Deep POV: Climbing Inside the Main Character (an Explanation for Readers and Writers)

by Kassandra Lamb ~ Readers, have you noticed over the last few years that you are much more sucked into certain books? It feels like you are actually inside the main character, experiencing their thoughts and feelings as your own.

deep POV -- climbing inside the main character
photo by David Lezcano on

There’s a reason for that. A buzz word among authors in recent years is “deep POV.” POV (point of view) usually refers to which character’s eyes we are looking through in the story. Usually it’s the main character’s perspective, but it can be multiple POVs, or the POV character can be someone other than the hero/heroine (think Dr. Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories).

But deep POV refers to how thoroughly we climb inside the main character (or other POV characters).

With deep POV, the author wants the reader to not just see and hear what the character sees and hears, but also what they think and feel emotionally. And it is far better, more absorbing, if those feelings are shown rather than told.

There are three ways that we accomplish deep POV:

The most obvious, which is also used to show the emotions of non-POV characters, are behaviors and body language.

~~ She winced, as he stomped out the door.

But this one doesn’t really pull us inside the main character. Another deep POV tactic is the use of internal dialogue. What is the character thinking? Which might be totally different from what they are saying or doing.

~~ I gave him a cheerful smile. When donkeys fly, you jerk!

Better—we’re now inside the character’s head, but still not completely inside of them.

The best way to climb inside the main character…

Describe his/her visceral sensations—the changes inside the body that occur along with our emotions. Indeed, these visceral sensations come first, and then we mentally interpret them as a certain emotion.

Or not. Sometimes the character doesn’t understand, at first, what they are feeling. Or sometimes a person misinterprets a sensation. Fear, anger and excitement, for example, can feel similar inside our bodies.

Fear and anger both involve tensing of muscles, and often a tightening sensation in the chest. Anxiety and excitement may both involve a butterfly sensation in the stomach and/or chest.

The human tendency to sometimes misread our own emotions gives authors some great opportunities for internal conflict.

deep POV -- climbing inside the main character
photo by Siora Photography on

This particular approach tends to really pull us inside the main character, as we feel what he or she is feeling in our own bodies.

And thus we feel their emotions.

Order matters!

The physical, visceral sensation comes just a tiny bit before the spontaneous body reactions—a frown, a smile, or clenched teeth. But they are so close together, it can seem like they are simultaneous.

But internal thoughts about the character’s emotions are always going to come after the sensations. They are reactions to the sensations as the person’s mind interprets those sensations consciously.

The behaviors/body language changes may come after the thought, but most often, if it is involuntary, it comes slightly before the thought. For example…

~~ Pressure and heat built in his chest. He clenched his teeth. You jerk!

If these are out of order, it may subtly imply something other than what the author intended, and/or it may not quite ring true for the reader.

Readers, do you think deep POV makes a difference in how much you enjoy a book? Writers, how much do you use deep POV in your stories?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida. She also writes romantic suspense under the pen name of Jessica Dale.

Misterio press produces an array of quality crime fiction. We post here twice a month, usually on Tuesdays, to alert you to new releases, to entertain, and to inform.

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  • Reply
    Julie McDonough
    October 19, 2021 at 10:24 pm

    I found this article to be very interesting. I think a lot of us readers don’t realize just how much work goes into creating an engaging character.

  • Reply
    Kassandra Lamb
    October 19, 2021 at 10:50 pm

    Glad you enjoyed the post, Julie. Thanks for stopping by!

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