I want to return to a topic that’s come up before on Word Wenches (but there’s always more to be said on anything and everything) — I’ve been planning my next couple of books, and got to thinking about Point Of View again–-that dear dragon in the structure of any story, the chosen perspective of characters and story.
In my historical romances, generally I keep two points of view, the hero’s, and the heroine’s, and I vary them scene to scene–not within the same scene. Some may add a third point of view, that of a villain, but so far I haven’t tried this variation myself. Keeping to two POVs in a book is third person limited, and for me it serves the purpose, as an aid in developing character and especially the love story, and as a way to keep the story uncluttered, so that the romance and the emotional story are the true heart of the book.
In general for romance I avoid omniscient third person — that all-seeing-eye, which can too often become the eye of the author. When reading books I’m sometimes aware of the author’s presence–and to me, the author needs to stay distant, stay behind the scrim or behind the black curtain and work those puppets without the audience ever catching a glimpse of the creator. For my own books, I avoid mixing POV in the same scene–head hopping–because *I* am the one who will get confused, haha. In my early books I tried this and it never saw the light of day for me, because I realized that I could quickly lose control of the scene that way, and blur the action, the reason, and the emotional prize for that scene, that chapter, that whole book.
I like to keep the POV simple: His ‘n Hers POVs, one per scene, sometimes a whole chapter. It helps focus the story, and I find it also helps to intensify character and give more immediacy to action and emotion, and thus plot and character development, within the story. It’s limited, yes, but it’s handy. When the POV is in the heroine’s head, for example, we know intimately what she’s thinking and feeling. As for the hero in that scene, it’s sometimes very useful to not be in that character’s head–we are the observer then, along with the heroine. His actions, words, and reactions indicate what he’s thinking, feeling, planning to do–all described through gesture, , expression, words, indicated tone, context, and so on. This can be done very subtly, or overtly, depending on what scene, character, and story require just then.
Sometimes if I’m having problems with a scene, it’s not working, it’s not moving ahead, it may be that I’m using the wrong POV. When I rewrite it from the other viewpoint, suddenly it flows again. The main POV should be awarded to the person most affected–either emotionally or in terms of some plot development–by the action in that scene. One psychology technique asks, “Who owns the problem?" –and this is a good question for the author to ask at the start of a new scene, especially where limited his ‘n hers POVs are used.
I’ve also written a book entirely in first person–-that novel will be out next year, and more about that later-–and it was an interesting experience for me as a writer. I have always enjoyed reading first person narratives, and I loved writing it, loved being that close in a character’s head. This is where the author can really get into the character, put on their clothes and be the actor, as long, again, as the author can personally keep out of the story and avoid subjective commentary that does not serve story or characters. I discovered some inherent pitfalls when writing exclusive first person — one is the incessant “I, I, I, I” that comes up with every sentence. To avoid starting every sentence with “I” or peppering every paragraph with that droning me, me, me, me (and that drove me crazy sometimes) — I had to be careful to vary sentence structure, trying to avoid starting too many sentences in a paragraph with “I” for example. With first person, it’s necessary to expand the point of view by expanding the character’s thoughts beyond herself. She had to become a consistent and generous observer for the reader, or the danger was a self-absorbed character, which for my particular book was not the way to go. That can work for character and story, but often not.
Sometimes a book will be written from multiple points of view in first person, and in others stories first and third person will be varied within a story. These are all ways of expanding that first person point of view.
What do you all, as readers, think of His ‘n Hers POV, omniscient POV, bouncing and head-hopping within a scene (does it bother you, or does it enhance the story for you)? And what do you think of first person? Does it drive you mad or does it help make a story come alive?
Do you think first person could work in romance? I’ve always wondered about this, and wonder why we aren’t trying this more often as an interesting variation.