Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Point of View

Soccer 2010 - that's Hailey in the back with the big smile.
Soccer 2017 - Riley & Cassidy in action
When I went to post a photo from the last game of the 2017 soccer season, I found the 2010 photo and I realized I began taking Hailey to soccer skills class in East Orlando in the fall of 2007. So . . . a whole decade of soccer with the three grand girls. (And a lot of learning for me too, as I knew nothing about soccer until moving to Orlando.)

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I've been posting my thoughts on Writing and Editing to this blog since January 2011. In spite of a semi-annual Index, there are now so many posts that even I find it difficult to locate what I need (as happened when I was researching Point of View this week). I would very much like to hear your thoughts on my organizing all these posts into book form - perhaps one on Writing and one on Editing - and making them available (for a modest price) on Amazon and Smashwords. There are, however, so many how-to books that the thought may be ridiculous. So, PLEASE, take a moment to let me know what you think. I like to believe I provide a unique perspective - more personal and less academic than most - but who knows??

REPEAT! I really would appreciate your taking the time to comment on this question. (To express your thoughts on this subject, please scroll down to "Comments" at the very end.)

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A question about Point of View popped up on one of my Author email loops recently, and when I went back to see what I had written on POV before, I decided the subject could use a bit of updating.

What is Point of View?

Point of View refers to the thoughts, actions, reactions, and speech of the person narrating a scene. Are we seeing the scene through the eyes of the heroine? Are we seeing the scene through the eyes of the hero? Are we getting an insight to the villain's inner workings? Or, as sometimes happens, through the sharp eyes of a best friend, close relative, etc. Or, as done so often in classic novels of the past, is the Author acting as Narrator, giving us his/her Point of View? 

For a link to what I consider the finest modern bit of Author Point of View—a previously posted excerpt from Nora Roberts's Carnal Innocence— click here.

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Way, way back in Ages Dark (in the 1980s when the Romance market was pretty much only Harlequin/Silhouette), the rules at H/S stated there could be only one Point of View per scene. (Actually, as I think back to my early days writing Romance in the mid-90s, I believe it was only one Point of View per chapter.) Because H/S was there first, catering to readers who liked  their romance "easy to read," their rules flowed out, coloring what was expected by Romance editors, even in publishing houses catering to a majority of readers who preferred their "reads" more challenging. (And who presumably had read the classics with Author POV and shifts of POV within chapters, and even within scenes, and not found themselves hopelessly confused.)

Which brings up another rule of the time (probably also from H/S, although I can't say for sure). NO Author Point of View. Each scene had to be written from inside the head of the Hero, Heroine, or possibly - at a stretch - the Villain. And that was it. No exceptions. 

As a person who judged contests for a variety of RWA chapters, I wish I had a dollar for all the times I pointed out a violation of this absolute rule. Sigh. And somewhere - buried among all my Mosaic Moments blog posts - I have a post that reads in huge capital letters: DO NOT HEAD HOP! (Well, truthfully, head-hopping can be confusing, so if you're switching POVs in a scene, you have to be careful, but more on that later.)

What is head-hopping?

Head-hopping, to some, means any violation of the old H/S rule. But nowadays it's more likely to refer to changing the POV too many times within a scene. I.e., two paragraphs from the Hero's POV, one from the Heroine, back to Hero for his opinion of some dialogue, back to the Heroine's reaction to what he said . . . and oops! You begin to understand why H/S made that old rule for their authors.

So where's the porridge that's "just right"?

This depends entirely on the skill of the author. If you can handle multiple POVs from the git-go, then go for it. I still consider my first two books, The Sometime Bride and Tarleton's Wife my best work, partially because I wrote them before I ever heard about any "Rules of Romance." [I changed POVs. I had multiple POVs, not just the Hero and Heroine. I had the Hero and Heroine separated for great lengths of time. I included the serious topic of the Peninsular War and touched on Women's Rights, topics that were avoided at the time. The Sometime Bride ran to 140,000 words, etc., etc.]

But if you're tentative about your beginner's skill, there's nothing wrong with a strict one-scene-for-the-heroine, one-scene-for-the-hero style—as long as you keep the story moving forward, not standing at a dead halt while the same subject matter is rehashed from a different POV!. But you should also be aware that there's nothing wrong with switching POVs in a scene, as long as you make it clear in the very first line of the first paragraph of the switch which character is now doing the thinking. 

Here's a story that may clarify the dangers of "one POV per chapter":

 Back when I was just beginning to write Romance, I tried to read a wide variety of Romance novels. One so horrified me I bought it up at a POV workshop at my very first RWA conference. The author had written an entire chapter in the viewpoint of the Heroine. And then, in Chapter 2, proceeded to show the entire same scene from the viewpoint of the Hero! The story did not move forward. Nothing was new. As I recall, I did not go on to Chapter 3. And yes, the workshop presenter - RWA '95 or '96, as I recall - agreed that was a bit extreme, even for those times. So I felt a bit better. 

