Creating emotional connections between characters and readers

A post at Writers Helping Writers: 7 Ways Deep POV Creates Emotional Connections With Readers

Deep POV is a style of fiction writing that aims to remove all the psychic or narrative distance between the reader and the character so the reader feels as if they’re immersed in the story.Deep POV is one character living out a story with the reader at their side, in their head. The writer will use free indirect speech when writing in deep pov, but the focus of the story is the character’s emotional journey. There’s no place for the writer/narrator voice.

Remove ALL the narrative distance. Not sure that is possible. Remove the writer’s voice. Hmm. Is that different somehow from the writer creating a character with a distinctive voice of their own? How exactly would that be different?

This article presumes that a deep pov is only possible with first-person narration. Yet we’ve all read third-person stories where we felt immersed in the story and “beside the character,” stories in which the character’s emotional journey is central. Haven’t we?

I mean, I have said for years (decades, I guess, by now) that McKinley’s The Blue Sword offers a great example of a simple — one might say deceptively simple — writing style that lends itself to an immersive reading experience. That is, McKinley’s style doesn’t draw attention to the writing and therefore improves the reader’s ability to “fall into” the story. This is a third-person narrative. I don’t really think that first-person is intrinsically more immersive than third.

However, let’s just take a look at the rest of this article …

In deep POV, you share the raw information the character takes in and not the conclusions they reach. 

Everything comes to the reader filtered through the point-of-view character

Internal dialogue is written entirely from the POV character’s perspective, filtered through their own scene goals and emotional journey.

And so on. These aren’t bad points, but I think the author of the article is making one important mistake or maybe I mean one unwarranted assumption.

I think the author of this article is contrasting what they call deep first-person pov with distant third-person pov, but the more appropriate comparison would be with close third-person pov. Like here, from the article: 6. Limit the Reader’s Knowledge to What the Character Knows. That’s fine, but close third-person narratives do that too.

CJC is a great example of an author who uses close third-person narratives to bring the reader into the story and put the reader at the side of the protagonist. Almost all (all?) of her novels are told in close third. Everything in the story IS filtered through the pov character. The reader is limited to knowing what the character knows and is directly aware of the emotional reactions of only the protagonist. Look at the Morgaine novels, the Chanur novels, Rimrunners … okay, I grant, in many of her novels CJC does shift from one character’s pov to another’s, so that is different than sticking with one pov all the way through. But close third-person with one pov looks to me A LOT like deep first-person with one pov.

The article also seems to think that third-person precludes an intense emotional arc, which is plainly not true. Look at The Hands of the Emperor, for example. Or The Goblin Emperor. A zillion others, obviously. Those are a couple third-person novels that spring to mind where the protagonist’s emotional journey is central.

So, well, it looks to me like the basic narrative styles that can be employed are, from most distant to closest:

a) Omniscient

b) Distant third

c) Close third, close first

And while many third-person narratives shift back and forth between closer and more distant over the course of the story, some are close all the way. I think any well-written close first- or third-person narrative is equally likely to draw the reader into the story and set them “at the side of the protagonist,” given that the reader finds the voice of the protagonist appealing. Both styles exclude the author directly telling the reader stuff. Really, they are just very similar in general, but, as always, third is probably easier to write than first, and of course individual readers will often have strong preferences for one or the other.

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5 thoughts on “Creating emotional connections between characters and readers”

  1. I don’t quite see how, in the bold elements, the first can work with the other two:

    1) In deep POV, you share the raw information the character takes in *and not the conclusions they reach*. 

    2) Everything comes to the reader filtered through the point-of-view character

    3) Internal dialogue is written entirely from the POV character’s perspective, filtered through their own scene goals and emotional journey.

    If all the information you give the reader comes through the POV’s perspective, including their internal dialogue, how can you not give the reader the conclusions which the POV reaches?
    When I think about things, and react to things, the conclusions I’ve reached from the information I have are inextricably entwined with how I think about and react to that information.

  2. I totally agree with you about The Goblin Emperor. Not only that, but somehow Katherine Addison managed to make me intensely invested despite the initially distracting pronouns, which would on the surface seem to alienate the reader.

  3. I was also confused by the point about avoiding conclusions, but looking at the examples in the article, it seems like it’s saying ‘show don’t tell’. Really, pretty much the entire article is different facets of that advice…

    I think maybe the distinction she was trying to make between the different styles was actually about how many POVs there are or can be. Such that deep POV is only possible if you have one and only one POV, whether in third or first person. At the very least, the examples are mostly in third person.

  4. Hanneke, yes, that confused me too. It seems to me you would have to be sharing the direct experience of the first-person protagonist, including their reactions and conclusions. Mona, the examples did look like “show don’t tell,” but I’m not sure how to get from that to “don’t share the protagonist’s conclusions.” It seems to me that you’d be saying, “She this, that, and the other — she was definitely hiding something.” That would give the reader both the evidence for the conclusion AND the conclusion, and I don’t at all see how reserving the conclusion would help draw the reader into the protagonist’s pov.

  5. EC, I loved the formal plural pronouns. When else are you ever going to get a chance to use constructions like “ourself”? I’m not sure if that would tend to alienate some readers, but I bet the incredibly difficult names are more of an issue for a lot of readers.

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