Grace's Mosaic Moments

Monday, June 18, 2012


The Intricacies of Point of View

Note: if I ever put all my writing blogs into one book, Point of View should go under “Writing,” not “Editing.” After all, it’s a lot better to get it right the first time than have to go back and tear those chapters apart to get the POV straight. But my blog series, Writing 101, was created in 2011, so for the moment POV is going into EDIT THE BLASTED BOOK, Part 5.


Read the following passage carefully. I consider it the most brilliant example of Omnipotent Point of View I have seen in the Romance genre. That opinion is not simply my own. This passage was read from the stage on Awards Night at the RWA Convention in Chicago in 2000. Today, however, so-called POV purists would label this remarkable passage “Author Intrusion” and tell the author to find another way to present it. Aargh!  See for yourself:

From Carnal Innocence by Nora Roberts, Bantam, 1992:
   Tucker Longstreet enjoyed women, perhaps not with the abandon his baby sister enjoyed men, but he’d had his share. He was known to tip back a glass, too—though not with the unquenchable thirst of his older brother.
   For Tucker, life was a long, lazy road. He didn’t mind walking it as long as he could do so at his own pace. He was affable about detours, providing he could negotiate back to his chosen destination. So far he’d avoided a trip to the altar—his siblings’ experiences having given him a mild distaste for it. He much preferred walking his road unencumbered.
   He was easygoing and well-liked by most. The fact that he’d been born rich might have stuck in a few craws, but he didn’t flaunt it much. And he had a boundless generosity that endeared him to people. A man knew if he needed a loan, he could call on old Tuck. The money would be there, without any of the sticky smugness that made it hard to take. Of course, there would always be some who muttered that it was easy for a man to lend money when he had more than enough. But that didn’t change the color of the bills.
Unlike his father, Beau, Tucker didn’t compound the interest daily or lock in his desk drawer a little leather book filled with the names of the people who owed him. Who would keep owing him until they plowed themselves under instead of their fields. Tucker kept the interest to a reasonable ten percent. The names and figures were all inside his clever and often underestimated mind.
   In any case, he didn’t do it for the money. Tucker rarely did anything for money. He did it first because it was effortless, and second because inside his rangy and agreeably lazy body beat a generous and sometimes guilty heart.
   He’d done nothing to earn his good fortune, which made it the simplest thing in the world to squander it away. Tucker’s feelings on this ranged from yawning acceptance to an occasional tug of social conscience.
Whenever the conscience tugged too hard, he would stretch himself out in the rope hammock in the shade of the spreading live oak, tip a hat down over his eyes, and sip a cold one until the discomfort passed.
   Which was exactly what he was doing when Della Duncan, the Long streets’ housekeeper of thirty-some years, stuck her round head out of a second floor window.
   “Tucker Longstreet!”

~ * ~

Obviously, in addition to an illustration of Omnipotent Point of View, this is one of the best introductory character descriptions in the history of novel writing. BUT, unless you’re a multi-published author with a devoted readership and a flexible editor and publisher, DON’T DO IT! Particularly if you’re writing Category (primarily Harlequin/Silhouette novels under 80,000 words).


The current thought seems to be that authors struggling to be published should stick to the Point of View of the Hero and the Heroine, with the POV of the villain allowed, if applicable. And, yes, I know a few successful first-time authors didn’t follow that rule, but do you want to be published or not? Do you want to insist on doing it “your way” and suffer being told time and time again that your POVs are flawed?

Many non-Category publishers will tolerate multiple POVs (usually up to 4 or 5), as long as the secondary POVs add to the story. But you have to be able to make the switches in a highly professional manner. Therefore, once again, newbies are advised to stick to Hero, Heroine, and Villain. And no matter how many POVs you choose, there is one cardinal rule:

Thou shalt not head-hop!

Keep in mind that some editors feel strongly that authors should write only one POV per scene. I personally don’t agree with this, as many readers prefer to see important scenes through the eyes of both main characters. But if you’re going to switch:

1.    Make the switch apparent in the very first words of the first sentence of the paragraph.

2.    Once you’ve made the switch, stick to that character’s POV until the end of the scene.  Jumping from one head to the other, then back again is an absolute no-no. Even Nora Roberts, queen of slippery POVs, does it only on rare occasions.


Which brings us to what is meant by Point of View. In ancient times Storytellers entertained people by reciting tales handed down by memory. They stood outside the story itself, telling their listeners what happened. Today’s novels, particularly romance novels, require that the Author get inside her main characters’ heads and show us the story through their eyes. Readers want to see what they see, hear what they hear, feel what they feel. DO NOT TELL. SHOW!

Which means, for example:

1.    A hero or heroine cannot know the name of someone to whom he/she has never met.

2.     A heroine can only speculate about what the hero is thinking. She can’t know unless he tells her. And vice versa.

3.    A description, such as Nora Roberts’ description of Tucker Longstreet, has to be given by someone who knows him, not by the author. (Do I agree with this? No, but the attitude among editors, agents, and contest judges at the present moment is too prevalent to be ignored.)

4.    Backstory has to be presented from the viewpoint of the Hero, Heroine, or Villain, not inserted through Author Omnipotence.

Introspection is the term for presenting the hero’s and heroine’s Point of View through their thoughts. In almost all instances, this is done in third person. Save first-person (I) and second person (you) for significant exclamations and/or for emphasis. And when you use first- or second-person, put those words in italics.

Example 1 - Wrong:
Mary drove down Main Street toward her old home. I don’t really want to see it, she thought. I’m just torturing myself.

Example 2 - a possibility, but not recommended:
Mary drove down Main Street toward her old home. I don’t really want to see it, she thought. I’m just torturing myself.

Example 3 - a standard presentation of introspection:
Mary drove down Main Street toward her old home. Seeing it would be torture, but she couldn’t stay away.

Notice the complete change in Example 3. Third-person also incorporates a more professional approach to presenting her thoughts. It’s always best to get right inside a character’s head and present his/her thoughts so seamlessly that no “he thought” or “she thought” is needed.

Additional Note: Even when you are deep inside your main character’s head, you need to toss in a name now and again; i.e., avoid a barrage of “she” or “he.” Readers like to identify with their heros and heroines. Identification becomes really tough when the character’s name is seldom mentioned!

And, remember - above all,  

~ * ~

I’m taking a brief vacation - more Mosaic Moments coming up in mid-July. Meanwhile, I’d be pleased if you checked out my nineteen books (as Blair Bancroft) on Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, et al. (Plus, there are still a few paperbacks out there on Amazon, I believe.) And don’t forget the 20% free reads available on Smashwords.

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