To POV or Not to POV?

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What a great anniversary blog we had on Monday & Tuesday (we thank you!), so it's a bit of a challenge following that one … so I thought I'd simply bring up an interesting and perpetual topic in historical fiction — that of POV or point of view — and I'd love to know what you all think about the many variations in historical fiction.


Highland Groom Detail Limited third person: In my historical romances (here's a closeup of the gorgeous cover for my Sarah Gabriel, THE HIGHLAND GROOM), generally I avoid head hopping within one scene (mostly because I am the one who gets easily confused, haha) — I find it's too easy as the writer to lose control of the scene and dilute its potential. And I like to keep things simple: I write His and Hers POVs, one per scene, sometimes one per chapter. It helps to focus a story that has two main protagonists, and it helps
intensify character definition and development. A limited third person, with an intimate sort of spin, can add immediacy to the story. And we get to see each of the two main characters from two distinct angles — either in their head or from the other's perspective.

I'll rarely add even a third POV for a villain, as I like concentrating the story energy on the H & H — the essence of romance being two! 

Highland Groom Reduced JPG Choosing who owns that scene, or that emotion, or that incident, is the challenge with any POV, even first — generally the scene should be owned by the character who stands the most to gain or lose at that moment in the story (or the one who's most engaged at the time in moving the plot forward). Sometimes we writers don't know who that is until we're in the thick of writing — many times I've entirely revised a scene from the other character's perspective, and found it works way better. I don't always know until I get there — no matter how much planning I do beforehand (hence, at times, not a lot!).

For LADY MACBETH, I ventured into first person territory and in the early writing stages, I was a little nervous, having never taken on that sort of thing — but I quickly found that I love it. Having written third/hero and heroine, for so long, here was a character who could let it all hang out, and at times she did. The character can jump off the page and become real … but the writer has to make
Lady Macbeth paperback cover judicious choices about how far to take that "I, I, I" that can move or dominate every page. Sometimes we don't WANT to know every single thing this person is thinking and doing. As readers, we don't want the character to nag or drone or bore us. We want that character to be continually unfolding before our eyes.

First person is a great tool for getting into character as well as story — and the reader has to do some of the work in figuring out who this person is, which can invest a reader more deeply in a story. The writer shouldn't have to tell the reader what this person is about. Sometimes the thoughts and actions presented are actually indicating the opposite of what is happening — a first person character is not always omniscient, and the role of the reader then adds the depth. That, along with the refreshing voice of a character who can truly speak up, is one reason I love writing first person. AND I love the way first person neatly limits a story and keeps it from spreading out all over the place. This is so handy in books that are limited in word count by the publishers' decision. In the case of LADY MACBETH, the story could have been huge–but seen from her perspective and experience only, there were natural boundaries that helped to focus the plot and story.

I also bracketed the story, prologue and later, with present tense first person, which I found very liberating to write, and really barreled the story along when needed — though I haven't tried it for an entire book, I'd love to sometime. It's challenging and very interesting, though sometimes seems to defy its own logic.

QueenHereafter.rvsd[1] For QUEEN HEREAFTER (coming in December 2010!) I used a mix of first and third. The book features three main characters: Queen Margaret of Scotland, a Celtic harper named Eva, and Eva's kinswoman, Lady Gruadh, aka Lady Macbeth (it's partly a sequel!). Each one is initially seen in first person POV – so they get their direct say and establish their personalities and dilemmas right up front — and the story resumes in a close or limited third person, so that we know only what they're thinking, observing, doing. I wanted to capture the intimacy of first person, while keeping most of the story in third person perspective to keep the tone at an intimate level, while panning out the camera into longer shots as needed. Queen Margaret was a very complex lady, with idiosyncracies and layers of piety and fiestiness. If she were to be seen in first person POV entirely, we would never get past her own subjectivity (and constant prayer), so her story really needed the perspective of another character such as Eva or Lady Macbeth, who have sometimes very different points of view on things than saintly Queen Margaret.

