How to write deep POV: 8 tips and examples

How to write deep POV: 8 tips and examples

Narration and viewpoint are two complex but important aspects of writing craft. Showing your reader the world through your characters’ eyes builds immersion. Learn how to write deep POV with a definition, plus tips and examples that illustrate why this is an effective option for bringing readers closer to your characters:

What is deep POV? A definition

POV (point of view) is a term that may be very familiar to you already. It is the way narrative is written (using personal pronouns, subject matter and more) to suggest a particular viewpoint. We’ve written about different types of POV here.

Marcy Kennedy defines deep POV (also known as intimate limited third person) in her helpful guide, Deep Point of View:

It refers to the most intimate, closest writing style, where the reader experiences the story as if they were inside of the character – feeling what the character feels, experiencing what they experience, and hearing what they think – without any distance between them. It’s emotionally intense and the author must stay completely invisible.

Marcy Kennedy, ‘Defining Deep POV’, Deep Point of View.

That last sentence of Kennedy’s is important, as this sets deep POV apart from ordinary third-person narration, where the narrator may be uninvolved themselves in the story’s events and may comment or pass judgement.

In deep POV, as readers we’re inside characters’ heads as their experiences unfold, seeing through their eyes. There is minimum filtering distance between us.

Let’s simplify this useful POV with concrete tips and related examples:

How to write deep POV: A simple checklist

  1. Eliminate filter words
  2. Colour narration with values or judgments
  3. Fit language to persona
  4. Limit narratorial knowledge
  5. Make your hand invisible
  6. Build rich interior life
  7. Avoid interal dialogue overkill
  8. Format deep POV correctly

Now let’s unpack these ideas about creating deep POV further:

1. Eliminate filter words

Deep POV helps you eliminate excessive telling. Why? Because to write from a character’s deep perspective, you can’t have ‘telling’ phrases such as ‘she/he/they felt/saw/thought that…’.

To illustrate, let’s compare these two examples. The first contains filter words (words that filter the action via a third party’s ‘outside’, report-like perspective). The second is deep POV in action:

1) Peter thought how intimidating the piano exam would be, with five faculty members sitting in a row. He remembered in piano studio the day before his professor had reminded them all to check which way to turn the height adjustment knobs on the piano stool before, so they didn’t look like amateurs twiddling and twiddling and getting nowhere. Professor Davids thought there was a good chance some would forget.

2) Five faculty members! And all of them sitting in a row. What had Prof. Davids said in piano studio? The usual about remembering which way the piano stool knobs turned. How they couldn’t look like amateurs twiddling and blah, blah, blah. Why had Davids told them that anyway, to make them more nervous than he already was?

Example 1 above uses filter words which suggest the narrator is not Peter himself but rather an observer, looking in from outside.

In Example 2, we gave an example of deep POV. It shows some key aspects of this viewpoint:

  1. There is no telling the reader ‘that’ Peter felt/thought this or that. Peter’s anxiety and alarm is in the text itself which reads as close to his own fleeting thoughts and concerns.
  2. There is a sense of persona and voice in narration. For example, Peter’s ‘and blah, blah, blah’ suggests that he finds his professor’s lecture boring or frustrating. The exclamation mark in ‘Five faculty members!’ conveys Peter’s alarm.
  3. There is no head-hopping. Kennedy calls this ‘passing the baton’. In the first example, we read exactly what the music professor is thinking. In the second, we are firmly within Peter’s POV – he can only guess what his professor’s motivation for cautioning them was. Neither Peter nor the reader can access this non- viewpoint character’s thoughts.

Deep POV exercise:

Find a passage written in third-person POV that contains at least one instance of ‘he/she/they thought that…’ or similar use of filter words.

Rewrite the passage in deep POV, bringing the narration inside the characters in the scene.

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2. Colour narration with values or judgments

One of the advantages of writing a narrator using deep POV is the scope this offers for showing who your narrator is.

Your character-narrators may reveal their personal values or judgments in the things they observe.

Kennedy lists some of the core features of deep POV in her manual:

1. Limited knowledge
2. Inside-out perspective
3. Interior life
4. Interpretations
5. Immediacy

Kennedy, Deep Point of View

This fifth element of deep POV, immediacy, is a particular benefit of imbuing your narration with opinions, values and judgments.

