Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Cautions on the Use of Deep POV

Deep POV, or writing from behind your POV character’s eyes and from within their body, as well as from their mind (see previous post), is a great writing technique, but like any other device, it should be used judiciously and in balance.* The caution against “too much of a good thing” applies in writing as well as in life. Overuse of any single writing device becomes “unnecessary repetition” every bit as much as overuse of a particular word or phrase in a passage. Your reader wants variety—in types of characters, in actions, in words, in sentence structure, and in perspective, or POV.

Sometimes, in longer works, you will satisfy that desire for variety in POV by switching (properly) from one character’s point of view to another’s. But if you write predominantly from one character’s POV, you will also need to provide a variety of visual and mental spaces between the reader and your character. A novel full of uninterrupted deep POV from the perspective of one character can become either extremely boring or extremely exhausting, or both.

Have you ever gone through a time in your life of intense, uninterrupted navel-gazing? Maybe it’s just my temperament, but I have a tendency to do that. The result is a mental form of cabin fever. My world shrinks to the confines of my skull and I get depressed, or extremely bored, and I go stir crazy. Dragging your reader through a novel full of deep POV will do the same thing to them.

At the beginning of your novel, when you want your protagonist to capture the heart of your reader, you will use deep POV a lot. This stage of the story is like the honeymoon. Your protagonist and your reader need to become intimately acquainted and intensely connected long enough to forge a love affair that will last beyond the pages of the book. So here deep POV is most effective.

But honeymoons don’t last. At some point the lovers have to come up for air and begin to relate to “the real world” (in this case, the world of your story). There will be a moving away from each other, at least for periods of time, so they can breathe and integrate the new relationship into the rest of their lives. The intimacy is still there. It’s been well established. But their connectedness with each other becomes an almost unconscious backdrop to the unfolding of their common story.

So as your story moves along, you may find yourself using deep POV less extensively, and in certain situations you will avoid it altogether. Even that big no-no, “telling,” is appropriate in places. When you bring your character and reader out of an intense situation, when you prepare to move them from one scene to another, when you want to give your reader a broader perspective, or when you want to vary the pace or intensity of the action—for whatever reason, there will be times when you want to pull back from the inside of your POV, in varying degrees.
So the key is, again, that great old cliché, “moderation in everything.” We don’t want to become so excited about a great writing technique that we inflict it on our readers too often.

That’s true of all our creative endeavors, actually. They should not be “manipulations”—deliberate twists and constructs of the material. The best way to create great art is to study great technique until it becomes an instinctive part of our creative process. Then we can create, without focusing on the technique, and trust the training to affect the creation positively and naturally.

And guiding all our deliberations about form and style should be that instinctive, story-teller’s sense of pace and process that drives the story, that makes the telling unselfconscious. That’s what will connect with the reader. That’s what will make for great writing.

*I'm using "they" and "them" in place of "his/her" in this text. A university English prof told me this is becoming a common way to avoid the awkwardness of using the gender-inclusive pronouns.