Three UNSPOKEN Dont’s of Deep POV

When it comes to writing in deep POV, there are so many things you shouldn’t do. So many, in fact, that writing in deep POV often feels constraining. Still, every writer today should consider using the technique. One reason is that traditional publishers prefer stories told in deep POV. A second reason is that deep POV is now the new narrative voice. In fact, if you come upon a writer these days talking about voice and fiction, they are usually discussing deep POV.

So What Is Deep POV?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, deep POV emphasizes character and their relationship to the story’s plot, whereas narrative voice favors looking at characters in their milieu. Thus, a novelist writing in deep POV has to stick close to a scene’s story arc while interweaving descriptions and character revelations into the text. In a way, it’s much like plot driven fiction. The aesthetic also discourages narrative digressions, which is another reason why writing in deep POV feels so limiting.

So Many Don’ts

A major reason deep POV is so hard to master is that there are more don’ts than do’s. Here are the classic ones you can find on/in most Writing Blogs/ AuthorTube videos.

  • Don’t use filter words
  • Don’t use emotion tells
  • Don’t use narrative tricks/ Don’t break character
  • Don’t flash back
  • Don’t make characters explain their thoughts, beliefs, and world view
  • Don’t tell

But having to follow these rules can frustrate a writer, especially ones who are used to writing in a more traditional style. You might start asking yourself, does it really matter if I break the rules just this once? Such a writer might even start taking shortcuts to achieve deep POV in their writing.

Don’t Take Shortcuts

As I study other writers using deep POV and practice it myself, I’ve discovered that the overwhelming desire to attain deep POV often leads to sloppy writing. So here are three more don’ts for the list.

  • Don’t Ignore Paragraph Flow

Paragraph flow is the one facet of writing people rarely ever talk about. It is, however, the most important aspect of writing. Good flow connects individual elements into a unified whole and creates meaning. Smoother connections also keep the reader under your narrative spell.

Prose written in deep POV, however, is often choppy. I suspect this occurs because writers are trying to transform traditional narrative styles into deep POV. When they see a “tell” in their writing, they merely replace it with a “show”. Here is a paragraph from K. M. Weiland’s post on choppy prose, This is her “improved” version:

Ariel arrived at the train station only two minutes late. She ran down the platform and screamed at the train to stop. She had to get on! Finally, she gave up and stopped short. Tears welled. This was so unfair. Now, what would happen to her? She was doomed, of course. The strength melted out of her legs, and she sat down on her suitcase. Maybe the next train would leave soon? Or perhaps someone would take pity on her. A kind man in a fedora stopped beside her and asked if he could help. She sniffed and looked up. Maybe this was her lucky day after all—or maybe it was a miracle?

As you can see, the writing is in deep POV, but clearly, the main character’s introspections are tossed into a paragraph with no consideration for the sentences that come before or after it. After reading a lot of choppy deep POV fiction, I’m starting to suspect that well written deep POV will require a different ordering of information in paragraphs.

  • Don’t Just Delete Filter Words

Mavens of deep POV often imply that filter words exist to create distance between a reader and the character. Nothing is further from the truth. Filter words are mostly used to create transitions in a paragraph, a shift from the panoramic to the personal. Willy-nilly deleting them often leads to choppy prose.

Experts often advise writers to search their manuscript for filter words and then just delete them. For example, transforming “He saw a body floating in the pond” to “The body floated [or was floating] in the pond” is easy enough, but make certain that the revised sentence flows with the rest of the paragraph. That “He saw” might be a transition.

  • Don’t Infodump in Dialogue

One lazy way to write in deep POV is to move everything- from setting description to a character’s thoughts and feelings- into dialogue. The logic is that dialogue is always a part of a scene and therefore always showing. And while this may be technically true, infodumping in dialogue is still a form of telling. It will also bore the reader. I recently read a traditionally published novel where the main story was told in dialog infodumps. It wasn’t fun.

So in conclusion

  • Deep POV requires a different approach to storytelling
  • There are no shortcuts when writing in deep POV

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment!

