Welcome to Ravenna’s Monday Mumblings!
Today we’re going to talk about POV – Point of View.
Pretty basic, right? And yet, writers struggle with this. Point of view is the perspective from which a speaker or writer recounts a narrative or presents information. This is also known as viewpoint. The stronger your POV, the stronger your voice.
As a writer, you’re not stuck writing in only one POV unless that’s what your publisher insists on. In romance novels, the standard was deep third person, past tense for a long time, with the story mainly being told from the heroine’s POV. As a reader, I prefer to have the hero’s POV as well, but not necessarily in small doses.
I tend to write about fifty-fifty, third person deep, past tense, from both the heroine’s and hero’s POV in my novels.
With the popularity of YA, and of books like the FSoG trilogy, first person POV past tense and first person present tense are making serious inroads into romance novels.
Personally, unless it’s VERY well done, I can’t stand to read anything in first person POV, past or present tense. To Kill A Mockingbird is still my gold standard for first person, past tense. The Hunger Games trilogy is it for first person, present tense.
It takes a skilled writer to pull either one off, but then it also takes skill to pull off deep third person, past tense, without the internal monologue spilling over into exposition (the dreaded TELL!) arena.
Let’s back up and define all these terms.
In first person POV, we only have one side of the story – the narrator’s. The POV character is the one telling you the story. That’s why it takes a very skilled writer to give the reader any insight into the hero, if the POV character is the heroine. Kristan Higgins pulls this off beautifully.
In first person, present tense POV, again, we only have one side of the story, but we’re right there, in the thick of it, as the heroine or POV character feels it, hears it, sees it, does it, says it, tastes it, or smells it. Again, Suzanne Collins did a superb job with this POV in all three Hunger Games books.
The challenges with first person POV, past or present tense, are too many “I” statements, and a lack of insight into any other characters. Chick lit romance, as one example, uses this POV to great effect, as the genre tends toward self-deprecation and introspection.
Second person POV is rarely done for entire novels. It’s similar to breaking the fourth wall in movies. It addresses the reader directly. “You, dear reader, may not agree with Sally’s intentions here, but never fear. She will make the right choice in the next chapter.”
A clever narrative trick, perhaps, but I’m not sure I’d enjoy it used too often in any book. For one thing, it would pull me straight out of the story, and you generally want to avoid doing that to your readers for any reason.
Third person POV is the most commonly used. You can still tell a chapter, or the entire book, from one person’s POV, but you’re not using “I” statements. It’s commonly told in past tense as well. It’s the easiest one to write, because we read it so often. And, if you know how to do it, you can still get deep into the POV character and make it as personal and immediate as first person. That’s where knowing how to write internal monologue comes into play.
Third person POV also has several sub-categories, depending on the source you’re reading. Additionally, some sources will tell you that third person POV is “always” the narrator’s voice, but that isn’t true. IMHO, they confuse “narrator” with “author.” You can still write a story in third person POV and make it as personal as first person POV.
There are multiple sources that list sub-categories of third person POV, and some even contradict each other. Here are the ones I was able to find a consensus on…
Limited is similar to what I call “deep” third person POV. The narrator only knows what the character knows, hence, the readers only know that information as well. Even within this, the writer can choose to tell the story more as a narrator, where he or she has access to information outside the POV character’s viewpoint. Think of the Harry Potter books. These were written in third person limited, and with a few exceptions, stayed inside Harry’s head. Stephen King also tends to write this way.
Multiple involves staying in third person, but switching back and forth between POV characters. The trick with this one is giving readers cues as to when the switch takes place. Otherwise, this is seen as head hopping, and is a no-no. Although, anyone who is familiar with Sherrilyn Kenyon or Nora Roberts knows that head hopping without confusing readers IS possible. But it’s tricky to pull off, and you need a skilled writer to accomplish it.
Omniscient is where the narrator knows everything. He/she can make comments about what others don’t know, is aware of things others don’t know, and can see inside the minds of other characters. This is the POV which, if the writer isn’t careful, places the most distance between the readers and the characters.
Especially important in romance, you want your readers to identify with your heroine and your hero. You don’t want that distance. By writing in a way that places them squarely in the character’s minds, you can accomplish this.
Until next week, Happy Writing!!