From Fiction University: Enabling third party cookies on your browser could help if you have trouble leaving a comment.

Monday, July 21

Deep POV is Not the Only POV

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

I'm a fan of deep point of view (POV). I enjoy being in the head of a character and feeling like I'm experiencing the story as they do. The more distant the POV, the less I connect to the characters. But this isn't true of all readers, and many dislike that close feeling. They'd rather sit back and watch a story unfold with a safe measure of distance between them and the characters.

With so much focus on deep POV, it's easy to think that's the "right" POV to use, but there's nothing wrong with a distant POV if that's how you choose to tell your story. A narrator who hovers over the tale and describes it all to readers is just as valid as a tight in-their-head narrator.

A deep POV has been in literary fashion for a while (I suspect it has a lot to do with the rise in YA, which is often in first person), but omniscient narrators are just as popular, even if you don't hear as much about writing an omniscient POV.

(Here's more on omniscient point of view)

For funsies, I did a quick and informal survey of the top ten books in both adult and teen fiction, print and ebook formats (there were differences in the novels on these lists):

Adult Print Books:
Distant POV - 5
Tight POV - 5

Adult ebooks:
Distant POV - 4
Tight POV - 6

Teen Print Books:
Distant POV - 3
Tight POV - 7

Teen ebooks:
Distant POV - 3
Tight POV - 7

As you can see, it's evenly split for adult novels, and a little higher for teen novels. So whatever POV and narrative distance you like to write in, there are readers out there for it.

What's the Difference Between a Tight POV and a Distant POV?

It's how close the reader feels to the narrator. The level of closeness is referred to as narrative distance. Tight, with no filter words used, or far, with lots of filter words used. It's a bit like deciding where you put the camera--is it in the corner of the room capturing all the action no matter where it happens, or on a headset the character wears that captures only what that character sees.

(Here's more on narrative distance)

With a tight POV, all the text is what that character experiences. With a distant POV, the narrator (author) decides what information is shared. Details not known to the character could even be told to the reader. It's a wider view of the story that allows the narrator and the reader to decide what things mean--which might be different from what the character thinks.

For example:
She felt his fingers trace her cheek (with filter word, describing the fact that the POV feels fingers on her cheek)

His fingers traced her cheek (no filter word, letting the POV remark on what his fingers are doing)
(Here's more on filter words)

The easiest way to tell the difference between a tight and a distant POV is to look at the pronouns, as first person is always a tight POV and third person is typically a distant POV, but that doesn't always hold true. A tight third-person POV can read like first person with a close narrative distance is used. For third person, other factors come into play:

Common Traits of a Distant POV

The sense that someone else is telling the story: The reader is outside the head of the character, and often a separate narrator is the one telling the story.

More filter words: The language used describes that the characters is feeling or smelling or knowing something, not just stating the feeling, smell, or knowledge as the character experiences it.

More formal language: A distant narrator often sounds more formal in both language and tone.

More observation: The emphasis is often on describing the events, feelings, and meaning of the scene as someone outside the situation would see it. Readers don't spend as much time in the character's head, but outside of it "watching."

More statement of facts: The narrator knows things the characters might not, so the sense of "this is my opinion" isn't there. It's more of a "these are the facts" feeling.

Common Traits of a Tight POV

The sense that the main character is telling the story: The reader in inside the head of the POV character and everything stated in the story is what that character experiences and what they think about it.

More conversational language: The tone is often casual, conversational, as if speaking with a friend.

Few filter words: Readers aren't told a character "felt the wind on her cheeks," she just notes that "wind swept across her cheeks"

More internalization: Being in the head of a characters means you get to hear what that character is thinking more often. You see more of the thought process and internal monologue as it happens.

More judgment: The POV decides what the things in the story means, and they can be wrong since they don't always have all the information. "Facts" are just opinions and how the POV judges a situation.

Narrative distance is a sliding scale, so you might decide you like a few filter words, but still enjoy a conversational feel. Or you might enjoy a formal, observational tone without filter words. There are no categories here--it's up to the writer to decide where to put that literary camera and how to convey the story to the reader.

(Here's more on narrative distance and telling)

POV is how you choose to tell your story to your readers. It's up to you to decide how close to your characters you're going to be, and how much information to share.

What narrative distance do you enjoy writing in? What about reading?

Looking for tips on planning, writing, or revising your novel? Check out one of my books on writing:  Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in my bestselling Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).

A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).  
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound


  1. I write both and enjoy both, but more of what I write and read tends to use deep PoV rather than distant. Probably because I read a lot of urban fantasy, dystopia, and YA. :-)

    1. I've found I'm okay with a distant POV if the narrator is strong. It's that "floating above the action" feeling that makes it tough for me to get into a story.

      But I also read a ton of YA and dystopia, so I'm sure that shapes my preferences a lot. :)

  2. I really enjoyed this article, Janice. The more I learn about writing the more I drift to the deep POV, but it's nice to know that there's a market for all distances despite current trends. The statistics I found interesting, and I'm curious to know whether genres have trends regarding which POVs are more often used.