But when I got my first New York contract (Penguin Putnam's Signet), I knuckled under and followed the rules from then on (fortunately, switching POV mid-scene was allowed). The rules became so ingrained that I could ignore them only when writing Gothics, which have only one POV and more recently . . . when I sat down to write The Lady Takes a Risk, I said to myself, "I'm going to wipe out all the POV rules I've learned and make an effort to write the way I did in The Sometime Bride and Tarleton's Wife (albeit with the humor of my Trad Regencies). And I was so pleased by the result, I intend to continue that approach with any other third-person book I write.

Recommended Approach to Point of View:

Stick to the number of POVs you're comfortable with. Just be aware that readers need to know who's thinking what. If you can make it easy for them to be aware of a switch of POV, then having two POVs in a scene should not be a problem. I don't even frown at getting off a one-liner in another character's point of view if it adds to the story and there's no doubt about who is thinking that particular thought. (You can best get away with one-liners in the final sentence of a scene or chapter.)

In general, if you're going to switch in the middle of a scene, stay in the new POV for the rest of the scene. Yes, you can switch back if you feel it's absolutely necessary, but you have to make it very clear you've made the switch - right there in the first sentence of the new POV. 

And yes, Author POV can sneak in there occasionally. I particularly use it when covering a passage of time; sometimes, when introducing a new character. Keep in mind, however, that Author Point of View distances readers from the main characters who have the primary POVs. It's their story, and as much as possible, they should be the ones telling it. (Yes, authors, I know it's your story, but readers want to get inside the main characters' heads, see what they see, hear what they hear, feel what they feel. And since "thinking" and "feeling" can only be revealed by that character, let them have their moments of revelation. DO NOT stand back and narrate your story like a storyteller of old. Do not "tell" us what they're thinking. Let them tell us. Go with the Heroine's Point of View and the Hero's Point of View. Let us shiver with the Villain's Point of View. And if you feel a secondary character's POV will add to the story, by all means, use it. (Just don't let that secondary character detract from the primary focus on the Hero and Heroine.)

So I guess you could say I'm somewhere in the middle of the POV controversy. Romance, by the very nature of its subject, is more personal. It needs direct Point of View from the Hero and Heroine so we know what they're thinking. On that, Harlequin/Silhouette were totally correct. Even in all its sub-genres of Mystery, Suspense, Paranormal, SciFi, Young Adult, etc., Romance needs to keep the personal touch. (As opposed to some major opuses which seem to be written entirely in Author POV, with only occasional mention of how the main characters feel about what is going on.)

Now that I've thoroughly confused you . . .

Romance authors - it boils down to not being afraid to switch POVs within a scene. (Unless you have an editor who is still old-school enough to expressly forbid it.) Strict POV rules are from long ago and far, far away. Write what you feel, although you must be careful to make any switch immediately apparent. And give proper attribution to a one-liner in a new POV. It's your book. You have a right to say what you want to say without worrying about so-called "rules" that are decades out of date.

It was a 20-year battle to get entrenched authors and editors to replace the 19th c. font, Courier, and the 250-lines-per-page manuscript format for the "book look" of Times New Roman proportional type. And the "rules" on Point of View have been just as foolishly perpetuated. Time to join the modern world, friends. Point of View can be flexible. Not a rigid format with no exceptions.
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For a link to Blair Bancroft's web site, click here.

For a link to Blair's Facebook Author Page, click here. 

Thanks for stopping by,




  1. As you know, I don't write novels. While some people think my POV is delusional, it is not fictional. Nonetheless, I like the idea of your organizing and publishing your writing advice, because I have always found it interesting and I know I can learn from it. In a way, all writing is storytelling.

    Speaking of storytelling, I'm afraid I'm a throwback. If I understand rightly what you are saying, I love the author POV. I enjoy getting into the characters' heads through their dialogue, but I don't want to live there. Perhaps it's part and parcel of my dislike of suspense. I like to stay safely outside the story with the author, who knows the end from the beginning. To me, the greatest miracle of the Incarnation is that God chose to enter directly into his story, leaving behind the safety of his omnipotent POV.

    I consider Tolkien's Lord of the Rings to be one of the best-written books of all time. (The movies, no. They have great scenery but otherwise little to commend them.) If I understand the definition correctly, Tolkien writes largely, if not entirely, from author's POV. On the other hand, I don't appreciate it when the author abuses his privilege. "Little did he know, as he walked gaily through the doorway, that the next time he held his son would be as he placed him softly in a tiny casket" at the end of one chapter, followed by several unrelated chapters before we hear the story behind that event. Ugh.

  2. I love your posts, Grace. You're right -- your approach is unique, flexible, and very readable. Publishing your advice in book form is a great idea.

  3. Thanks, Barbara, for the compliment and for responding to my question. (I thanked Linda in church this morning!) So far, including those who responded by email, the vote is "yes." So I'm starting to take the idea more seriously.