A Close Encounter of the POV Kind

My favorite, most memorable reading experiences stem from stories where I feel such a close connection with the characters, I’m sure I know them. I laugh with them, cry with them, fret and sigh with them. When I get to those terrible two words – THE END – I experience a distinct, aching loss.

The easiest way for a writer to pull readers into their character’s shoes is to write in the first person POV (point of view). Two factors make this technique particularly challenging: it is very difficult to master effectively, and it’s limiting. When writing in first person POV, the story can only be told through the one character whose head we inhabit.

But there is another way – a better way. At the 2014 annual conference for the New England Chapter of the Romance Writers of America, I was honored to meet Suzanne Brockmann at a signing of her latest release, Do or Die.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with Suzanne about a technique she invented – Deep POV. This strategy allows the author to tell the story in the more flexible, third person. Yet often, the prose slips into first person, allowing the reader to hear a character’s thoughts – smoothly, with no interruption.

Yes, she confirmed, that’s the beauty of Deep POV. Although the writer maintains the freedom of third person, she also flips into first person to convey internal dialogue.

Now, that’s nothing new. It’s been done for generations this way, but the general rule is to place all internal thought in italics. Although her books are jam-packed with internal thought, Suzanne seldom uses italics. She is breaking the rules.

And her books are flying off the shelves. At first glance, an editor – or even a knowledgeable reader – may sense that POV shift (from third to first) as incorrect without those italics. But not by the end of the first few pages.

Case in point: open a copy of Brockmann’s Do or Die. The author doesn’t shock us into the protagonist’s head, but starts out very traditionally. She lets us get acquainted with Ian Dunn, and start to care about him, though clearly in third person narration.

But by page 6, something starts to happen. We see the single, un-italicized word:

Boom.

Is this a sound we’re hearing in third person? Or is this the actual, spontaneous thought flashing through Ian’s mind as he threw the punch? By the bottom of that page, another phrase creeps in:

So be it.

Is this authorial intrusion? No, it doesn’t feel like it. It feels as though a portal has opened up into Ian Dunn’s head, and suddenly, we can see and hear what’s going on inside.

By page 8, we’ve crossed through that portal. We are hearing Dunn’s thoughts:

But it still wasn’t enough. Blood. Blood always did the trick.

Yet none of this internal dialogue is italicized. Why?

Italics are difficult to read, and they are distracting. They interrupt the narrative flow. They jar the reader out of the story. They are speed bumps.

An effective storyteller doesn’t want speed bumps to slow the reader down. She doesn’t want anything standing between the reader and the story. She wants the virtual experience of coexisting inside a character’s head to continue, uninterrupted, so the pages turn themselves.

Suzanne Brockmann is an effective storyteller. The “founder” of Deep POV, she’s also a rule breaker. By so doing, she’s giving the reader a virtual experience that neither third person, nor first person, can achieve alone.

It’s a technique I proudly, blatantly, and with her permission, aim to emulate.

Copyright Frances Brown w/a Claire Gem. All Rights Reserved.

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