Deep Point-of-View or “How Do You Really Feel About That?”

As I learn more about the old writer’s dictum, write, revise, revise, and revise; and as I get practice submitting my work to publishers, I’ve found that one of the hardest parts is when you get to the nitty-gritty, down-and-dirty “let’s clean up this sucker because we’re about to hit ‘send’ to give it to the publisher and it’s time to make sure it’s free of any dumb-dumb errors.”

Dumb-dumb errors. Kind of like Dumb-Dumb Bullets in Lethal Weapon IV.

But in all seriousness, I wanted to share with you my magic list of POV [point-of-view] problem words that I got when I attended a self-editing workshop put on by my editor, Tera Kleinfelter, Assistant Managing Editor at Samhain Publishing:

  • assumed 
  • considered 
  • decided 
  • felt 
  • figured 
  • heard 
  • knew 
  • realized 
  • remembered 
  • saw 
  • thought 
  • wondered 
  • worked out

One of the challenges with writing deep point-of-view is that there are so many different definitions for it, but little concrete advice on how to do it. I have found that doing a “find” command on my manuscript for these words, then rewriting the sentence in which they occur, does wonders for deepening my POV.

Which leads me to my next point. WHY are these POV problem words? After all, fiction is full of “He felt a shiver,” and “She wondered if he would ever get up the nerve to ask her out.” So why are these words “problems?”

In deep POV, the objective is to get as deeply as possible into the mind of the character. The better that I, as an author, get at giving the reader the exact thoughts as though my character were thinking them without translation, the better I’m accomplishing my goal of going deep into POV. I do not profess to be an expert that this, by any means, but here’s how I understand that to work. Let’s use the “He felt a shiver,” as an example.

What is the statement? It’s the author telling the reader what the character is feeling; it’s not the character himself doing it, nor is the author showing the reader anything. (Remember that old saw, “Show, don’t tell”?) “He felt a shiver” could apply to the President of the United States entering a room in which the President of Russia and the King of Monaco are sitting; it could be a spy entering a room in which his target is dancing with the person with whom the spy has fallen in love; it could be a serviceperson discharged from the Army after a tour in Iraq and finding out that his baby brother has been in a car accident. It doesn’t show us anything unique about the character.

“A spasm shivered up the side of his neck, vibrating all the way into his ear and making his stomach roil with dread.”

That tells us a lot more about the character. It’s probable, of the three examples I listed above, that it’s the serviceperson finding out about his brother. It’s unlikely that the President is going to report a feeling in his stomach as “dread,” particularly when meeting two other heads of state (although, if it is, you can use this description to “sell” the reader on WHY it’s plausible that the feeling belongs to the President). It’s unlikely it’s a spy, since a trained spy is unlikely to feel dread like that, and certainly not upon seeing the person he loves in the arm of an opponent or an enemy.

The more directly you can describe for the reader the emotional flavor that is referred to by one of our problem words, the more deeply you are showing the reader the character and, therefore the more deeply you are getting into POV.

Happy writing!

7 Replies to “Deep Point-of-View or “How Do You Really Feel About That?””

  1. I too hate to find these words in my stories. It's always harder to do things the 'better' way but the finished product is always improved. Thanks for the reminder. E

  2. Thanks, Tess! I agree, it does make the end-product better. πŸ™‚ But I do think it's important to remember, and I probably should have put this in the article, that the job of writing and the job of editing are mutually exclusive and can't happen at the same time. We need to trust that the story can come onto the page, even in "imperfect" form, and we can always polish later. (That's something I need to remind myself of often, or I get bolluxed up trying to make sure I say something "right" rather than finish telling the story.)

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