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Help! Can I Transform My Plot Driven Novel into a Character Driven Novel?

Altered screenshot from an article posted on The Writing Cooperative

If you fully flesh out a character before sending them off on their journey or adventure, have you then created a character driven story?

The answer is not necessarily. Not even if you know what’s in their closet or under their bed or in their purse.

That’s because plot driven stories and character driven stories focus on different things. A character driven story focuses on the illumination of a character or some aspect of life, while a plot driven story focuses on telling a story. Even the ways a writer goes about writing the two types of books are different.

Two Goals, Two Approaches

In a plot driven story, each scene moves the story forward. This doesn’t mean that characters in a plot driven novel are cardboard cutouts. It merely means that characterization is woven into the novel’s narrative. On the most basic level, how a character pursues her goal or reacts to a plot development shows who they are. This is inherent to all plot driven fiction. Besides this, authors can also embed snippets of backstory into the narrative or allow us to meet the character’s friends and family. An additional option is to use character driven subplots.

On the other hand, a character driven story is built entirely differently. The author must first decide what they want to say about a character or what aspects of a character’s life they wish to explore. After that, they must devise scenes and sequences to illuminate that aspect of a character’s life. The key is to choose a perspective for your portrayal (have something to say). The sky’s the limit in terms of themes. A character driven novel can be about handling grief or falling in love, betraying a loved one or sacrificing themselves for the greater good.

Right about now, you’re probably thinking: “But wait! Since all plots require active characters, can you really separate the two?”

The Plot Driven-Character Driven Story Combo

Some very confused writers will answer no. They will argue that if a character drives the plot, then the novel is character driven. Here’s a link to an article featured on The Writing Cooperative that suggests just that. The argument here is not about different narrative compositions (as outlined above). The argument is more hierarchical. Character based stories are more literary and therefore better. An added carrot is that publishers prefer books that are character driven.

That said, it’s easy to find examples in which fleshed out characters inhabit a strong plot. The novels of Gillian Flynn are good examples. The question is, how do we categorize novels like Dark Places and Gone Girl.

Ultimately, I’d say they’re mostly character driven fictions.

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment!

The Heroine’s Journey: Disillusionment, Alchemic Transformation, and Philip Marlowe

The Heroine’s Journey

While researching the Hero’s Journey for my last blog post, I came across an alternative called the Heroine’s Journey. It was devised by psychologist Maureen Murdock, and like Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the Heroine’s Journey was never meant to be a primer on writing novels. Murdock’s book, The Heroine’s Journey, Woman’s Quest for Wholeness, is about redressing our society’s unbalanced value system, which privileges rapaciousness and greed over kindness and compassion. The character going through the Heroine’s Journey will first become disillusioned by the male sphere she has entered, after which she will be reborn as a spiritual warrior with the “male” and “female” aspects of herself reconciled and in harmony (wholeness).

While the Heroine’s Journey is interesting as a concept, using the problematization of the “feminine” as a framework for every female centered story seems too rigid for general use. I also object to story outlines that tell you what your book should be about. By contrast, the midpoint section (the dark cave) in the Hero’s Journey is open enough to let a writer explore any theme as long it is binary Alchemic transformation: “despair to hope, weakness to strength, folly to wisdom, love to hate” (Vogler). While the Hero’s Journey still makes demands on theme, the transformation can be anything you want, including a return to the feminine.