Consider this example, from Virginia Woolf’s seminal Mrs Dalloway (1925). The titular Mrs Dalloway, Clarissa, is heading out to buy flowers for a party in post-First World War London:

What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air.

Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway (1925), p. 1.

Although the narration is not truly in deep POV throughout (Woolf passes POV to other characters Clarissa encounters, in narration that is often called ‘stream of consciousness’ style), the above extract is typical of it. It is unmistakably Clarissa’s voice and her moment to moment associations we read.

There is tone of positivity and delight here that conveys the value Clarissa attaches to home and the small pleasures – sights, sounds – within her environment. We get a keen sense of what a character values with this closeness to their thoughts in narration.

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3. Fit language to persona

One of the defining features of deep POV Kennedy describes – an emphasis on interior life – is key to writing deep POV well.

When we read intimate limited third person, narration is built around a character’s personality, age, interests, experiences and other things that all make up a person’s perspective, their persona.

Deep POV fills narration with details that tell us who the narrator is, where they’ve come from.

Barbara Kingsolver uses deep POV masterfully in The Poisonwood Bible, where she creates the differing viewpoints of the Price family, missionaries from the USA who move to what was formerly the Belgian Congo (before independence in 1960).

Here, for example, we have the child narrator Ruth May. Notice how Kingsolver creates the sense of a western, young white girl’s point of view in an ‘other’ environment, the ignorance of both her age and her relative privilege:

The children are named Tumba, Bangwa, Mazusi, Nsimba, and those things. One of them comes in our yard the most and I don’t know his name at all. He’s near about big, like my sisters, but doesn’t wear a thing on God’s green earth but an old gray shirt without any buttons and baggy gray underpants.

Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible (1998), p. 58

What is clear from Ruth May’s narration is the first element of deep POV Kennedy lists: ‘limited knowledge’. In the same chapter, Ruth May assumes children she sees with signs of malnutrition are fat, when malnourishment is in fact the reason for their physical appearance.

What this intelligent use of deep POV shows is the limits of a western gaze (or any inherited, closed framework) for understanding, seeing, interpreting the truths of others.

4. Limit narratorial knowledge

As we see in the above deep POV example by Barbara Kingsolver, suggesting the limits of what your narrator knows is a revealing way to illustrate the range and extent of their perspective, their experience.

Ruth May interprets the African lives around her via her limited understanding – of what specific bodily signs mean, or what clothing items people ‘should’ wear.

Deep POV thus is capable of showing your reader your character’s wisdoms as well as their blind spots first-hand.

Every interaction with others gains potential for misreading, misinterpretation and suspense.

Using limited narratorial knowledge for narrative suspense

For example, you could create narrative suspense in a story with two deep points of view by having two characters misread each other’s motivations or intentions:

He’d pulled some wild crap in the lead-up to their big day, but this was the last straw. Not a fancy, eco-friendly glass or steel straw. A cheap plastic straw. Cheap! That’s what it was. To be forty-five minutes late to his own wedding. After she’d told him only the night before about that time an ex had kept her waiting an hour for a date and the whole wait staff had applauded when he’d walked in.

*

How was it possible traffic was this bad, that day of all days? He saw her standing there fidgeting, eventually running from the venue, her parents exchange knowing, disappointed glances (her dad had never taken a shine, after all – how that first handshake had crushed his fingers – some vice-like grip, ‘pops’ had). Damn it! He wanted to punch the driver’s seat. Trapped.

In an example such as this, having two deep POVs on either side of a scene break shows the limits of what each characters knows about what the other is thinking, feeling. This gives the reader the pleasure of dramatic irony, of knowing something one of the characters does not.

5. Make your hand invisible

In writing craft, we use the shorthand of ‘the author’s hand’ to describe the presence or visibility of the author at work behind the words.

In deep POV, your hand should be invisible. You want your viewpoint narration to read as though it is the unfolding perspective of your character, with no puppetmaster’s coat peeping out from behind the story’s curtain.

