How Deep is Your POV?

When I decided to tackle creative fiction, point of view was a huge stumbling block for me. I come from a journalism/marketing background, where you can tell the reader what you want them to know in a fairly straightforward manner. (Coke is it. See?) With fiction, it’s not that easy. In fact, sometimes it can be downright hard to get across the emotion, thoughts, and feelings of our characters and maintain a compelling, seamless story for the reader.

That’s who we care about when it all comes down to it, right? The readers. You might have a wickedly clever plot on your hands, but if you’ve made the story too hard for readers to grasp…it’s been wasted. The story won’t be enjoyable for them because they’ll be trying to figure out who is speaking, what’s at stake, and why in the hell do we care what the chambermaid is thinking?

What is POV?

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you know the answer to this question. Most romances now are written in third person limited view. That means we’re in one character’s head at a time, experiencing things as he or she would see it. Usually this means the hero and heroine, although there are books that will add another character’s POV in there (such as a villain).

(There are notable exceptions, of course, such as the wonderful Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich. Can you imagine anything other than a first person narrative for Stephanie’s zany antics?)

You’ve probably heard about “head hopping,” which is the tendency to shift POVs during a scene. There are some well-known authors who do this, but I think it’s fairly frowned upon for new writers. It can be confusing to the reader and distract from the storytelling. I did this a lot in my first manuscript. Back then, if I wanted someone’s thoughts and opinions on something, I jumped right inside their head and let them speak. Seemed like a good idea at the time until beta readers start complaining. So I had to learn how to get my point across without pulling the reader away from my main characters.

For more on head hopping and authorial intrusion, go here.

Who Gets a Say?

So how do you decide which character gets to own the scene? I’ve heard the general rule of thumb is the character with the most at stake. Now, if you’re writing a romantic suspense, this might not be the case. You might write a scene from the villain’s POV, who doesn’t have as much at stake as, oh say, his victim. In most other cases, though, if it’s a tense scene where both of your characters have a lot on the line, you’ll have to make a judgment call on the POV. Go with your gut.

One of the best twists on a traditional H/H point of view in a romance has to be Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Call Me Irresistible. The hero is the golden boy of the town. Can do no wrong. He’s Mr. Perfect, according to SEP. The heroine happens to break up his wedding to her best friend. So how does he feel about this? We don’t know because SEP keeps us in the heroine’s POV until Chapter 16—halfway through the book! If you think it wasn’t intentional on the author’s part, think again. Though the heroine is a screw up, we’re rooting for her all the way because we know her. And it’s a great twist at the halfway point to finally get inside the hero’s head.

For more on choosing point of view and emotional tags, go here.

How Deep is Your POV?

If you want your readers to truly connect and care about your characters, writing in a deep POV can make all the difference. Get up close and personal. Lose the “felt, watched, saw, thought” tags in your sentences. Okay, example time!!

He thought she was beautiful.

Lame, right? We don’t need the “He thought” in there. It puts distance between the reader and the character.

Try it with deep POV.

Bloody hell, she was a goddess in every way.

I’m not really telling you anything different here, but giving you more insight into the way my hero thinks.

I just finished The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne and was blown away by many things about the book, but especially her use of deep POV. When you are in a character’s head, boy…you are IN the character’s head. You see and feel everything exactly as they do. Check this out:

These papers should go somewhere artistic and obvious. Stage-setting. A show of power. So. Half on the table by the sofa—yes—stacked up as if somebody’d just finished reading them. A few left on the desk chair. Another pile on the windowsill. He was satisfied when he’d finished.

–Excerpt from The Black Hawk, Joanna Bourne

The hero is setting up for an important meeting. That’s it. A meeting, people! Any idea how boring that could have been in the hands of another writer? “And so he sat a stack of papers on the table by the sofa and put a few more on the desk chair…” Instead, Ms. Bourne has taken the mundane and made it exciting. Don’t you feel as if you’re there with the hero, watching him bustle about the room as he makes decisions?

For more on deep POV, go here.

Happy writing, and remember…some readers like it deep.

Comment to win! One commenter in the month of January will win a box of handmade salted caramels. And let me tell you, they are delicious! Good luck and thanks for stopping by.

Leave a comment


  1. Joanna, I don’t know whether this is just a timely entry on your part, or help and comfort from above, but either way it’s a great post.

    I’m embarrassed to say that at yesterday’s meeting, I’m the one who got sliced and diced over the confusing POV. I have been reminding myself since then that I am fairly new at this and still have much to learn, but neverthless I have been feeling like a bit of a dunce.

    Your admittance of it being a “stumbling block” is a comfort, and the info is just what I need. I have already checked out one of the links and am certain it will be a great benefit.

    Thank you!

    • Don’t be embarrassed. We’ve all done this! For every mistake you make, it’s a lesson learned and you’ll be more conscious of NOT doing it the next time. Unfortunately, there’s a lot to learn and making mistakes will definitely help you strengthen your craft. Happy writing!

    • Oh, good! I’m glad you found this helpful. You are not alone and don’t feel like a dunce. It’s an easy mistake to fix, IMO, and makes all the difference in the world to the reader. Stay with it!

  2. Great post. When I started writing, I also had a big problem with POV shift. I think I’m pretty good about not shifting. I do need to concentrate more on getting into deep POV. I do like shifting the POV in my scenes/chapters between the heroine and hero. In my current WIP, I have 1 scene that’s in the POV of the bad guy. That was fun to write. While I do write in third person, I like reading first person. Both Janet Evanovich and Kristan Higgins write first person wonderfully. Emily Giffin is another person who does a good job with this.

