How to Create a Close POV

create close POV image

This week, for Writer Wednesday, we are going to talk about point of view (POV). More specifically, will discuss how to create a close POV. This is one of the mistakes I see a lot of beginning writers make, and it’s also one I still struggle myself with at times in a first draft. So, without further ado, let’s dig in.

Let’s start with this example paragraph:

I heard footsteps behind me, and I knew the man was gaining ground on me. When I looked over my shoulder, I saw that he was only a few feet away. I spotted a knife in his hand, and a sense of dread filled my stomach.

Do you see anything wrong with this short paragraph? In a quick first read, you may not notice anything out of the ordinary. We get a sense of someone, we don’t know anything more about this person, who’s being followed/chased by a man with a knife. And we know this person is afraid, probably with reason, considering the knife.

So, what’s wrong with it?

What is POV?

To explain this, let’s do a quick recap of what POV is again. Point of view a.k.a. POV is the lens through which we choose to tell the story, the character through whose eyes we see the story unfold. Usually, it is one of the main characters.

A story can be told in first, second, or third person POV, and most common are first and third. Then, of course, it can be both past tense or present tense, but the latter distinction doesn’t really matter for our discussion. In our example paragraph, the story is told in first person POV past tense.

For most people, that’s where their knowledge of different POVs ends. There is another important distinction: the difference between close POV and distant POV.

Close vs Distant POV

A close point of view means you are as close to the character as possible. You are seeing everything that happens as it happens, through the character’s eyes. There is no filter between the action and what the character experiences.

In a distant point of view, however, there’s a bit more distance between the narrator and the story. There’s a filter, an extra lens through which we experience the story. If this still doesn’t make sense, let’s take our example paragraph to illustrate the difference.

Our example paragraph was a classic case of distant POV. The whole paragraph is stuffed with filter words, which I did on purpose, of course. Filter words are the very words that create the distance between the narrator and the story. Here’s the paragraph again, but now with all the filter words underlined.

I heard footsteps behind me, and I knew the man was gaining ground on me. When I looked over my shoulder, I saw that he was only a few feet away. I spotted a knife in his hand, and a sense of dread filled my stomach.

Filter words often are related to our senses, and they describe the narrator using their senses to see, hear, touch, smell, or taste. Other famous filter words have to do with the brain, like thinking, knowing, realizing, etc.

The key with filter words is that they can often be eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence. All they change is that they make the POV closer. Look what happens when we eliminate the filter words from our paragraph.

Footsteps rung out behind me. The man was gaining ground on me. When I looked over my shoulder, he was only a few feet away. He clenched a knife in his hand, and dread filled my stomach.

Why Does Close POV Matter?

The reason a close POV matters is because it creates more urgency and because it allows readers to grow much closer to the characters. Nine out of ten times, when readers complain they can’t emotionally connect with a character, it’s because the POV in the book is too distant.

There could be other reasons, of course, like an unlikable character, or the author not spending enough time on character development. But even when those two aspects are covered, a distant POV will still make readers feel disconnected to the characters.

The fix is relatively easy, although it can be a lot of work, if a writer has been consistent in using these filter words. All that needs to be done is taking out all the filter words and tightening the sentences. It will not only make the book read faster, but it will allow readers to feel much closer to the characters emotionally.

Sometimes, authors may deliberately create a more distant POV. This could be the case when the narrator is unreliable, for example. In romance, this is usually not the case, but in darker stories or thrillers, authors may choose a POV that is unreliable. In that case, a more distant POV can create the necessary distance to this character.

Writers also use a more distant POV whenever they choose narrator they want readers to dislike. Because of the increased emotional distance, the disconnect is easy to achieve by using a lot of filter words. But usually, a writer has to be pretty proficient in close vs distant POV to pull this off.

In short, if you want to create a close POV, it will mean ruthlessly eliminating all filter words. This is a lot of hard work in the beginning, but if you keep doing this consistently, you’ll find yourself becoming more and more proficient in this, even when writing a first draft.

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