Since the publication of The Heroine’s Journey, Woman’s Quest for Wholeness, many writers have adapted the Heroine’s Journey for fiction much in the same way Vogler adapted The Hero with a Thousand Faces. One version appears in Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s book, 45 Master Characters. I haven’t read it, but it is summarized on the Heroine’s Journey’s Wikipedia entry. Here is a condensed, side-by-side comparison of the two:

Maureen Murdock’s Heroine’s Journey

  1. The heroine actively enters a sphere outside of the domestic (the “masculine” sphere)
  2. The heroine becomes disillusioned
  3. The heroine seeks the feminine
  4. The heroine reconciles both sides of her nature

Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s Heroine’s Journey

  1. The heroine becomes disillusioned
  2. The heroine will react to disillusionment
  3. The heroine’s reaction will be a failure; she will react again by reconnecting with the feminine
  4. The heroine reconciles both sides of her nature with a little help from a friend

Like Murdock’s Heroine’s Journey, Schmidt’s version is also about disillusionment. The chief difference is that the heroine in Murdock’s version becomes disillusioned at the story’s midpoint, while Schmidt’s heroine learns that the world isn’t perfect at the inciting incident point.

I think I prefer the original Murdock version. Because it follows the heroine’s journey into a “masculine” world, the narrative framework gives ample space for world building and the layering of themes. It is also closer to the original Hero’s journey because the return to the feminine feels like a transformation. By contrast, Schmidt’s Heroine’s Journey produces a heroine that is very reactive and one that seems to fail a lot.

I also love the idea of characters finding balance and synthesis, but how exactly do you get character to this destination?

This prompted me to think about stories that fit the Heroine’s Journey pattern. I couldn’t really come up with one. I suspect if anyone ever wrote a back story for my favorite detective, Philip Marlowe, he or she might use the Heroine’s journey. He’s very masculine and feminine, a compassionate strongman. But I suppose his transformation into a spiritual warrior would be incomplete. He still has an asymptotic yearning for perfection- the alchemic transformation. The final destination of the Heroine’s Journey wouldn’t be enough.

And that is the secret to writing noir.

I’m Not a Pantser. I’m an Extreme Pantser.

The Derek Murphy System

I’m not just a pantser. I’m an extreme pantser.

Most pantsers begin with a story concept- a “what if” or a setup. My process begins with a walk. I could be anywhere- on my way to a bus stop or trawling through a supermarket. As I amble along, lost in my thoughts, an image will pop into my head. The first few times it happened, I ignored it. But then one time, I came home and wrote down what I saw. And that’s how I started writing novels.

Once I have the image on paper, a context to them will emerge. Then characters will appear, and these will bring other characters as well as a setting. Scenes will form as characters come into conflict, which will suggest other scenes, until eventually a story forms. It’s only then that I start seeing a plot. After that, I exist in a fictive dream for months until I finish the final draft.

While this is a fun way to write, a major drawback is that you don’t always end up with a salable high concept work of fiction. After writing two books this way, I’ve concluded that this is a poor strategy for getting published. Of course, it was never a strategy in the first place.

After coming to this realization, I started looking into alternative writing processes. Last week, I came across a blog post here on WordPress about novel outlining.

The article spotlighted an uber-novel outline developed by Derek Murphy, one of the hundreds of novel writing gurus one can find on these here interwebs. According to the creator, this outline is good for most “commercial fiction,” though he doesn’t elaborate which genres. The outline he provides not only focuses on elements of a story but also their placement in the novel on a chapter by chapter level. Murphy identifies 24 story-plot points, all of which originate from the Hero’s journey as described by mythologist, Joseph Campbell, and popularized by Hollywood development executive, Christopher Vogler. Using the Derek Murphy System will produce a novel with 24 chapters.

Vogler’s Hero’s Journey overlaid onto the three act structure

That’s pretty neat.

But then I started thinking about it, and my initial enthusiasm waned. Part of this is my pantser nature. A part of it is not.

One issue is point of view. Murphy uses the Hero’s Journey as the source for his guideline, which is a natural fit for him as he is a YA science fiction/fantasy novelist. But even if the Derek Murphy System is appropriate for fantasy, the outline ignores something basic to that genre, namely multiple points of view. The Hero’s Journey typically centers a single hero. It highlights the transformation of one person. So, it’s hard to know how to deal with other POV characters in the 24 chapter outline. Do they get their own hero’s journey? If there are three POV characters, then do we get 24×3 chapters in a book.