    • Oh, yes….Kristan Higgins. How could I forget her?? I find first person off-putting, but maybe because I’m so exposed to third person all the time.

      KH is also another example of great deep POV. You really live in her character’s head.

  3. hieubietusa

     /  January 22, 2012

    Hi Joanna..and congratulations again.

    I seem to have strong focused POV in my stories…due to my main character always carrying enough inner demons to keep the focus on his or her reaction to the developing plot.
    Problem is my main guy or girl is under such a heavy amount of stress the reader wants to prescribe medication.
    Come to think of it many people that have read my work have suggested I need a prescription.

    FICTION—I hope u post in February

    • Good for you, Joe! Strong, focused POV is hard to achieve. One of these days, you’re going to have to let me read more of your WIP!

  4. I read Call Me Irresistible and yes, SEP kept the reader guessing. But she’s master storyteller and she was dead-on right to keep us in the dark. Added so much to the story!

  5. Lori

     /  January 23, 2012

    I bet most of you are going into your manuscripts and checking the POV in the scenes. Great post

  6. Great post! I love when an author has such a strong command of POV that you are sucked right into the story and stay there throughout. Joanne Bourne certainly accomplished that in The Black Hawk. It’s interesting how writing has changed over the past 10 or even 20 years. Rereading K. Woodiwiss or J. Lindsey you notice much more head hopping.

  7. Great post, Joanna! I’m right now trying to decide if I’ve got the POV deep enough in one of my wips and the examples in this post gave me some food for thought. Thanks!

  8. Jennifer Sampson

     /  January 23, 2012

    Great post.

    Now I have to go do a search for felt and thought in my current wip. Those two show up an awful lot in my first drafts.

  9. Great reminder, Joanna, to get into the heads and hearts of our characters. There is nothing more boring than reading something where you are constantly told what the character is feeling. The best writing is writing that makes you feel, along with the character. IMO, Kristin Hannah is awesome at this. I had such a deep and visceral reaction to Winter Garden, I actually felt like my heart was getting ripped out along with the heroine’s…actual physical pain. That is truly great writing!

    If I can make my readers feel even half as much as KH does, I’ll feel like I succeeded.


  10. Julie Schroeder w/a Jenna Blue

     /  January 24, 2012

    Great post. Had a moment of panic when I saw the title, but you graciously left out my recent foray into too many–ahem, seven!–pov’s in a single ms! : ) Obviously, I’ll be working on those!
    Been working on my blog for next week, ladies!

  11. Nicole Doran

     /  January 24, 2012

    Great post and example too! I struggle with POV in trying to go deeper into my characters’ heads. But you are right, if done right, we as readers feel as if we are actually in a scene in the character’s thoughts. I really like first person too. Kristan Higgins does it so well and Diana Gabaldon is a master. Love reading the comments here too!
    Nicole Doran

    • Oh, yes….DG. I’ve just started Outlander (I know, I’m THE ONLY historical writer who hasn’t read it) and her immersion in the world (both current and past) is amazing. I hear it only gets better.

      • Julie Schroeder w/a Jenna Blue

         /  January 25, 2012

        Oh Yay, Joanna, you started Outlander!!!! My fav!!!! Have you gotten past the slow start we talked about?

      • Don’t you just love Jamie? I’m glad you finally dove into that one…if you’re like everyone else I know, you’ll be sucked into the whole series. It really is an amazing work.

  12. RoseAnn DeFranco

     /  January 24, 2012

    Great post! I think that every writer has that first manuscript where everyone, including an uninvolved observer from across the room, has had their say! Several years ago Virginia Kantra did an amazing workshop on POV. I’ve been cured ever since. Now deep POV…that takes quite a bit more time and effort.

    Since you mentioned POV, I wanted to mention that I recently made a switch from third person to first person. This switch was mainly driven by a jump in genres. I’m only in the first draft stage of things at the moment, but I feel as if it is easier to write in Deep POV in first person. Anyone else out there have a similar or reversed experience?

    Thank you for the reminders about “felt” and “thought.” How about a “Show Don’t Tell” post next?

    • Oh, good idea, RoseAnn, re: Show Don’t Tell. (Although I do find there are times when you DO need to just tell it already!)

      I don’t know if third or first person makes deep POV easier, but it seems like a logical conclusion for some writers. Evanovich claims that Stephanie Plum is basically her, so she just writes whatever she would do in that situation.

  13. What an enormous relief to find this post! I raised the issue of POV with a couple of fiction writers a few weeks ago, and they just didn’t get why I was so hung up about it. But thanks to you, Joanna, I see that my anxiety comes from having been in a communications/marketing background, where POV as you say is not an issue. Phew! It’s always nice to find out that you’re not alone in these struggles…

    I also appreciated your well-chosen examples — you made your points crystal clear.

    And now for a question: what do you think about books that are written in first person? I’m overgeneralizing, no doubt, but I tend not to go for books written in the first person as the POV is so limited (and can get tedious). But am I alone in this?!?! Thanks in advance, Joanna, for any further insights you can offer…

    • Hi! Glad you found the post helpful. And yes, we marketing folks have to stick together. 🙂

      I typically don’t read first person for the same reason. That said, I do enjoy the Stephanie Plum series and everything Kristin Higgans writes. So maybe it just has to be the *right* story told in first person?

      Although I would LOVE to get Morelli or Ranger’s POV once in a while. Maybe that’s a way JE could save that series….

      Good luck!


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