If you’ve read some of my reviews lately, you may have noticed me harping on about “close POV.” (Or the unfortunate lack thereof.) I realize that this phrase might look like gobbledygook, so I thought today that I would explain what I mean when I say close POV, why I like it, and some quick ways to implement this in your own writing. Just a head’s up: once you start writing this way or noticing these techniques in the books you read, you will really notice when authors don’t write in this way, and it will annoy you.
So “close POV” stands for “close point of view.” I often say “close 3rd POV” or “close 1st POV.” “1st” and “3rd” stand for “first/third person point of view.” Explaining the differences between these terms is a little bit beyond this blog post, but here’s a good explanation if you need it.
“Close” is the key word, and it refers to the closeness of the reader to the main character. Ideally, the reader should feel like they are the main character themselves, rather than a camera following the main character around. Feelings, thoughts, actions, observations—all these things need to be written in a natural, engaging, “show, don’t tell” way that tethers the reader to the main character.
But wait, you might ask, what about first person POV? Isn’t that the absolute definition of being as close to the main character as possible?
Actually, no. There are many books out there written in first person that feel like the narrator is, well, narrating. If there is any sense that the narrator is talking to the reader, then this isn’t close enough to qualify. Consider the opening lines of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song.
Now this is a story all about how
My life got flipped, turned upside down
And I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there,
I’ll tell you how I become the prince of a town called Bel-Air.
Apologies for getting that stuck in your head. You see how it feels like we all just settled down around a campfire, ready to hear Will Smith tell us an awesome story? Close POV does not do that. Instead, it’s visceral and raw, as if you’re a neuron in the main character’s mind.
Here are some simple tips to implement close POV in your writing.
“Verbs of the Head” Must Go!
Get rid of “verbs of the head.” Nothing annoys me more than seeing a sentence like this:
Marge wondered to herself who this “Slenderman” was that her niece was always going on about.
If Marge is the main character, we know she’s the one doing the wondering. So why is “wondered to herself” necessary?
The answer is that it’s not necessary, so just ask the damn question: Who was this “Slenderman” that her niece was always going on about?
Another (bad) example:
Barbie squinted at her reflection in the mirror, seeing something that gave her pause. Was that a wrinkle? she wondered. God, I’m getting old, she thought.
And the fix: Barbie squinted at her reflection in the mirror, something giving her pause. Was that a wrinkle? God, she was getting old.
See how much smoother that is? Plus now there’s no need for awkward italics to indicate character thoughts. (Also, notice how “seeing” is also a verb of the head you can sometimes get rid of?) So quick rule of thumb is to adjust your sentences to be more direct, eliminating any of the following example verbs if at all possible:
- thought (this is the big one)
Show, Don’t Tell is Fucking Important!
Mary felt sad.
God, don’t you just feel that in your gut? Don’t you just understand exactly the level and depth of Mary’s sadness? How her eyes are watering or stinging? How she knows this is going to be a big cry—and where are the fucking tissues?! How she’s trying to dam up the tears by pushing her tongue to the roof of her mouth? How it feels like a cold stone weight has settled over her shoulders?
Oh, you didn’t get any of that from Mary felt sad? How strange.
So don’t tell the reader about the main character’s feelings. Show them how those feelings are making the character feel and act. Is your character nervous? Probably they’ll have heightened or dulled senses, perhaps a quickening pulse or breath. Is your character confused? Maybe they’ll blink a few times rapidly or rattle off a litany of questions in their head. If you have a hard time coming up with these sorts of details, I highly suggest brainstorming what you yourself feel and do under the influence of different emotions, then looking up body language guides if you’re stuck.
Narrative Descriptions in the Character’s Personality
Which of these sounds more like the internal thoughts of your typical horny teenage girl?
I looked in the mirror and smiled. The merlot-red dress caressed my every curve. Perfect.
I looked in the mirror and smiled. The dress clung to my hips just right. Fuck-me red—perfect.
So maybe your character will think like the first example, but more likely it’s the second one, right? The first one feels a little too old, what with “caressed” and the wine reference.
What I’m trying to illustrate here is that detailed description alone doesn’t mean you’re achieving close POV. The character’s personality and identity should inform the narration, glimmering through whenever it can. It’s hard to do, but this is what will take your close POV from a B to the A+ range.
I sort of hesitate to put this in here, but I think it bears mentioning. Present tense POV is increasingly popular, especially in YA, and the reason is that it’s an easy way for the POV to feel closer, even if it’s not. For example, I walk to the store is just as blah and boring as I walked to the store. There’s nothing inherently wrong with using present tense, but first off, understand that you’re going to annoy some readers by writing this way. Secondly, present tense shouldn’t be the only technique you’re using to achieve closeness, lest your narration come across as plodding and boring.
I hope this guide proves useful to people who are trying to write close POV. Please don’t take all this to mean that I am some sort of all-knowing writing guru, because I am not, but I do truly believe that these techniques make stories more interesting and engrossing, and I do my best to use them in my own writing as much as possible.
Feel free to drop a comment down below if you use these techniques or others to bring your POV closer! Which authors do close POV really well? Any recommendations?