So there you go, in a nutshell, the primary points of view that I've tried. What I'd love to know from you all — what do you enjoy most in POV — the third, the first, the present, the past tense … the omniscient overview, the zoomed-in close-up? 

Do you sometimes not notice POV at all?  Do you like the comfort and wider perspective of third, or does first person attract you, intrigue you … or simply drive you bats?

Susan


40 thoughts on “To POV or Not to POV?”

  1. Before I found out what POV was, I never noticed it. The first time someone said head-hopping to me, I said “What?”. Now that I know what it is, I can see it in action, and the errors, too.
    Although, they may not really be errors. Head-hopping is bad if it confuses the reader. But if the reader understands what’s going on, it’s OK. The example I think of, besides Nora, is Regency author, Sandra Heath. She always had a myriad of characters, and they all had their say, often within the same scene without a break. And I never got confused. Her stories are real page-turners, and I never noticed the changing POV’s.
    Nowadays, romances mostly stick to the H/H POV’s. Trends change.
    As for first person, it’s OK, and so is mixed first and third. If I like the book, I like the book!

    Reply
  2. Before I found out what POV was, I never noticed it. The first time someone said head-hopping to me, I said “What?”. Now that I know what it is, I can see it in action, and the errors, too.
    Although, they may not really be errors. Head-hopping is bad if it confuses the reader. But if the reader understands what’s going on, it’s OK. The example I think of, besides Nora, is Regency author, Sandra Heath. She always had a myriad of characters, and they all had their say, often within the same scene without a break. And I never got confused. Her stories are real page-turners, and I never noticed the changing POV’s.
    Nowadays, romances mostly stick to the H/H POV’s. Trends change.
    As for first person, it’s OK, and so is mixed first and third. If I like the book, I like the book!

    Reply
  3. Before I found out what POV was, I never noticed it. The first time someone said head-hopping to me, I said “What?”. Now that I know what it is, I can see it in action, and the errors, too.
    Although, they may not really be errors. Head-hopping is bad if it confuses the reader. But if the reader understands what’s going on, it’s OK. The example I think of, besides Nora, is Regency author, Sandra Heath. She always had a myriad of characters, and they all had their say, often within the same scene without a break. And I never got confused. Her stories are real page-turners, and I never noticed the changing POV’s.
    Nowadays, romances mostly stick to the H/H POV’s. Trends change.
    As for first person, it’s OK, and so is mixed first and third. If I like the book, I like the book!

    Reply
  4. Before I found out what POV was, I never noticed it. The first time someone said head-hopping to me, I said “What?”. Now that I know what it is, I can see it in action, and the errors, too.
    Although, they may not really be errors. Head-hopping is bad if it confuses the reader. But if the reader understands what’s going on, it’s OK. The example I think of, besides Nora, is Regency author, Sandra Heath. She always had a myriad of characters, and they all had their say, often within the same scene without a break. And I never got confused. Her stories are real page-turners, and I never noticed the changing POV’s.
    Nowadays, romances mostly stick to the H/H POV’s. Trends change.
    As for first person, it’s OK, and so is mixed first and third. If I like the book, I like the book!

    Reply
  5. Before I found out what POV was, I never noticed it. The first time someone said head-hopping to me, I said “What?”. Now that I know what it is, I can see it in action, and the errors, too.
    Although, they may not really be errors. Head-hopping is bad if it confuses the reader. But if the reader understands what’s going on, it’s OK. The example I think of, besides Nora, is Regency author, Sandra Heath. She always had a myriad of characters, and they all had their say, often within the same scene without a break. And I never got confused. Her stories are real page-turners, and I never noticed the changing POV’s.
    Nowadays, romances mostly stick to the H/H POV’s. Trends change.
    As for first person, it’s OK, and so is mixed first and third. If I like the book, I like the book!

