Don’t know what your character’s thinking? Use deep POV
This week’s shredding was a YA historical fantasy. One of my favorite genres for pleasure reading. I couldn’t wait to get my claws into it. It followed the old-school fantasy style of 3rd POV, which was fine, but something was off. I kept typing the same question in the margin: What is she thinking? I knew what the MC did, but I have no idea why. The story needed deep POV.
There are tons of great resources for learning about deep POV. Here are three to get you started.
K.M. Weiland‘s article details three types of 3rd person POV, explains the difference between distant and deep 3rd, and gives pro’s and con’s of each as well as examples of published works using each one.
Beth Hill explains Deep POV and gives clear examples for editing your MS to deepen POV
And my personal favorite is the Sad Cat Diaries* In this humorous video, the story is told from the cat’s POV. Word choices, phrasing, and even the character’s logic reflect what a cat would actually be thinking.
Why should I use Deep POV?
Deep POV serves the story by letting the reader experience the story through the MC’s perspective. It also allows a character’s individual voice come through.
Not every story needs deep POV, but some stories can’t be told without it
While there are plenty of examples where a story doesn’t need deep POV, this one did. In the first ten pages, the author gave me almost no glimpses of the MC’s thoughts. The writing began to fill like a script. She had dialogue and physical reactions, but she never revealed the thought processes that lead to those reactions. We never get to see why. Since nothing dramatic was happening to the character externally, most of the story was missing. I needed the MC’s internal dialogue.
Some stories are really happening in the minds of the characters
Here’s an example:
I was hungry, so I went to the kitchen for a snack.
Pretty dull. Let’s retell the character’s story through internal monologue
I want something, but I don’t know what. Am I really hungry, or am I just bored? Probably bored, and I don’t need the calories.
Yeah, but there’s a giant bag of Halloween candy in the pantry. Baby girl doesn’t need all that. She’ll never know it’s missing. And Kit-Kat’s are so good.
Eh, but then I’ll have to get up. So am I more fat or more lazy?
Gonna have to go with fat.
Oh crap, where am I gonna hide the wrappers?
See the difference? By using deep POV, I’ve turned one sentence into an entire story. We take the journey with the character, and we learn something about her. Namely, that she’s the sort of person who will filch candy from a 5-year-old.
Other times we need to know the internal monologue to understand what is actually going on in the story.
He smiled at her, and she punched him in the mouth.
In this example, one of these characters is clearly an ass, but we have no idea who. Internal dialogue to the rescue.
He smiled at her. The dickhead thought that just because she needed this job, he could grope her little sister and get away with it. He was wrong. She punched him in the mouth.
Because internal monologue is used effectively in the second example we get a complete picture of two characters with zero telling. I didn’t have to tell you that the male is a spoiled rich kid d-bag. I didn’t have to tell you that the woman is poor, feels protective of her little sister, and has a temper. With two additional sentences, the picture becomes clear. Now we know why the character acted the way she did.
How do I know if I’m missing internal monologue?
Missing internal monologue happens in many of the early drafts that cross my desk. Here are some things to look for:
- Physical reactions without meaningful explanation. If she “stiffens” is it apparent why? Is she surprised? Disgusted? or did she suddenly realize something? Could the reader determine how she feels without the physical reaction?
- Unexplained changes in emotional state. If your character suddenly changes from embarrassed to angry, walk us through the thoughts that lead her there.
- Instances where a character doesn’t do what’s expected. If a house catches fire and the MC calls the fire department, we don’t need to know the thought process that made her reach that decision, but if she decides to let it burn, readers need to know why, and that can only be revealed through internal monologue.
Make sure you include your character’s internal monologue, or your readers will end up wondering: what exactly was your MC was thinking?
*If someone knows of the original article using Sad cat diaries as an example of deep POV, please let me know and I will include a link.