Finishing a book with total reader immersion is challenging. Yet here are things that reveal the author’s hand to avoid:

  • Overcomplicated dialogue tags: The more weird and wonderful dialogue tags get (‘verified’, ‘returned’, ‘rejoined’ etc.) the more we become aware an author is searching for words to describe characters’ speech. Simple tags such as ‘said’ draw less attention to the ‘writtenness’ of the text
  • Intrusive narration: It reads strangely when we’ve been reading smoothly in deep POV and we suddenly have the author’s viewpoint intruding (e.g. ‘You see, reader, she was making a grave mistake.’) Don’t break the illusion that the narration is spilling from your viewpoint narrator’s consciousness

6. Build rich interior life

One of the strengths of deep POV is that it enables us to give characters a rich inner world. Because we ‘become’ the character while writing their narration, we may include interesting chains of association. We may include elements of characters’ backgrounds, upbringings and more.

When you finish story drafts and do a complete read through, check that your characters’ inner worlds are full and rich, not flat.

Returning to Ruth May in Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, the child narrator, coming from a family of American missionaries, mixes religious references with children’s fables and southern idiom. For example:

I sat real still on the floor and peeled my one banana like Saint Matthew would if he was a real monkey and not gone, and I heard them talking about the woman that got burned up. The roofs burn up because they are all made out of sticks and hay like the Three Little Pigs.

Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible, p. 59.

In this example of deep POV, we see clearly the field of reference Ruth May has at her disposal; the signs and symbols that shape the way she understands and makes sense of her world.

This creates a deeply compelling, authentic sense of character and voice. Build your own deep POV narrator’s inner life by using:

  • Learned idiom and expressions (e.g. Ruth May’s distinctly American use of the word ‘real’ to mean ‘very’)
  • Personal fields of reference (what books has your character read? What films do they love? Does religion play a role in their life? Where do they draw analogies or comparisons (similes and metaphors) from?)

7. Avoid internal dialogue overkill

When writing deep POV, there is often the temptation to send internal dialogue into overdrive. To give your reader an endless stream of your narrator’s every thought.

Kennedy calls internal dialogue one of ‘the most dangerous’ aspects of deep POV because thinking this is what creates close, intimate narration can lead us to include too many of our characters’ thoughts in a story.

So before you include ‘she wonders this’ or ‘it seems that’ or I wonder whether… ask yourself if it is:

  • Relevant: Is the thought relevant to the present scene or action or what may happen next?
  • Interesting: Of all the possible thoughts or actions in the present scene, is this a particularly interesting one?
  • Necessary: Does this line of internal dialogue tell us something new, something more about the character?

Kennedy wisely cautions that excessive internal dialogue may diminish pacing:

Books writen in deep POV usually will include more internal dialogue than a book written in a more distant POV, but that internal dialogue still needs to be seamlessly woven in with action, description and dialogue. We shouldn’t allow our stories to stall out by dropping in giant chunks of internal dialogue.

Marcy Kennedy, Deep Point of View, p. 11.

8. Format deep POV correctly

A final word on deep POV concerns formatting.

If you are writing in this POV effectively, you likely won’t need to worry about much special formatting.

However, when you are writing in third-person and you want to include your character’s immediate thoughts (for example, an in-the-moment reaction within a past tense, third-person scene), remember to italicize these thoughts if they change the tense and/or person.

For example:

I wonder why that woman got all burned up. Ruth May carried on peeling her banana, picturing houses made of hay and a big bad wolf snorting fire coming to blow (or burn) them all down.

Clarifying the difference between a first-person thought and the surrounding third-person narration signals that the narration has slipped into the character’s immediate, in the moment thoughts (and that pronoun changes mid-paragraph are not in error).

Do you have any questions about POV, and deep POV in particular? Share them in the comments and subscribe to Now Novel for monthly webinars on POV, character development and more and tools to finish your story outline online.

15 Replies to “How to write deep POV: 8 tips and examples”

  1. An excellent and timely article. Helps to solve an issue I’ve been working through in my current work. Thank you.

    1. Hi S.C., thanks for your kind feedback and for reading our blog. I’m glad this reached you at a good time, good luck with continuing your WIP!

  2. Hi Jordan
    I found this informative but also confusing. I tend to like reading TP limited, so deep TP POV isn’t a technique I’m familiar with, which I suspect is why I’m confused – I just haven’t seen it enough to figure out the “rhythm and rules”.
    In the above examples, there are both first person and third person POVs used but I assumed that when Deep POV is employed, you wouldn’t use any pronouns at all – because it pulls the reader out of the head of the character.
    Also, I find that with Deep POV, there’s a lot of telling vs showing, because often it’s the thoughts or conscious stream of the character, which can seem boring (to me, anyway, as I’m used to reading more dialogue and action).
    In the final example of italicised thoughts, I don’t consider this to be deep POV, I would classify this as TP limited, because using the character name puts the reader back outside of her head.
    Hope you can clarify some of these questions, thank you!