    Reply
  6. Great exposition of POV, Susan! Like you, I have occasions when I need to rewrite a scene from someone else pov, and it isn’t always clear at first whose view should be used.
    I think readers tend to notice first person because it’s immediately different from any variation of third or omniscient. Overall, though, like Linda said, if the story is working, pov isn’t really front and center: the story is what matters.
    A lot of mysteries and YAs are in first person and it works well. I like first person a lot, actually. But my first YA, which will be out in early 2011, is a close third person with no other povs, simply because I felt it worked best. The second book will probably add in a few dashes of other povs to open the story up. Will it work? We’ll see. *g* Lesson isn POV never end!

    Reply
  7. Great exposition of POV, Susan! Like you, I have occasions when I need to rewrite a scene from someone else pov, and it isn’t always clear at first whose view should be used.
    I think readers tend to notice first person because it’s immediately different from any variation of third or omniscient. Overall, though, like Linda said, if the story is working, pov isn’t really front and center: the story is what matters.
    A lot of mysteries and YAs are in first person and it works well. I like first person a lot, actually. But my first YA, which will be out in early 2011, is a close third person with no other povs, simply because I felt it worked best. The second book will probably add in a few dashes of other povs to open the story up. Will it work? We’ll see. *g* Lesson isn POV never end!

    Reply
  8. Great exposition of POV, Susan! Like you, I have occasions when I need to rewrite a scene from someone else pov, and it isn’t always clear at first whose view should be used.
    I think readers tend to notice first person because it’s immediately different from any variation of third or omniscient. Overall, though, like Linda said, if the story is working, pov isn’t really front and center: the story is what matters.
    A lot of mysteries and YAs are in first person and it works well. I like first person a lot, actually. But my first YA, which will be out in early 2011, is a close third person with no other povs, simply because I felt it worked best. The second book will probably add in a few dashes of other povs to open the story up. Will it work? We’ll see. *g* Lesson isn POV never end!

    Reply
  9. Great exposition of POV, Susan! Like you, I have occasions when I need to rewrite a scene from someone else pov, and it isn’t always clear at first whose view should be used.
    I think readers tend to notice first person because it’s immediately different from any variation of third or omniscient. Overall, though, like Linda said, if the story is working, pov isn’t really front and center: the story is what matters.
    A lot of mysteries and YAs are in first person and it works well. I like first person a lot, actually. But my first YA, which will be out in early 2011, is a close third person with no other povs, simply because I felt it worked best. The second book will probably add in a few dashes of other povs to open the story up. Will it work? We’ll see. *g* Lesson isn POV never end!

    Reply
  10. Great exposition of POV, Susan! Like you, I have occasions when I need to rewrite a scene from someone else pov, and it isn’t always clear at first whose view should be used.
    I think readers tend to notice first person because it’s immediately different from any variation of third or omniscient. Overall, though, like Linda said, if the story is working, pov isn’t really front and center: the story is what matters.
    A lot of mysteries and YAs are in first person and it works well. I like first person a lot, actually. But my first YA, which will be out in early 2011, is a close third person with no other povs, simply because I felt it worked best. The second book will probably add in a few dashes of other povs to open the story up. Will it work? We’ll see. *g* Lesson isn POV never end!

    Reply
  11. From Sherrie:
    Brave you, Susan, to tackle a subject that can become volatile among writers! POV happens to be one of my hot buttons. *g*
    In my other life, I’m a freelance editor, and my passion is helping fledgling writers hone their craft. One of the biggest problems I see in coaching clients is that most of them don’t fully understand POV, and it’s a real shock to them when I explain it. When I tell them to imagine the story is being seen through the lens of a camera strapped to the head of the protagonist, they say it’s too limiting. Many of them resist using POV correctly at first, arguing that they want the reader to view the scene from the viewpoint of all the characters involved. They don’t understand that this can become confusing, diluting the scene’s impact. OTOH, using one POV can intensify the scene and put it on a very personal level for the protagonist.
    I’m a POV purist, but I tell my clients that if they want to use multiple POVs, they should learn to do it correctly. And to do it correctly, they really need to understand how POV works, and to recognize where, in a scene, they can safely shift POV for maximum effect.
    I’ve seen examples by skilled writers who used 2 POVs during a scene, but they didn’t head hop back and forth. Head hopping drives me right up the wall and makes me so impatient that I usually stop reading the book.

