but extinct.” (HG Ch. 1).
These aren’t neutral descriptions. They’re full of Katniss’ opinions and judgments.
They could have been written in a flat, opinion-free way:
- The camera crews station themselves on the rooftops, where they’ll be best able to capture what happens on stage.
- In District 12, no one volunteers because most tributes are killed.
5. Allow the Story to Happen in “Real Time”
The events should play out in front of us as if we were watching them at the same time as they’re happening.
For example,when Katniss wakes up to find the forest burning and tries to escape, it feels immediate:
- “Somehow my fumbling fingers release the buckle and I fall to the ground in a heap, still snarled in my sleeping bag… I pull the top of my shirt up over my nose, grateful to find it soaked in sweat, and it offers a thin veil of protection. And I run, choking…” (HG Ch. 13).
Now look what happens if we add filtering words like causing, making, after, and while.
- Somehow my fumbling fingers release the buckle, causing me to fall to the ground in a heap because I’m snarled in my sleeping bag…. After I pull my shirt up over my nose, I find it soaked in sweat, making a thin veil of protection. While I run, choking…
Feels more distant and slower, doesn’t it?
Why Deep POV Works
Deep POV makes the story interactive in a way that more distant approaches to point of view can’t.
In deep POV, we see the world through someone else’s eyes. There’s no sense of an author telling us a story. There’s only the sense of it being lived.
The difference is like that between feeling your own emotions and hearing about someone else’s.
In deep POV, the emotions and experiences of the characters become our own.
This means that deep POV books will often feel tighter and quicker in pace despite the actual word count because the reader is emotionally invested in what happens. As a result, readers will continue to think about the book long after they’ve finished reading it.