Sunday, July 17, 2011

Writing Point of view (POV)

In her book Mastering Point of View, Sherri Szeman defines point of view as “how a novel is written.” She gives multiple options for traditional POV: first, second, unlimited, outer limited, inner limited and combo.

No matter the genre, commercial romance has specific requirements of POV—generally either first person or a version of inner limited, which is also called third person.

Sherri writes, “The author picks one character and pretends (s)he is in that character’s head, limiting the information presented to the inner life of that chosen character. The author reveals all the thoughts, feelings and motivations of that character, but writs about him in the grammatical third person, using he, she, it or they to refer to his character…

“The author stays out of the head of all other characters in the novel. He doesn’t present any of their thoughts, feelings or unspoken motivations unless they are revealed in dialogue to, or in the presence of, the character from whose perspective he is telling the story.”

The POV rule in Romance has been to limit POV changes through the story. But romance writers can be rebellious and independent. We like to test the rules. I feel the rule of POV should be: as long as the reader can follow who’s talking and walking (and thinking and acting), POV changes are okay.

That said, it’s a good idea to limit the number of POV changes in any one chapter to no more than three. And the changes in POV perspective must drive the plot. A scene written from the villain or killer’s perspective can greatly heighten tension.

I tend to write like I’m watching a film. Maybe it’s because I’ve watched so many. Maybe it’s because my #1 writing craft book is “Screenplay” by Syd Field.
Movie scenes offer multiple points of view. There’s also B-footage, those shots of the full moon night sky, or an overhead of traffic on the LA freeway system. But those don’t fit into a modern romance novel.

We need to know that Jane is getting into the shower and, as warm water cascades down her body, she’s thinking about how stupid she was to run away after Jake kissed her last night. It was his last night home before heading off to Afghanistan, and he’d asked her to marry him. She’d not given him an answer, and now it was too late. He was gone and she wouldn’t be able to tell him why she couldn’t say yes, despite how much she wanted to. He didn’t know about Sam. And she didn’t know how to tell him.

Now, we could write the next scene in Jake's POV, describing the anger he feels toward Jane as the 747 jets across the ocean. How she's rejected him. How he wanted to know she would be waiting for him. He'd heard she'd been preoccupied with some guy named Sam. She'd probably been sleeping with him, and that's why she bolted when he'd kissed her. Damn it! If he hadn't tried to undo her bra, maybe she would have been honest with him. Or maybe not. Maybe she really was the town slut, and he was better off forgetting about her.

Then, what if Sam is a three-year old mixed race baby that Jane's been trying to adopt. Sam can't have a POV, realistically. And what if Jake has always insisted that he wanted kids of his own. HIS own. ...

Pretty clear cut points of view. As long as each section is in either Jane's or Jake's POV, the reader gets both sides of the story and can be immersed in the drama.

No head-hopping. No confusion.
Just pure satisfaction.

Should be easy, right?
But is it?


  1. Ah. POV can be a tricky thing. Being ingrained deeply in a character's POV really gives us insight and depth into that person. Deep POV is essential to developing characters.

    I don't mind POV switches within a chapter. I like to 'see' and 'hear' how each character is dealing with a situation. It helps me to know what motivates each of the characters and where they are coming from.

    However, too much head-hopping can be confusing and disorienting to the reader. I read a book once where the author went into the heroine's head, the hero's head, and a random third person's head...all within a couple of was in the middle of a paragraph. This is NOT good. (The book was really, really awful...)

    Love scenes tend to be places where authors can get away with a little bit more head-hopping than usual.

    I also read a lot of YA which tends to be written in first person...which is an entirely different experience.

    Great post. Lots of food for thought.

  2. Great comments, Debra. POV for YA is not my forte.

    I do lots of critiquing in the FTHRW on-line group. POV is a hot topic.

  3. Hi,

    Fab post. And, one thing I hate in POV switches is when one character says something like:

    She challenged him. "Can you honestly think that of her?" She knew what he was thinking, what he would say next.

    He was wise to this angle. It was Patsy's way of manipulating the conversation so that he was in the wrong. "Of course, I can. She set me up, goaded me until I snapped."

    Well that was not the expected response she'd had in mind. Surprise. Surprise. He was wise to her motive for putting him on the spot. "Yes, but she's so young and inexperienced."

    Here we go. Patsy's throwing the you're an adult into play. "Her age is no excuse for what she did, nor of the confidential matter she let slip outside these walls."

    Don't you just hate those tag lines where each supposedly knows what the other is thinking and and how they'll respond. There's no sense of place, the only thing the reader can quantify is mental jousting between the MCs.

    Perhaps a quarter chapter each could be much more fun, incorporating little snippets of descriptive elements re action gestures, posture and facial descriptions alongside inner thoughts. It only takes a subtle break, say telephone call mid battle or a delivery to switch POV.

    Thought provoking post, Ana.


  4. When I first started writing, the rule was heroine's POV only, and that became so firmly ingrained in me that now I sometimes find it hard having both heroine and hero POV, especially knowing when to change from one to the other. I suppose you could say I'm still experimenting! It certainly doesn't come as naturally to me as one POV did.
    I don't mkind POV changes within a chapter, as long as there aren't too many changes happening too quickly. But, as we all know, head-hopping from one to the other during a conversation either confuses the reader or, maybe more importantly, doesn't allow the reader to identify with one particular character at that stage in the story.
    The other thing which really jumps out at me when I read a story is when the author goes into omniscient mode - "She didn't see the look he gave her when she turned towards the door." If she didn't see it, then this is no longer in her POV!

  5. Julia Quinn gave a great seminar on POV and how to switch within a scene, something she's masterful at! It was terrific. I agree with you, Ana, that as long as the reader clearly knows who's POV they're in, I think it's fine if there are a few changes along the way.

    By the way, I love the examples you gave. Don't know if they're from your WIP or something you came up with just for this, but now I want to read more! :)

  6. Great topic. When I first started writing, I didn't even know what the term POV meant. lol Needless to say, I've come a long way.

    I don't mind head hopping within the chapter as long as it's clear who is speaking or thinking at the time. I like to know all the characters.

    Great examples!

  7. Thanks, Karen! Irresponsible POV is a story killer for me. It's funny: I didn't know what POV was, but it's smooth when done right. When it's done wrong, it bongs like a hit on the old tv Gong Show. I've gotten mad at The Nora for making me reread pages.

    Jen, I made that up as I was crafting my post. It does sound like good backstory, doesn't it!

    Paula, we've all learned rules can be broken--and we won't get in trouble. Whoo hoo!!!

    Francine, you are sooo right. A phone call or dropped spoon can serve as a POV switch-er. And when the switch advances the action, it's helpful and smooth.

  8. I'm like Karen, I had to go on-line to figure out what POV was - among other things. Great post and the comments are great.

  9. Thanks, P.L.
    How are you doing writing POV?

  10. Lol It's never 'that' easy is it? Great post!

  11. I've never been able to write multiple POVs. I stick to 3rd person limited. I'd like to experiment with multiples, but it always ends up Omni, to me anyway.

    I read few books in multiple also. Guess I'm just biased that way. I've seen some stories that use multiples quite effectively though. Some authors were born with the skill.


  12. Good POV points.

    I was looking for your 1st adult book read ;O)