The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

POV Soapbox

After last week’s post on POV, I’ve been thinking about POV rules. I was contacted by someone asking about the particular POV they must use to write a story in a particular genre. It irked me. Not the person asking the question, but the whole POV rule concept.

There are some out there in internet land who say there are rules which must be followed with regard to genre. It goes something like this. “All books of this genre must be written in first person point of view,” or whatever. It’s a load of bunk. The most important thing to know about POV is that the majority of opinion about which POV a novel is written in is based on preference (your preference, the reader’s preference, the editor’s preference, the publisher’s preference) and sales. Don’t confuse preferences with rules. There are no absolute rules (except for one in my opinion. See below) with regard to genre fiction and which POV to use. Know also, that sales can dictate preferences for a particular POV as well. If a certain book, written in a certain POV, in a certain genre, sells well, people (readers, editors, publishers) may very well prefer that particular POV in that particular genre for some random timeframe, until the next best-seller with a different POV influences people differently.

POV is subjective. For example, romance usually begins with the heroine’s POV and is usually limited to two POV characters (the heroine’s and the hero’s) and each POV has equal time throughout the story. But, there are some romance novels that use 1st POV for the heroine and switch to 3rd POV for the hero. See? There is no specific rule that says, “Romance must be written using this POV and this POV only.” Romance writers simply choose to usually write in 3rd POV because that makes the most sense for their story structure which has two main characters of equal weight, who fall in love with each other, and have a happily ever after.

Generally, use the POV that will work best for your story, and take into consideration how you want to express yourself, what your readers need to know, and how they need to learn information. It would also be a good idea to look at best-sellers of your particular genre so you see can what the current preferences are. You don’t have to use that POV, but it would be a good idea to know those preferences and be clear on why you are choosing a different POV.

The rule and I do consider it a rule rather than a preference is this: Do not to mix POVs in a single scene. This is called head-hopping and it is confusing to absolutely everyone except you because you wrote it and you know who is speaking. Good overall stories get rejected all the time because the author switches POVs in a single scene. So, make sure you are in only one character’s head at a time per scene. That’s it. That’s the one rule about which POV you should use. If you need to jump inside another character, break the scene like this:

Mary’s POV blah, blah, blah.


John’s POV blah, blah, blahty blah, blah.

To reiterate the point, if you jump between Mary’s POV and John’s POV in a single scene, it is difficult for the reader to know, from sentence to sentence, which character is speaking at any given time. Editors hate it, and I expect it is one of the main things that sends manuscripts back to new authors for revision prior to publication. That is if it doesn’t get rejected in the slush pile.

So don’t do it. Use the scene break.

It is also smart for those of you who are switching between POVs to make sure that you don’t jump the story timeline. Jumping back and forth in time is confusing and can almost be as bad as head-hopping. There have been stories constructed with timeline jumping as a technique, but generally, it is best to stick with the timeline. If you confuse your reader they will put your book down and get another one. There are so many books published each year (approx. 1,000,000 in 2014 per Bowker) that you don’t want to give your reader an excuse to pick up someone else’s book. You want them to love your book, to love your characters, to love you as an author.

Help your readers. Write the best possible book that you can.

Things to remember about POV

1st POV is about intimacy. Everything your reader sees, hears, and experiences, comes through one character. Your character is a film camera and all they experience is what your reader experiences, but your reader only sees the action from this one character.

3rd POV gives you some distance. Your reader can get information from multiple characters. It’s like a film camera that watches your characters as actors on stage, and it can focus on one character at a time, but then cut to another character with a scene break.

Consider your story structure, and how you want to deliver information to your reader, and then choose which POV is best for you. It’s your preference. And then when it is written, it is the preference of your reader (and editor, and publisher). Okay. I am off the soapbox now.

Next: Reader’s choice.  Email with topics you would like to see at oosuzieq AT gmail dot com

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