Readers want a cinematic experience where they experience what’s happening right alongside the character, drawing the reader in so well that he or she can’t put the book down. The writers’ jargon for this is “deep POV,” or deep point-of-view.
One key component is how you convey the character’s thoughts. Conveying thoughts is, of course, something that’s pretty hard to do in a movie. But in a novel, no problem! Just tell the reader what the character is thinking. Right?
Wait a minute. Not so fast. Notice the word “tell” in the above sentence. We need to show the thoughts, spill them onto the page in just the way the character might think them.
If we’re writing in first person, this may not be not so hard. But how about writing in third person?
Let’s have our character Neil observe a purse-snatching and jump into action to try to catch the perpetrator.
How’s this? “Neil raced around the corner and stopped. He felt his heart race. He saw an empty street. He wondered where the black-haired man had gone.”
That one’s full of telling clue words: “He felt.” “He wondered.” Do you feel distanced from the action? You should. It’s not showing his thoughts but telling them. Yawn. We’re putting the book down.
Let’s try again: “Neil raced around the corner and stopped. Heartbeats thumped in his ears. Where did that guy with the dark hair go? Not a trace in sight.”
Notice I am putting his thoughts onto the page pretty much as they might occur to him. I avoid using “he” as much as possible. Sometimes I might have to use it, but I’ll be careful what words I use it with: action words are best.
So, next time you are reporting what’s going on in someone’s head, try to capture exactly what would be passing through the person’s head. “He saw”? Don’t say that. Just tell us what’s in front of him. And if you find yourself writing “he felt,” “he thought,” or “he wondered,” take a second look!