    Reply
  12. From Sherrie:
    Brave you, Susan, to tackle a subject that can become volatile among writers! POV happens to be one of my hot buttons. *g*
    In my other life, I’m a freelance editor, and my passion is helping fledgling writers hone their craft. One of the biggest problems I see in coaching clients is that most of them don’t fully understand POV, and it’s a real shock to them when I explain it. When I tell them to imagine the story is being seen through the lens of a camera strapped to the head of the protagonist, they say it’s too limiting. Many of them resist using POV correctly at first, arguing that they want the reader to view the scene from the viewpoint of all the characters involved. They don’t understand that this can become confusing, diluting the scene’s impact. OTOH, using one POV can intensify the scene and put it on a very personal level for the protagonist.
    I’m a POV purist, but I tell my clients that if they want to use multiple POVs, they should learn to do it correctly. And to do it correctly, they really need to understand how POV works, and to recognize where, in a scene, they can safely shift POV for maximum effect.
    I’ve seen examples by skilled writers who used 2 POVs during a scene, but they didn’t head hop back and forth. Head hopping drives me right up the wall and makes me so impatient that I usually stop reading the book.

    Reply
  13. From Sherrie:
    Brave you, Susan, to tackle a subject that can become volatile among writers! POV happens to be one of my hot buttons. *g*
    In my other life, I’m a freelance editor, and my passion is helping fledgling writers hone their craft. One of the biggest problems I see in coaching clients is that most of them don’t fully understand POV, and it’s a real shock to them when I explain it. When I tell them to imagine the story is being seen through the lens of a camera strapped to the head of the protagonist, they say it’s too limiting. Many of them resist using POV correctly at first, arguing that they want the reader to view the scene from the viewpoint of all the characters involved. They don’t understand that this can become confusing, diluting the scene’s impact. OTOH, using one POV can intensify the scene and put it on a very personal level for the protagonist.
    I’m a POV purist, but I tell my clients that if they want to use multiple POVs, they should learn to do it correctly. And to do it correctly, they really need to understand how POV works, and to recognize where, in a scene, they can safely shift POV for maximum effect.
    I’ve seen examples by skilled writers who used 2 POVs during a scene, but they didn’t head hop back and forth. Head hopping drives me right up the wall and makes me so impatient that I usually stop reading the book.

    Reply
  14. From Sherrie:
    Brave you, Susan, to tackle a subject that can become volatile among writers! POV happens to be one of my hot buttons. *g*
    In my other life, I’m a freelance editor, and my passion is helping fledgling writers hone their craft. One of the biggest problems I see in coaching clients is that most of them don’t fully understand POV, and it’s a real shock to them when I explain it. When I tell them to imagine the story is being seen through the lens of a camera strapped to the head of the protagonist, they say it’s too limiting. Many of them resist using POV correctly at first, arguing that they want the reader to view the scene from the viewpoint of all the characters involved. They don’t understand that this can become confusing, diluting the scene’s impact. OTOH, using one POV can intensify the scene and put it on a very personal level for the protagonist.
    I’m a POV purist, but I tell my clients that if they want to use multiple POVs, they should learn to do it correctly. And to do it correctly, they really need to understand how POV works, and to recognize where, in a scene, they can safely shift POV for maximum effect.
    I’ve seen examples by skilled writers who used 2 POVs during a scene, but they didn’t head hop back and forth. Head hopping drives me right up the wall and makes me so impatient that I usually stop reading the book.

