I recently had the opportunity to interview bestselling author (and AWC presenter) Dr Kate Forsyth about her novel The Crimson Thread. We took a deep-dive into Deep Point Of View – and the conversation was so good, I simply had to share.
How would you define deep point of view?
Kate: “Deep point of view is something I teach a lot – it’s one of those things that you [as a writer] are meant to know how to do intuitively but, of course, intuition is always informed by instinct.
“Deep point of view is when the experience on the page – everything on the page – is expressed through and filtered through your point of view character’s senses, their knowledge of their world and their lived experience. The way we express it is sometimes called psychic distance, sometimes called narrative distance.
“So imagine you have a camera and you have your camera on the widest possible view and you see a figure, from the outside. You see them in their surroundings, in their landscape. Let’s say it’s a young woman, in a snowy forest. She’s dressed all in black. You can see what she’s wearing, you can see what surrounds her. This is the objective narrator. The outside view.
“And then we take a step closer. Now we are close enough to see this young woman’s face. We can see if her eyebrows contract or her mouth quirks or she’s waving her hands around or if she makes an impatient movement with one shoulder. We see her actions, but we’re still seeing her from the outside.
“Then we take a step closer and we slide inside our character’s skin. Now we’re seeing what she sees – we’re no longer seeing her from the outside, we’re seeing through her eyes. So we see the snowy forest, we feel the cold biting through her thin clothes and striking up through the thin soles of her boots. We hear the haunting cry of a raven as it flies over the forest. We taste a snowflake on her tongue. We are privy to all of her sensory experiences of the world and we no longer see her from the outside. We see what she sees.
“Now let’s burrow a bit deeper, into her brain. It’s very intimate now. We are so deep inside her skin that we are conscious of the rumble of hunger in her tummy. We’re conscious of the quickened pulse beat as she hears something coming towards her. We’re privy to all of her internal experiences as well as her external experiences.
“And if we really nestle down and stay still and quiet, like a worm in her brain, we’ll be able to hear her thoughts. We’ll even know her unspoken thoughts, her hidden fears and desires, her repressed memories, what she dreamt last night, what she feels when she sees that handsome young man walking towards her – the sudden twist in the pit of her stomach that could be fear or could be desire.
“That is deep point of view. When we are so deeply embedded in the psyche of our character that we know what they don’t even know themselves.”
How do you make it work on the page?
Kate: “There are a number of different ways to do it. I like to start outside – I like to make sure that my readers know exactly where and when we are and what’s happening before we slide too deeply into my character’s point of view. Because deep point of view doesn’t ever explain anything. When we’re walking down a street, we don’t ever say ‘it was a fine spring morning on the beach in Sydney and Kate was hungry’. That’s not what we do.
“I like to use the objective narrator to orient the reader in space and time and give them a sense of where they are and what the situation is, and then I take them by the hand and lead them, step by step, into the skin of my characters.
“One way we do this is through indirect discourse. Direct discourse is when two people are having a conversation and we use a dialogue tag (he said, he shouted, she murmured). But when we slip inside someone’s head – for example, ‘Gosh I’m hungry,’ Kate thought as she walked along the beach’ – that’s indirect discourse. It’s framed like dialogue, but unspoken.
“Then we have free indirect discourse, which is where we take away even the thought tags (Kate thought, Kate wondered, Kate remembered) – the things that indicate the character is thinking. When we abandon all thought tags and are simply in the moment, listening to the stream of consciousness of our character’s thoughts, that is free indirect discourse – and that is deep point of view.”
The key to getting deep point of view right
Kate and I agree that the key thing to remember with deep point of view is that every detail comes back to your character – who they are, what they know.
And that means you need to consider every metaphor, comparison, experience, vocabulary choice and bit of research you use.
“With research, I only need to know what my character would know,” says Kate. “In The Crimson Thread, for instance, my research might tell me all about what the British Command was planning for Crete but [my character] Alenka doesn’t know that because Alenka is there, living in the moment. So any time I said something like ‘if only she knew the Nazi planes were gathering’, I’m out of her point of view and that breaks the spell.
“What I like to do is to embed my reader so deeply inside my characters that they feel they know them intimately and they know what drives them, what they fear and what they want and I don’t have to explain things that they wouldn’t explain. I have to find other ways to teach my readers what they need to know to understand what’s going on.
“So I tend to move fluidly in and out of psychic distance, using the objective narrator when I need to do so. It’s a great advantage of writing in third person, with multiple points of view.”
Allison Tait is the author of three epic middle-grade adventure series for kids: The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher and the Maven & Reeve Mysteries. A presenter at AWC and former co-host of the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast, Al’s next middle-grade novel will be out in July 2023. Find out more about her at allisontait.com.