Tuesday, July 28, 2020

How to Weave Setting Into a Deep Point-of-View

By Bonnie Randall

Part of The How They Do It Series 

JH: A sense of place can transport a reader to your story's world. Bonnie Randall shares tips on how deep point of view can enhance your novel's settings. 

The art of Deep Point-of-View projects everything within a scene through the unique lens of a character. Deep POV incorporates the goal / motivation / current conflict into this projection, but is also mindful of many other variables that make up the character, including:
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Culture
  • Ethnicity
  • Geography
  • Era/Generation
  • Education / lack thereof
  • Profession
  • Beliefs
  • World View
  • Values
  • History
  • (And others).

A character’s perspective will be slanted and colored by each of these things, and when a reader is afforded the highly personal perspective crafted from these variables, it forges a deeper connection with and immersion into that character’s experience and psyche.

Every scene in a body of fiction can be rendered deep POV by applying the aforementioned elements into how the scene is described and relayed—including setting.

Following are two examples of scenes from my WIP which, although both are still first-draft unrefined, are efforts at pulling further down into Deep POV in order to build a sense of setting. Contrast each pair and consider which elements were added and / or removed in order to get deep into the highly personal psyche of the character and how they perceive their surroundings:

1. A Generic Postcard Versus a Personal Visit

(Psychic Natasha has seen her own tombstone in a glimpse of the future, and is traveling to the town whose graveyard it’s in).

Twelve hours through the Rockies had left her spent and jittery; all those ascents, descents and hairpin turns were not for the faint of heart.
Ho, hum. This was more of a placeholder than a genuine passage, and there’s so much wrong with it: it tells instead of shows, is clichĂ© versus fresh, and impersonal versus deep. This could be (and is) anyone’s journey through the mountains. It does not resonate, tells me nothing about the character, and adds little other than a transitory passage to the story.


Natasha wished she could have enjoyed a leisurely trek here like all the tourists who’d snailed along…only to pull off abruptly (and why bother signaling?) into every roadside turnout. How many pictures of themselves looking small against the Rockies did they need? Then braking at all the fruit stands that had cropped up along the highway as it descended into the Okanagan Valley. Fruit wasn’t even in season yet; the stands were all closed. So why stop? She wondered if maybe the way the false fronts made the stands look like old-fashioned saloons had charmed them somehow.

Wondered too if perhaps the way she’d driven—as though she could outrun the sand in the imaginary hourglass strapped to her dashboard, beat the way it was racing toward the date behind the dash on her tombstone—had raised their eyebrows too; she’d floored her jeep hard enough to make its heat gauge visibly yowl, tearing up the mountains. Then filled her cab (and maybe theirs) with the stench of brakes burning rubber every time she’d underestimated the plunges and hairpins upon the descents.
Texture. Sharper visuals. Presence. Goals, conflict, and subtle cues about the character—she’s an outsider looking in, perpetually wishing she was like other people, yet also not truly understanding what normal is; only guessing. Also, she displays a sense of empathy here; yes, the sedate tourist crowd frustrated her, but she was also keenly aware that she may have frustrated, or even scared, them.

Contrasting these two passages above, there are obvious, major changes. But going deep can also mean making mere subtle changes. As follows:

(Here's more on 3 Secrets to Writing Vivid Settings)

2. Turning Transitions into Thematic Tells

(Same WIP, different character. Here I need Owen to get from the café to the graveyard, so had to create an incidental transition that would land him there.)

After Rob dropped him off, he did a quick run to The Sundry, a catch-all ma ’n pop shop on Main. The proprietor, Sharon, had always wore hippie garb that somehow matched her soft features and mass of red hair. Tonight the hippie garb hadn’t changed, but the rest of her looked like one of those age-advanced pictures you could generate on social media. A step forward into an artificial future, except the future was now. Time had passed and, just like when he’d looked out the window at Bisque and Blooms, it was disorienting. Made him feel like a stranger who was yet not a stranger as he set his shampoo, toothpaste, and coffee on the counter to pay.