    Reply
  15. From Sherrie:
    Brave you, Susan, to tackle a subject that can become volatile among writers! POV happens to be one of my hot buttons. *g*
    In my other life, I’m a freelance editor, and my passion is helping fledgling writers hone their craft. One of the biggest problems I see in coaching clients is that most of them don’t fully understand POV, and it’s a real shock to them when I explain it. When I tell them to imagine the story is being seen through the lens of a camera strapped to the head of the protagonist, they say it’s too limiting. Many of them resist using POV correctly at first, arguing that they want the reader to view the scene from the viewpoint of all the characters involved. They don’t understand that this can become confusing, diluting the scene’s impact. OTOH, using one POV can intensify the scene and put it on a very personal level for the protagonist.
    I’m a POV purist, but I tell my clients that if they want to use multiple POVs, they should learn to do it correctly. And to do it correctly, they really need to understand how POV works, and to recognize where, in a scene, they can safely shift POV for maximum effect.
    I’ve seen examples by skilled writers who used 2 POVs during a scene, but they didn’t head hop back and forth. Head hopping drives me right up the wall and makes me so impatient that I usually stop reading the book.

    Reply
  16. It’s one of those things that you only notice when it’s done poorly! I used to hate first person because it was so limiting and if you didn’t agree with their POV you lost interest. Lately I’ve read some really compelling first person so I’m converted. For me it’s about writing style and if the story moves along with sufficient tension I don’t really care; I’m a reader not a writer and I bow down to editors!

    Reply
  17. It’s one of those things that you only notice when it’s done poorly! I used to hate first person because it was so limiting and if you didn’t agree with their POV you lost interest. Lately I’ve read some really compelling first person so I’m converted. For me it’s about writing style and if the story moves along with sufficient tension I don’t really care; I’m a reader not a writer and I bow down to editors!

    Reply
  18. It’s one of those things that you only notice when it’s done poorly! I used to hate first person because it was so limiting and if you didn’t agree with their POV you lost interest. Lately I’ve read some really compelling first person so I’m converted. For me it’s about writing style and if the story moves along with sufficient tension I don’t really care; I’m a reader not a writer and I bow down to editors!

    Reply
  19. It’s one of those things that you only notice when it’s done poorly! I used to hate first person because it was so limiting and if you didn’t agree with their POV you lost interest. Lately I’ve read some really compelling first person so I’m converted. For me it’s about writing style and if the story moves along with sufficient tension I don’t really care; I’m a reader not a writer and I bow down to editors!

    Reply
  20. It’s one of those things that you only notice when it’s done poorly! I used to hate first person because it was so limiting and if you didn’t agree with their POV you lost interest. Lately I’ve read some really compelling first person so I’m converted. For me it’s about writing style and if the story moves along with sufficient tension I don’t really care; I’m a reader not a writer and I bow down to editors!

    Reply
  21. Anne can do a head hop like nobody’s business and you don’t realize until three or four pages have gone by that she did it, if at all.
    I’m a third person kind of reader and I guess, writer as well mostly because I want to know what each character thinks and you never really do in first person.
    Loving anniversary week!
    I can haz more Sharpe? 😉

    Reply
  22. Anne can do a head hop like nobody’s business and you don’t realize until three or four pages have gone by that she did it, if at all.
    I’m a third person kind of reader and I guess, writer as well mostly because I want to know what each character thinks and you never really do in first person.
    Loving anniversary week!
    I can haz more Sharpe? 😉

    Reply
  23. Anne can do a head hop like nobody’s business and you don’t realize until three or four pages have gone by that she did it, if at all.
    I’m a third person kind of reader and I guess, writer as well mostly because I want to know what each character thinks and you never really do in first person.
    Loving anniversary week!
    I can haz more Sharpe? 😉

    Reply
  24. Anne can do a head hop like nobody’s business and you don’t realize until three or four pages have gone by that she did it, if at all.
    I’m a third person kind of reader and I guess, writer as well mostly because I want to know what each character thinks and you never really do in first person.
    Loving anniversary week!
    I can haz more Sharpe? 😉

    Reply
  25. Anne can do a head hop like nobody’s business and you don’t realize until three or four pages have gone by that she did it, if at all.
    I’m a third person kind of reader and I guess, writer as well mostly because I want to know what each character thinks and you never really do in first person.
    Loving anniversary week!
    I can haz more Sharpe? 😉

    Reply
  26. Interesting you should choose to write on POV today.
    Personally, I think any of the POV combinations will work in a story. Which you choose to use will affect what you story is like. If the story is well written, the reader will usually not notice the POV. It is working and the story flows the way it should.
    Unless I make a conscious effort to look for POV, I don’t notice it. A book I read a couple of weeks ago was the exception. The author was switching from hero to heroine POV within the chapters and I was getting confused. I did a lot of rereading to
    figure out who was talking.
    Thanks for a thought provoking post.