Also, I find the Hero’s Journey an odd way to think about non-fantasy genres or even writing in general. Murphy’s outline has the inciting incident at chapter 3 or 4, but this is too late for say a mystery or a romance. And aspects of the Hero’s quest, such as the mentor, don’t necessarily appear in those genres. Sure, mysteries and romances can have them, but it’s not a key genre trope. Philip Marlowe, a detective who most typically resembles a hero, doesn’t have a mentor. Rarely does he have allies and friends. He’s usually a loner. A solitary man against a dirty, rotten world.

(Let’s be honest. Most heroic myths don’t have all the elements of the Hero’s journey either)

And a lot of novels these days are two books in one. Many of the urban fantasy novels I’ve read over the years are one part action adventure and one part erotica. How is the writer supposed to incorporate the Hero’s Journey into such dual fictions? Likewise, if you are writing a mystery for the first time, what you want to consider while outlining is not only the detective’s character growth but also other basic aspects of mystery fiction such as the placement of red herrings.

In conclusion: a template like this is useful, but it has its limits. And if you think back to the last few books you’ve read, very few (by which I mean none) will have any structural similarities with the Derek Murphy system. There’s a reason for that.

Deep POV: an Alternative Version

What do people mean by deep POV? Based on everything I’ve read on the subject, deep POV is a form of hyper-showing, meaning authors must (1) convey the story through dramatic scenes and (2) make sure that the writing is not vague but specific to the mindset of the point of view character.

I previously blogged about an AuthorTube video on deep POV that not only defined deep POV but also provided some excellent tips on how to write in this mode.

Looking for more videos on the subject, I stumbled on Michele Sayre’s YouTube channel.  It was eye opening because what she means by deep POV is a little different from what most blogs I’ve read call deep POV.

In one video, called Deep POV- a Writing Workshop, she gives us a definition of deep POV, which for her is the “removal of the author’s voice and replacing it with the character’s voice.” The nice thing about the video is that Sayre provides examples from her own writing to illustrate what she means. You can see in her example scene (screenshot below) that her form of deep POV has little to do with hyper showing.

The happiness soaring through the character is vague. In traditional deep POV, that happiness would be anatomized. It would be described. Sayre’s aesthetic, however, is against description. In another video on deep POV called “Deep POV-Setting”, she refers to the problem of info-dumping setting, a problem I rarely encounter in my reading outside of high fantasy. Both this and the previous video argue in favor of description that is “short and sweet”. In one example, the setting is a “small London flat” and nothing more- which seems odd for a city that is so socio-economically diverse.

In her examples, Sayre’s storytelling often breaks out of what most would call true deep POV. In the example below, she slips in backstory about a jungle setting, which if done in proper deep POV, would have been conveyed through dialog. Maybe by two characters anticipating an attack.

Then she does it again in the next paragraph.

We neither see the two men’s resentment nor how they give the protagonist Jake and his partner, Patrick, a cold shoulder. Sayre isn’t hyper-showing. She is hyper-telling.

Sayre also doesn’t prohibit the use of filter words, one of the major don’ts when writing in deep POV. Recognize, saw, and heard all appear in her writing examples.

So, here is a whole another way of doing deep POV. Too bad it’s not so different from third-person limited.

As for tips to take away from her videos:

  1. Use only action verbs (limit use of “to be” verb forms)
  2. Keep the story moving (this will limit digressions into backstory or scene description)
  3. Limit description only to the character’s moment by moment existence and make sure it is important for the movement of the plot

I rate this video five stars.

Note: This video is a rare bit of writing advice that advocates for the adverb. Sayre uses adverbs for emphasis, although her video is vague about what she means by that. Adverbs don’t typically add emphasis; they usually modify and restrict the meaning of a verb or adjective. Unless she means adverbs like totally: as in the sentence, “After he emerged dripping wet from the sea and she got a good glimpse of his package, she totally wanted him.”

AuthorTube video star rankings:

1 Star Babbling

2 stars Too basic to exist

3 stars Uninformative but entertaining

4 stars Useful but not engaging

5 stars Highly recommended