    1. Hi MJ, thank you for the detailed feedback and your questions. I’m sorry for any confusion, too! I strongly recommend Kennedy’s brief manual as it’s very thorough (we also have a webinar on deep POV today that I hope you’ll be able to join as member with access to this – we’ll also be sending out the slides for the webinar later and the video will be available to watch).

      You can write in deep POV in either first or third-person, as it’s not necessarily that the narration reads in the character’s internal voice itself, but rather that the way it is written suggests that it is (through phrasing, inflection – through closeness of the narration in tone, temperament, persona to the voice of the viewpoint character). Kennedy puts it like this:

      ‘Deep POV isn’t about pronouns. We can write deep POV from a third-person point of view. And we haven’t necessarily created a more intimate story by writing in first person rather than third person.’

      In first-person, you are reading the character’s immediate, subjective viewpoint but in third it’s also possible to create the sense and the feeling of subjectivity, in other words (it’s a strange doubling where the narrator might read as ‘outside’ because they’re using ‘he’ or ‘she’ to refer to the viewpoint character, but they’re so close to the character’s own experience and outlook (and constrained to it in language and emotion) they’re practically expressing their passing thoughts.

      What you say about deep POV is true, that it often does lead to more internal dialogue. As Kennedy also advises, internal dialogue/monologue (whatever one calls it) should ideally be woven in and balanced with dialogue and action (as you rightly suggest) to stop the stream of consciousness from becoming boring.

      On the other hand, internal dialogue is as interesting as one’s character is, I would say – if they have interesting thoughts, if their thoughts are expressed in an entertaining, humorous, poetic or otherwise pleasing way they likely won’t stall the story (in moderation).

      In the last example you’re right that the introduction of a character’s name does create further distance, more of a sense of ‘outside’. Yet the use of her personal field of reference and associations one could say does create an element of deep POV. Limited third and deep POV are so similar (in that they both shape the narration around a single consciousness) that they can be tricky to differentiate. However there would be places in third-person deep POV one would have to use either a character’s name or pronoun, since the story is not being narrated using ‘I’.

      I hope this helps to clarify! Thanks again for your interesting questions.

  3. Let me fix a typo in my earlier email as follows:

    I am working on the second book of an historical novel series set in southern Siam, beginning at the end of the 19th century. The story follows six POV characters connected by love, hatred and ambition. Each chapter is told from a specific POV, usually starting with past tense, third-person narration that often slips into deep, intimate POV showing the character’s thoughts. You have suggested using italics for the internal thoughts, but I am already using italics for non-English words that have no adequate English translation. In book 1 of the series, I left it to the reader to see when the writing has shifted to internal thought. Is there any other way to show the difference between the 3rd person narration and internal thought? Perhaps starting a new paragraph? Indenting? A different font? Your thoughts would be most appreciated. Regards, Paul

    1. Hi Paul, not to worry about typos. Thank you for sharing this interesting question.

      I would say due to the difference of context/inference, the reader should be able to differentiate between, for example S̄wạs̄dī (or whatever the word would be in the Thai/Siamese historical period you’re setting the story in) for the word ‘hello’ versus a character thinking I want to…. The one is clearly emphasizing a term is not English, the other a character’s thought; I don’t think a reader could accuse you of confusing them by using italics for multiple purposes.

      I would perhaps advise, however, keeping the deeper POV consistent and writing it in third person with minimal intrusion of first-person lines, using the character’s voice for their section throughout (as I’m thinking the telescoping distance between a more distant filter for the viewpoint character’s experience and a more intimate one within the same chapter could be a little vertigo-inducing for the reader).

      Let me know what you think! Thanks again for reading and sharing your question. Perhaps if you’re comfortable doing so, share an extract in our writing groups for feedback as it’s much easier to work on POV by example than discussing it in the abstract.

