The Challenges of Limited POV

I recently took part in a discussion about struggling in certain aspects of limited point of view, and full reader immersion with the character. Anyone who writes in this style has the same struggles. Filtering, distance consistency, and what they read in writing books versus what they read in published books.

First of all, let me make one thing perfectly clear: There are no rules in writing.

Filtering in a limited POV (Also known as Deep POV) creates space between the reader and the character. Words like look, felt, thought, and realized are some examples of filters.

Sarah looked at the door.

The door hung off its hinges.

The first example directs us to what Sarah is looking at, while the second shows us what she sees and removes some space between the character and the reader.

You might have to add filters for clarity, other times you don’t. Some writers even add filters to create a certain rhythm for a sentence. You’ll eventually learn how to recognize the difference between needing to have a filter and deleting one over time by revising your book and receiving feedback.

Sometimes you have to add a filter to avoid head hopping—you know, the dreaded flag that you’re writing from Sarah’s POV, but Jeff’s has suddenly taken over the scene. I’ve received a bunch of feedback on my epic fantasy books on this very thing and added “seemed to” or “appeared” to get around it. I realized as time passed in the story, the characters knew each other more and more, and slowly took those filters out. We can be confident in guessing a spouse’s thoughts, and it’s okay if they’re wrong.

I also think some authors are considering how their book will sound if narrated for audio while they’re writing it. Since people can’t hear the italics of inner dialogue or whatever, so you might see some filtering because of that.

I attended Neal Stephenson’s reading of Fall; or, Dodge in Hell last summer, and there was a Q&A at the end. Someone asked if his writing has changed now that audio books are more popular. The short answer is yes. If you listen to Snow Crash and then Fall; or, Dodge in Hell, you’ll hear the difference.

Overcoming these challenges when writing in a limited POV takes practice, patience, and persistence. Keep reading and writing, it’s a great way to “see” around this and what works best for you.

I’ll talk more about full immersion later, but for now, have you encountered this challenge before, and how did you overcome it? Share your tips!

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