Thursday, March 1, 2012

Point of View - Part One

I love rules. And I love that rules can be turned on their heads. So I’m going to try to do a little of both here today.

First the rules, starting with the basics: the three types of POV generally used in fiction.

First person is very typical in YA books (starting with the obvious Twilight). This is where the story is told entirely from one person’s POV, and uses ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘my’ and ‘ours’. It's up close and personal. The occasional author shakes it up by mixing first and third person in different scenes.

Third person is the most common form of POV in romantic fiction, and includes what is known as Deep POV. This is where the reader is distanced from the action by the use of words like ‘he’, ‘she’ and ‘they’, yet is able to get right inside the head of the main character.

Another spin-off of this is Revolving Third Person (thank you Sue Moorcroft for introducing me to this term). This is where we get inside the heads of more than one character in the story. Preferably not at the same time. If every other sentence is in another character’s viewpoint, you might give your reader whiplash. This is also commonly known as Head Hopping. Great in smaller doses, but as with everything in life, you can have too much of a good thing.

If (like me) you tend to read romantic fiction almost exclusively, you probably don’t stumble across Omniscient POV very often. If you’d like to broaden your horizons, I highly recommend an historical crime novel called The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld.
This author interweaves third person and omniscient to tell a multi-faceted story. The one thing the story failed to do for me though was draw me in emotionally. While my intellect was intrigued enough to keep turning the pages, I never connected with or empathised with any of the characters.

Omniscient POV is that God-like all-seeing eye. It’s like an impartial film camera. The lens sees all the characters in the room, objectively showing the emotionally detached viewer the expressions of all players in the scene equally.

Or does it? More on that later.

Another ‘rule’ that is often bandied about is that you should write the scene from the POV of the character who has the most at stake. This is where I’m going to start bending those rules. I believe that you should write the scene from the point of view of the character you most want the reader to empathise with.

An example: your hero might have the most at stake. Let's assume this is the scene in which every preconception he's based his life on is turned on its head, and he is forced to reconsider his relationship with the heroine. For him, it's a biggie. So the scene should be in his POV, right?
But what if you want your reader to feel more for the heroine at this point than the hero? Let’s say this is the moment where she quietly but firmly rejects his proposal. He has the most at stake. He’s laying his heart on the line, perhaps for the first time ever. But perhaps you need to show the effort this is costing the heroine to stay true to her own principles. Then you might want to write the scene from her POV. Because even though he has more to lose, she’s the one you want your reader to feel for and identify with.

I’ve just realised how long this blog post has become!

So remember that question I asked earlier whether the omniscient film camera really is objective? I’ll be back again next week with the answer - and some more Vampire Diaries.


  1. Great blog post, Romy. I love learning more about pov, and I'm experimenting with a mix of third and first in a crime novel I've been writing for a while, and finding it really interesting as a writer (whether or not that will translate as a good experience for the reader though is something I'm not sure of at this stage, it's hard work!)

  2. I was just thinking about POV yesterday in a final chapter of a submission and I was driving myself bananas with the rules of it all. I agree with your thoughts on telling the scene from the POV of the character you most want to empathize with...that's my approach, at least!