  4. Thanks Jordan
    I appreciate your reply!
    It’s revelatory to me that all this time, I’ve often wondered why I’m so invested in some characters, and why there is such an intimacy with their thoughts and perspectives, despite it being written in TP limited. When I read my own writing (and I’m sure you’ll agree reading my submissions so far!), there is little intimacy, despite some internal thoughts – I feel like a fly on the wall, which makes sense because I write the scene like I’m watching it on a movie. I’m too far removed.
    And now I realise that I truly need to be inside the head of the character to truly get that internalisation. It totally changes the way I’d write it and the placement of the lens, so to speak. One thing I know for sure – it’s hard to do!! If I don’t know my characters well enough, I can’t come up with anything relevant to add, lol.. really shows my weaker areas!

    And thanks for the reminder re: webinar, I’ve been watching the recordings and really enjoying Romy’s insights – I’ll watch the deep POV for sure! Too bad the Timezone difference doesn’t work for me – would you consider answering questions we submit afterwards?

    (By the way, The Reply button didn’t work for me to reply within the thread?)

    Thanks Jordan!

  5. Jordan, Much thanks for your advice. I will redouble my efforts to keep the deeper POV consistent in third person and keep first person usage to a minimum. My main concern with dual use of italics is not that it would create confusion, but that the italicized non-English words would no longer stand out. Here is a early passage in which italics for the Chinese word taokae would get lost if the character’s internal thoughts are in italics.

    Ong craned his neck to get a better look at the opulent mansions lining Leith Street as his rickshaw rattled over the cobblestones. A mixture of Chinese and European styles with tall white pillars and colorfully painted walls, the buildings proclaimed success and security. One day he would build a mansion like these. First he needed the money and power that lay behind such lavish homes. One would not be enough. Like the prosperous taokae of Penang, he would build a second mansion back in China. Father had already bought the land in Longdu, his home village, where he had planned to build the finest house in Fujian. That had been Father’s dream and now it had to be his.
    First though, he had to recover the family businesses and settle accounts with all those who had hurt his family. None of that would happen without power and money. Today was the next step in getting both.

    What do you think? Congrats by the way for using a linguistically sophisticated transliteration of the Thai greeting.

    Regards,
    Paul

    Ong craned his neck to get a better look at the opulent mansions lining Leith Street as his rickshaw rattled over the cobblestones. A mixture of Chinese and European styles with tall white pillars and colorfully painted walls, the buildings proclaimed success and security. One day he would build a mansion like these. First he needed the money and power that lay behind such lavish homes. One would not be enough. Like the prosperous taokae of Penang, he would build a second mansion back in China. Father had already bought the land in Longdu, his home village, where he had planned to build the finest house in Fujian. That had been Father’s dream and now it had to be his.
    First though, he had to recover the family businesses and settle accounts with all those who had hurt his family. None of that would happen without power and money. Today was the next step in getting both.

    1. Hi Paul, it’s my pleasure. I must admit that I disagree re: using italics for both inner monologue first person thoughts and foreign words, as one can assume the average reader is capable enough to tell the two (and what they communicate) apart. In your example passage I would definitely italicize taokae.

      As an example though, in these sentences I would say both sets of italics signal what is intended to the reader:

      I can’t let father down, Ong thought. They may not have ever lived like the prosperous taokae, but they would have enough if Ong could only settle the family’s business debts first.

      I would venture that both sets of italics here are fitting and neither use dilutes what the other communicates. I hope this helps! Keep going (good balance of setting description, character goal and motivation, etc. too, by the way).

  6. Thanks for the blog as I found it really useful. I have one question because I am a bit confused about this since I’m planning on writing my story in multiple POVs. Is it possible to write in third person limited but have some scenes or instances where I can switch to third-person deep for the same character?

    1. Hi Marly, it’s a pleasure. That’s an interesting question. Technically, third person limited and deep POV are so close in filtering distance (because limited is already restricted to a single narrator’s impressions/knowledge/experience) that a switch between the two might not be that noticeable. So I would suggest perhaps keeping it in deep POV the whole time as it might read a little strangely if the writing switches between a close and very close filter distance for the same viewpoint narrator (it might read like an unintentional ‘slippage’ between them than an intended effect).

      I hope this helps! You can absolutely vary viewpoint types between different viewpoint narrators though.

  7. Thanks for sharing. I am writing my novel in deep point of view because I believe to fully comprehend a character in an abusive position you need this style. I got a lot of good reminders from the post

    1. Hi Lee,

      That’s great to hear. I’m sure deep POV would make the character experience you describe more impactful. Good luck with your WIP! Thank you for sharing your feedback.

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