    1. Thanks! I'd be curious about that as well. I'll have to start compiling some numbers and see if there are trends.

  3. I enjoy both, and some of my favorite books are Omniscient viewpoint. (`Watership Down' is Omniscient and so is `The Princess Bride.') The great thing about tight POV (at least with writing) is that it forces you not to wonder all over the place. :)

    1. That's one reason I enjoy it so much. Kind of makes me wonder if there's a big group who prefer to read the opposite of what they write, just for the different feel of it.

  4. Thanks for describing the differences so well. I also clicked on your links to previous posts which gave examples. So great! I tend toward deep (or tighter) POV in reading and writing. Probably because I like a lot of romance. Early on in my writing, an agent told me to work on "showing vs telling". I think writing in deep POV helps me to do more "showing." Great info as always!


    1. Most welcome, glad the links were helpful (that's exactly why I add them -grin-). Deep POV definitely helps with showing. I've always felt that POV was the stronger tool a writer has in their toolbox. Nail POV and most of the common writing problems just vanish.

  5. Thank you so much for saying Deep PoV is not the only view. I am still struggling with learning to write that way, because I feel my current way is acceptable, too. With so much emphasis on Deep PoV, it is a bit like being bludgeoned over the head with opinions...that Deep PoV is the Right Way, and anything else is the Wrong Way. Thanks again for a great article!

    1. My pleasure. It dawned on me that I talk more about deep POV since that's what I like, and I was doing a disservice to my readers. There is no "right way" to write and that's not said often enough.

  6. The use of deep POV also relates to genre. Heaven help you if you don't write deep POV in romance because it's about emotions and the senses. Epic fantasy has the least need for deep POV because it's about a great story retold.

    A good thing to remember about deep POV is that it can be hot, warm, or cold at need. I won't go into detail here, but, if anyone is interested in an explanation, go here:

    1. Most definitely, as well as the type of story the author wants to tell. Thanks for the link and the extra info!

  7. This was helpful, because I was asked to critique a coming-of-age YA story written in distant POV. It's not technically flawed, but it doesn't fit genre expectations. Distant POV in my reading experience is more effective for plot-driven stories (middle grade adventure stories, for example, tend to be so). For character-driven pieces like the one I'm finding perplexing, closeness to the character is the raison d'etre, so going distant in kind of shooting yourself in the foot, right?

    1. Depends on the story, but I typically find that, yes. One reason I like YA is for that deep POV. But you do see distant or third omni YA as well. When I run across that in a crit, I usually let the writer know that's how I felt and why, but make it clear that it's a personal taste issue. That way, if the writer just didn't know about genre norms they can fix it, and if they do and this is their choice, they can ignore me.

  8. I think one of the most important things, as usual, is just understanding the alternatives well enough to make an informed choice, for a thoughtful reason, rather than wandering back and forth without realizing it. So great article just for highlighting the differences! :)

  9. The point usually forgotten in the discussion of deep POV versus omniscient is that they are suitable for expressing different things about the character. The advantage of deep POV is alway pointed out. It enables the reader to experience what the character experiences. The advantage of omniscient, however, is that the narrator can comment on the character. If the writer wants to say something about how the character interprets the world subjectively, the narrator can point it out. If the author wants to say what happens in the subconscious of the character, put the character in a larger context, point out things the characters lack of self insight to see himself... the narrator can make any point it wants.

    Some things are hard to say in deep POV without breaking suspension of disbelief, and even when you can you have to say it in a different way. The choice between tight or distant POV is about more than preferred level of intimacy. It is really about wether you want to experience with the character or if you want to comment on it. Of course, omniscient works best if the author has an interesting voice and can make interesting observations. But in the end it boils down to what you want to say and what are you good at saying.

    1. Exactly. A terrific summation, thanks!

  10. Hi Janice, just found this excellent site an subscribed. I know you wrote this article a while back but I found it informative. I'm in the process of compiling research for my novel and stuck on what type of third person pov I'll write it in. I love deep POV as well as omniscient but I see more of a love by publishers for the former. As a reader and book buyer, I'm drawing towards books written in the style the George RR Martin writes. Yes, I'm a GOT addict, but, in reading these books, the style and closeness they are written in, it's the style I want to write my book in. But, with Martins style, I see it described as third limited omniscient. Surely it is also third person deep? Since we get deep in the heads of the POV character though sometimes he uses terms like 'he thought' etc and also italics for the inner voice. Do you know the term for the style these books are written in? Are they a mix of deep and omniscient? I'm trying to find the right terminology so I can get my head around and in focus for the write way to start my writing. The internet is choker block with deep pov material my head spins. Thanks. Stephen.

    1. Welcome! Good to have you, and thanks!

      It's not so much the POV but the narrative distance that gives that close or distant feel. You can have a limited third that feels right in the character's head, or detached like an angel on their shoulder.

      Omniscient is when an outside narrator is telling the story as opposed to the character, and third limited omniscient is the narrator telling the story but sticking to one POV character at a time instead of head hopping.

      Non-omniscient POV is when the person telling the story IS the character whose head the reader is in. That can also be deep or distant depending on the narrative distance.

      A deep POV is any POV that gets deep inside the head of the POV character. That can work with omniscient or tight third/first.

      Here's a post that goes into all this more:

      Hope this helps! Just let me know if this doesn't clear it up for you. POV can be a bit tough to grasp sometimes :)

    2. Excellent. Thanks Janice and thank you for the link too.