Writing Deep POV to Up the Swoon in Romance Novels
Romance novels are all about feels. Yes, other genres have feels, but in romance, we want the reader to experience the rollercoaster ride of love as if they’re actually there. The best way to immerse readers into a story is through deep POV. By writing in deep POV, you can create a more intimate connection between the reader and the character, allowing the reader to experience the character’s emotions in a more visceral way. This makes it easier for readers to empathize with the characters and become invested in their journey.
In this video, I cover what is deep POV and 6 tips to using it to boost the swoon factor of your romances. You can read the text version of the video below.
What is Deep POV?
Deep POV is a writing technique that pulls readers into the story as if they’re inside the point-of-view character’s mind. It essentially quiets the narrator (the author) and everything (thoughts, feelings, sensations, sights) is delivered through the POV character.
The best way to visualize this concept is with the movie The Sound of Music. At the beginning, we see the Alps in all its glory and we can hear Maria signing…the hills are a live, with the sound of music… But initially we don’t see her, or she’s a tiny speck. This is third person limited. Slowly, we move closer to her until finally we’re with her, twirling, singing, and basking in the beauty of the Alps. We can feel the sun on our faces, like Maria. We experience the joy that is emanating from her. That is deep POV.
Technically, deep POV is third-person limited writing, but switching to first person POV isn’t enough to write in deep POV. Plus, you may not want to write in first person, in which case you need to find a way to immerse your reader into the story so they live it vicariously.
Whether you write in third or first person, the tips below will help you create an immersive story that makes your readers swoon.
How to Write in Deep POV
Create 3-D Characters
For a reader to feel as if they’re alongside the character, the character needs to be fully formed, with a history that informs their thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, quirks, etc. If you’re a pantster, this may evolve during the writing, but the more you know your character, the easier it is to write as if you are them, not just telling the reader about them.
3-D characters have:
- A goal
- Conflict: Internal & External
- A temperament, personality, values
- A past that influences current motivation, beliefs and behavior
- A flaw that is overcome by the end of the book
Traits, such as appearance, interests, career, quirks, etc are only needed as they relate to who the character is and how it impacts the story. It doesn’t matter that your character loves chocolate, unless that is used to inform the character or plot.
Essential Question about Characters: How do characters’ traits manifest in the story to reveal who they are and accentuate the plot?
Write from a Singular POV (No head hopping)
You can have more than one POV character in your story, just not in a single scene. Writing in deep POV means being in one person’s head, experiencing everything that is going on through them. We (the reader) see what they see. We feel what they feel. We hear what they hear.
Explain Everything from the POV Character’s Point of View
When you’re in the POV character’s head, everything going on in the scene is filtered character’s attitudes, beliefs, past experiences, etc. So if it’s cold out and the POV person hates the cold, that will come through.
Sally stepped outside into the sleet, gasping as her foot lost purchase and slid across the porch until gravity brought her down. Cursing, she righted herself and inhaled the burning cold air. Whoever said February was like a month full of Mondays was right.
Sally stepped outside into the sleet, gasping as her foot lost purchase and slid across the porch until gravity brought her down. Laughing, she righted herself and inhaled the cold, crisp air. I’m awake now, Mother Nature.
Don’t forget to layer everything with the POV’s character traits, including how they think. When your character has a thought, it should fit with who they are and how the move in the world.
Use Sensory Details
Tami Hoag has a series set in wintery Minnesota. I can read those books during the hot, humid summer in Virginia and feel cold. That’s what you want from your writing. You want your readers to see, hear, feel, taste, and smell everything your POV character does. Added with the layer of attitudes, beliefs, etc, sensory detail can reveal a great deal about the character and the plot.
She pulled her shirt away from her damp skin as a trickle of sweat dripped down the center of her back. Was there anything worse than sweat along the bra line?
In the above, we experience how hot it is and her attitude about it. In the previous example, we see the same situation (slipping when stepping outside) but two different attitudes about it.
Eliminate Filter Words (thought, realized, saw, heard, etc)
When you’re in deep POV, we don’t need to be told who is thinking, seeing, realizing, etc because we know who is doing the thinking, seeing, realizing, etc. These words are basically telling (remember, show, don’t tell).
Joe watched Jane descend the steps. She was stunning, he thought.
Joe watched Jane descent the steps. She was stunning.
I’m such a fool, she said to herself.
I’m such a fool. (Italicized to indicate thought)
Learn how to write setting from deep POV in the post on Writing Settings Readers Don’t Skip
Eliminate Dialogue Tags when Possible
Like filter words, dialogue tags (e.g. he said) are telling, not showing. It can be difficult to eliminate them all together (Kelly Moran once wrote a book without dialogue tags!) especially when there is more than one person in the room, but most books can significantly reduce them.
Instead of dialogue tags, use a thought or action to reveal who is talking.
“I love you,” he said as he wiped the tear from her cheek.
“I love you.” He wiped the tear from her cheek.
He wiped the tear from her cheek. “I love you.”
Here is another example:
“You’re not the kind of man a woman forgets,” she said, trying to maintain the banter even though her heart was breaking.
“You’re not the kind of man a woman forgets.” She wanted to maintain the banter, even though her heart was breaking.
If there are only two people in the scene, you can sometimes not use anything for one dialogue, as long as the reader can be clear on who is talking. Here’s an example from Deadly Valentine, between Tess and Jack at Asa’s party. The previous line (not shown) is Jack, and this first line is Tess.
“I didn’t know you knew Asa.”
“I don’t very well. It’s business.”
“You’re doing business with him?”
“Not yet. I probably won’t.” He shifted, moved closer. “Are you here alone?”
One dark brow lifted.
“I came with someone, but he was called away,” Tess clarified.
“Too bad for him.”
“He’ll be back.”
“Too bad for me.”
You’ll notice that I used a dialogue tag above (Tess clarified). An occasional dialogue tag is okay to avoid the scene looking like a circus with people moving, scratching, thinking etc. action overwhelm. Sometimes, a short and sweet dialogue tag is better to keep the action of the dialogue going and not interrupted by a longer action or thought.
Use Active Voice
I have a video on passive and active voice in which I say passive voice isn’t wrong and there are occasions to use it. But when writing in deep POV, stronger, tighter prose is what keeps the reader feeling all the feels with the character. When the POV character is doing the action of the sentence, readers are intimately connected.
Sally was overwhelmed by emotion.
Emotion overwhelmed Sally.
Here’s another example:
The avalanche caught up to Sally. The icy wall wrapped her up and tossed her around until she didn’t know up from down.
Sally couldn’t out-ski the wall of snow barreling down on her. She fell under the weight of it, tossed around until she didn’t know up from down.
Remember, in deep POV, readers can only know and experience what our POV character knows and experiences. Often, our character can mis-interpret or misunderstand what’s going on based on their limited knowledge or biases. This can be a great tool for unreliable narration and to increase tension.