“What’s this?” Sharon held up the bag of dark roast he’d picked. “You don’t want a local blend?” She gestured to a wall display, coffee beans infused with flavors of peach, plum, and cherry, all the Okanagan’s usual suspects.

“I’m not quite that adventurous.”

She laughed. “Well, you sure look adventurous, Owen. Where’s that clean cut little boy who used to come in here and moon over my penny candy?”

“Buried underneath all this hair.” And about a million other things.

Sharon tilted her head. “Well, I think you look great.” She sounded like she meant it. “Welcome home.”

It was more than he’d got from his mother.
As far as deep goes, this is okay—but the following, subtle changes make it even deeper:

The last time he’d been to The Sundry he’d rode a pedal bike, not a Harley, and Sharon, the shop-keep, had had a mass of red hair—not the barbed cap of strawberry and salt she had now.

“Well, look at you,” she said.

And look at you. He tried not to stare. Her face, the same, but different, reminded him of one of those age-advanced photos used for missing people. It was like a step forward into an artificial future, except…the future was now. Time had passed and it made him feel like a stranger who was yet not a stranger as he set his shampoo, toothpaste, and coffee on the counter.

“What’s this?” Sharon held up his bag of dark roast. “You don’t want a local blend?” She gestured to a wall display, coffee beans flavored with peach, plum, or cherry, all the Okanagan’s usual suspects.

“I’m not quite that adventurous.”

She laughed. “Well, you sure look adventurous, Owen. Where’s that clean cut little boy who used to come in here and moon over my penny candy?”

“Buried underneath all this hair.” And about a million other things.

Sharon tilted her head. “Well, I think you look great.” She sounded like she meant it. “Welcome home.”

It was more than he’d got from his mother.
What’s different? Aside from a bit more concise (always a bonus as I am way too long-winded), the author-intrusion of ‘a ma-n pop shop’ is gone; that’s how I, an observer, would think of this store—not how Owen, a former local, would view this store. He would never be that detached. Also, now there’s action (‘he tried not to stare’) instead of rote description (hair, hippie garb). There is also a shift from age-advanced photos being something you could generate on social media to something used to assist in finding a missing person—a subtle change of perspective, but important because Owen is a police officer. This would be his frame of reference.

Any other changes you see that deepen either passage? 

(Here's more on How to Set Tone and Mood in Your Scenes)

What about tossing up comparisons of your own in the comments? Let’s dive into a couple setting passages to see how their perspective changes, deepening when you apply the strict and unique lens of your characters’ eyes to the scene.

Your turn!

Bonnie Randall is a Canadian writer who lives between her two favorite places—the Jasper Rocky Mountains and the City of Champions: Edmonton, Alberta. A clinical counselor who scribbles fiction in notebooks whenever her day job allows, Bonnie is fascinated by the relationships people develop—or covet—with both the known and unknown, the romantic and the arcane.

Her novel Divinity & The Python, a paranormal romantic thriller, was inspired by a cold day in Edmonton when the exhaust rising in the downtown core appeared to be the buildings, releasing their souls. The series continues with her newest release, Within the Summit's Shadow.

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Andrew Gavin knows he's a train wreck. Before he even became a detective, Andrew’s first trauma—at only seventeen—occurred when he witnessed a gruesome suicide. Ever since, a delusion he calls The Dead Boy appears when his anxiety spirals too close to the edge…


Goaded by The Dead Boy, Andrew shoots and kills an unarmed teenage bully in what appears to be a fit of rage. Suspended from the force, and awaiting a possible murder charge, he retreats home to the Rockies. There The Dead Boy taunts him daily. Except…


Elizabeth McBrien, the childhood sweetheart he scorned, is back home in the mountains too, and shocks Andrew by revealing that she too sees The Dead Boy. Astonished that the spirit is not a delusion, but real, Andrew is further unnerved when he learns that The Dead Boy has ‘befriended’ Kyle, a gravely ill kid Elizabeth adores.

