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

The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

Point of View

I was at Colorado Gold Writer’s Conference last weekend, and I honestly do believe it is the best writer’s conference in the United States. The workshops were spectacular, so much so that even NYT best-selling author Jeffery Deaver sat in workshops and took notes. It reminds me that there is always more to learn when you want to improve your writing craft. While at conference I had a conversation with an aspiring author who had issues with a couple of things, but their main issue was a very confused POV.

So what is POV? Point of View or POV actually consists of two ideas; POV dictates whose head the reader is in to view the action (think about looking out through the character’s eyes as if they were a camera), and POV also dictates how intimate the viewpoint of the reader is (does the reader know the character’s thoughts and feelings?) Yes, this is confusing. It is even more confusing because different people use different terms, and sometimes the same terms can mean different things. Don’t get hung-up on the terminology. Think of yourself as a movie camera and what you see as you look through the view finder is POV.

For genre fiction, generally POV breaks down to the use of First Person Point of View (1st POV), or Third Person Point of View (3rd POV). There are other POV options, but I am going to focus on these two today.

1st POV uses “I” for the main character. If you think about POV as being a movie camera, then the main character is the camera and the reader can only see what the main character sees, and know what the main character knows. 1ST POV can also be the sidekick (think Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes) but usually 1st POV is for the main character.

There are advantages and disadvantages to writing in 1st POV.

The advantages:

  • It is easy for the reader to identify with the character because they can get in your character’s head.
  • It is easier to share the character’s thoughts and feelings.
  • It is a great tool if you want to have an unreliable narrator.
  • The writing can be less formal.

The disadvantages:

  • Your character must usually be in each and every scene (there are exceptions to this. Some authors use 1st POV for the main character and 3rd POV for supporting characters. Think Diana Gabladon).
  • It is more difficult for the character to describe him/herself.
  • It minimizes the tool of characterization where your reader learns about the main character when other characters talk about or has an opinion of the main character (unless your character eavesdrops).
  • The use of “I” constantly can be irritating.
  • It is much more difficult to use subplots in your structure which could require your plot structure to be very simple.

3rd POV uses “he” or “she” for the main character. 3rd POV is the most common POV in fiction and offers the most flexibility and variety of options for the writer. Think about being a movie camera and sitting in the director’s chair while two or more actors do a scene.

The advantages:

  • You can use contrasting viewpoints that will entice your reader.
  • Your reader (and you, too) can take a break when you shift between characters.
  • It can broaden the scope of your story by allowing for conflicting viewpoints of multiple characters.
  • It is easier to move between settings.
  • It allows for multiple subplots.

The disadvantages:

  • You must give each character a unique voice so they don’t all sound the same.
  • You can confuse the reader by switching POV too often.
  • It is easy to get lazy and narrate the action instead of show the action (show v. tell).
  • It is easy to head-hop (jump from one character’s head to the next character’s head in the same paragraph, scene, or chapter. *Use only one POV character per scene or chapter, and be sure to use a scene break if you are writing from multiple character’s POV within a chapter).

Mastering POV is important because if you don’t do it well your chances of success are minimal. You will frustrate or confuse your reader and they will throw the book at the wall, or worse, give you a horrible review on Amazon. Sorry. Mastering POV will give you the ability to write characters that your readers will love so they can’t put your book down, and, POV is essential to your ability to write a great plot that keeps the reader turning the page. It’s all connected.

Next time: More POV

POV Trends

If you read much fiction you may notice that stories are written predominantly with first person narrative and third person narrative. Occasionally authors use other narrative forms, however these are usually novels of literary fiction rather than in genre fiction. Genre fiction tends to be more formulaic in the sense that readers have certain expectations of how stories of specific genres are supposed to unfold. This expectation dictates which genres sell well, and consequently what publishers are looking for at any given time. For example, occasionally Western novel sales trend upward and publishers look for Westerns, but when Westerns are not trending upward it is almost impossible to sell a Western to a traditional publisher or small press. Publishers purchase novels based upon what is trending and selling currently or based upon the expectation of what they think will sell in the coming year or two.

First person narrative, also called First Person Point of View (1st POV), generally equates to the point of view of the main character of a novel, though the 1st POV character can be someone who closely observes the mail character. 1st POV uses “I” and/or “we” and allows the reader to see only what the main character or narrator sees, including opinions, feelings, and sometimes inner thoughts. The main character or narrator doesn’t know about all events in the story, they can’t know what other characters are thinking, and they can’t omnisciently know where Uncle Joe’s body is buried unless they were the one to bury it. The reader learns about all the story events at the time the main character does. Some Mysteries and Thrillers are good examples of novels that generally use 1st POV.  Also, many Young Adult (YA) novels are written in 1st POV.

Third person narrative, also called Third Person Point of View (3rd POV) generally relates the points of views of multiple characters throughout the novel to the reader. 3rd POV uses “he,” “she,” “they,” etc. Romance novels are a good example of 3rd POV since both the hero and the heroine have their own stories to tell. 3rd POV shows the reader several opinions and also may show actions that occur away from the main character. Because 3rd POV gives the author much more flexibility to relay information to the reader, it is the most commonly used narrative mode.

Sometimes POV and narrative voice can seem to trend with certain genres so writers adapt their stories to fit the current trends. YA seems to be trending 1st POV lately. Readers want that internal angst that is so captured in YA novels, but not all YA novels should be 1st POV. Romance is usually 3rd POV because readers want to know what the hero is thinking and they want to know the exact moment the heroine discovers she is in love. Sometimes, though, the best way to tell a romance is 1st POV for the heroine and 3rd POV for the hero. It just depends up on the story and the author.

If you are writing genre fiction, choose the POV that works best for you and your story regardless of the sales trends. A well written story trumps sales trends every time.