    Reply
  27. Interesting you should choose to write on POV today.
    Personally, I think any of the POV combinations will work in a story. Which you choose to use will affect what you story is like. If the story is well written, the reader will usually not notice the POV. It is working and the story flows the way it should.
    Unless I make a conscious effort to look for POV, I don’t notice it. A book I read a couple of weeks ago was the exception. The author was switching from hero to heroine POV within the chapters and I was getting confused. I did a lot of rereading to
    figure out who was talking.
    Thanks for a thought provoking post.

    Reply
  28. Interesting you should choose to write on POV today.
    Personally, I think any of the POV combinations will work in a story. Which you choose to use will affect what you story is like. If the story is well written, the reader will usually not notice the POV. It is working and the story flows the way it should.
    Unless I make a conscious effort to look for POV, I don’t notice it. A book I read a couple of weeks ago was the exception. The author was switching from hero to heroine POV within the chapters and I was getting confused. I did a lot of rereading to
    figure out who was talking.
    Thanks for a thought provoking post.

    Reply
  29. Interesting you should choose to write on POV today.
    Personally, I think any of the POV combinations will work in a story. Which you choose to use will affect what you story is like. If the story is well written, the reader will usually not notice the POV. It is working and the story flows the way it should.
    Unless I make a conscious effort to look for POV, I don’t notice it. A book I read a couple of weeks ago was the exception. The author was switching from hero to heroine POV within the chapters and I was getting confused. I did a lot of rereading to
    figure out who was talking.
    Thanks for a thought provoking post.

    Reply
  30. Interesting you should choose to write on POV today.
    Personally, I think any of the POV combinations will work in a story. Which you choose to use will affect what you story is like. If the story is well written, the reader will usually not notice the POV. It is working and the story flows the way it should.
    Unless I make a conscious effort to look for POV, I don’t notice it. A book I read a couple of weeks ago was the exception. The author was switching from hero to heroine POV within the chapters and I was getting confused. I did a lot of rereading to
    figure out who was talking.
    Thanks for a thought provoking post.

    Reply
  31. I think the when a story is well written, regardless of the point of view the story is told in, you feel connected to the characters and involved in the situations they are struggling with. That is all that matters. I love them all equally as long as they speak to you the author than the POV usually rings true for me the reader. Can’t wait for Dec 2010 and release of QUEEN HEREAFTER.

    Reply
  32. I think the when a story is well written, regardless of the point of view the story is told in, you feel connected to the characters and involved in the situations they are struggling with. That is all that matters. I love them all equally as long as they speak to you the author than the POV usually rings true for me the reader. Can’t wait for Dec 2010 and release of QUEEN HEREAFTER.

    Reply
  33. I think the when a story is well written, regardless of the point of view the story is told in, you feel connected to the characters and involved in the situations they are struggling with. That is all that matters. I love them all equally as long as they speak to you the author than the POV usually rings true for me the reader. Can’t wait for Dec 2010 and release of QUEEN HEREAFTER.

    Reply
  34. I think the when a story is well written, regardless of the point of view the story is told in, you feel connected to the characters and involved in the situations they are struggling with. That is all that matters. I love them all equally as long as they speak to you the author than the POV usually rings true for me the reader. Can’t wait for Dec 2010 and release of QUEEN HEREAFTER.

    Reply
  35. I think the when a story is well written, regardless of the point of view the story is told in, you feel connected to the characters and involved in the situations they are struggling with. That is all that matters. I love them all equally as long as they speak to you the author than the POV usually rings true for me the reader. Can’t wait for Dec 2010 and release of QUEEN HEREAFTER.

    Reply

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