Now it's specter vs. cop in a race to save Kyle's life, and The Dead Boy insists that Kyle’s survival hinges on secrets Andrew holds about that long-ago suicide. Yet Andrew knows the entire truth will destroy him, and also annihilate any new chance he may have with Elizabeth. But they are running out of time; Kyle is dying, and The Dead Boy is ready to sacrifice anything in order to once again walk among the living…

Within the Summit’s Shadow is a paranormal romance unlike any you’ve ever read. Set in the resort town of Jasper amid the splendor of the Canadian Rockies, this novel combines love, mystery, and a persistent, deeply psychological, very personal haunting. Randall really delivers the goods with this one.”


  1. Love it! As always you captivate readers!

    1. Thank you - deep POV almost always makes scenes longer, but I always end up feeling it was worth it

  2. Excellent! I shared it with some writers I'm mentoring as we've been discussing the ins and outs of getting into deep POV for several weeks. Thanks!

    1. You are welcome! I hope it’s helpful.
      I love the intensity of Deep POV

  3. Thank you, Bonnie! I struggle with deepening my character — this has helped. I appreciate your expertise.

  4. You are so welcome. The intensity of Deep POV really keeps readers tethered into the story.

  5. I have such trouble with this. Thanks for sharing the comparisons.

    1. You are welcome! Use the bullets listed above to entrench yourself deep into your character

  6. Sasha Anderson7/29/2020 12:39 PM

    Hi Bonnie!

    As Janice probably knows by now, I'm not a Deep POV person - my own preference is very much for omniscient narration that actually narrates. That said, I feel like it can't hurt to have as many tools as possible at my disposal, so I've had a go at this exercise :)

    First, a question. One of the things you point out about your first Natasha example is that it tells instead of shows - but so does the second one, no? Wouldn't showing be more like, "Natasha floored the gas and watched her heat gauge yowl. The car in front pulled off abruptly, and she slammed on the brakes. She could smell burning rubber."...?

    Here's my original example, as it came out. Note that I wrote this on the fly right now, so take it with a pinch of salt!

    Example 1: After drifting through the streets for an hour or more, Jen ran across a cafe that suited her purpose perfectly: an old-fashioned Coffee House sign of polished wood and bronze, and the bitter scent of its wares wafting towards her. With a half smile, she pushed open the door. Staff straight from Debrett's, or so she imagined, led her to a table dressed in white linen, and as soon as one of them had taken her order - Earl Grey, lemon - she began to pile books onto it.

    I really struggled to know what to do with this. I tried to "go deeper", but it will be obvious from the result that this is something I am not at all good at. I tried to make it more "showy", but ditto. Again, this is straight off the top of my head, no polishing, but I assume you'll admit it's much worse than the first version. I'm certainly not writing off the whole method - I think it's disingenuous when so many writing teachers compare and contrast good showing with bad telling and act as though the style is the cause of the difference in quality, so I don't want to be guilty of the same thing myself! Rather, I'd appreciate any help or advice on how to better implement your method, please! Thanks :)

    Example 2: Jen saw a cafe with a sign that said Coffee House. It looked quite old-fashioned, and she could smell the coffee coming from inside. This would do. She went in, and a man in a posh outfit welcomed her and led her to a table.
    "What would madam like to drink?" he asked.
    "I'll have a pot of Earl Grey with lemon, please," Jen said. She opened her bag and started putting her books on the table.

  7. Bonnie, I have a question (if it's not too late) ... from what I recall, you can't (or perhaps better, shouldn't) use such deep POV descriptions everywhere, otherwise your work gets much longer (since doing the deep POV descriptions usually takes more words).

    Is there a "rule" or guideline that you have on when you should use it, and when it's okay to do the shorter / faster / more expedient not-so-deep POV? Is it just for scenes / transitions that are somehow "more important?

    Thanks! Great article!