Write it now: every point of view has to be deep

I’ve said it before, and I’m about to say it again. There’s a meme doing the rounds called ‘deep point of view’ and it’s meant to be the key to getting people to buy your book.

Wright_Railway Book WhitcoullsI confess that I get mildly irritated by the assumption with most writing advice that all books will be novels (they’re not!). Writing is writing is writing, if you get what I mean – the skills transfer. However, to me the annoying point about ‘deep point of view’ is that what’s being touted as ‘deep point of view’ is really a basic ‘Writing 101’ lesson for fiction writers.

It’s a particular ‘point of view’ technique used by top-rated novellists since forever…well, the eighteenth century, anyway. By the early twentieth century novellists such as Hemingway had extended it to an art form.

There’s no trick. You’re telling a story about someone – so you’re best to tell it from their point of view, rather than the ‘eye of God’ approach. How does your character see things? How do they react to what they see, and to what happens to them? You could call it ‘opinion writing’ because most of the time you’re explaining your character’s opinion about something. It works best in first-person singular, but it also works in third-person.

It can be further deepened, even in third-person stories, by limiting what your readers get to the experiences of the character. If your character hasn’t seen something, then you don’t add it – your readers thus experience the entire novel through the framework of your character.

Go read Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms, if you haven’t already, to see what I mean.

What often isn’t explained about ‘point of view’ writing is that to make it work, you have to develop your fictional character in specific ways, so you can ask ‘how does my character react to THIS’, in the specific circumstances of your plot, and get a meaningful answer. It doesn’t mean spending a huge slab of time working up the character in general; you’re better to focus your attention on the aspects of character that will allow you to answer these questions.

Don’t forget – characters in novels may appear to be complete and rounded. Actually they’re not. The skill is in picking the aspects that create the illusion of completion, the illusion of what Hemingway called being ‘real’. More on that soon.

Meanwhile – have you encountered this ‘deep point of view’ trope? And what did you think of it?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Coming up: more writing tips, more humour, science stuff and – well, watch this space.

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7 comments on “Write it now: every point of view has to be deep

  1. L. Palmer says:

    I like the note that the characters have an illusion of completion. I had a conversation with someone who was taking a creative writing class and asked me, “Do you know what the character usually eats for breakfast?” I don’t, because the character is in the middle of an epic fantasy adventure story. What she eats for breakfast is irrelevant to 99% of the story.

    • Exactly right. Every novel – or TV show, or movie – presents only partial characters. The bits presented are the ones we need to know in order to get that illusion of reality. I guess it’s also true that most of the time we only perceive a fraction of the character of anybody, even in real life. But I suspect it’s a larger fraction.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    I have had people say that to me about my novel – that it could do with more deep POV – when what they are really saying is that they want to know more about the main character. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. It is a misleading term, and I agree – nothing new.

  3. I have not heard the term “‘deep point of view’ trope” before. However, I lean towards a more complete character profile. I think it’s because I like to throw in little likes and dislikes of the character to make them more real. I could probably add these items on the fly but the character building process is fun. I’m speaking of main characters for the most part. Minor characters do not get the same depth of profile.

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