OMG... Where to start? What POV should I write my short story from?
Have you ever wondered why one author writes from 1st person while another one writes from 3rd?
I’m not going to bore you to tears or attempt to take you back to your high school creative writing class. The purpose of this article to discuss how you can avoid complications and/or rejections by making sure you write your next manuscript in the correct POV or Point of View.
To simply things, let’s begin where every writer begins, making the decision -- which POV-- First or third?
In first person narration, the narrator; the one who says I all the time is in control of your story. Written much like an autobiography the story is told from one person’s POV only. In every scene he is the one who uses his senses (sees, touch, smell, taste, etc.) which guides the reader through your story. Remember, if he cannot see it, neither can you or the reader.
I’ve read multiple stories where the author will switch back and forth from one character to another in first person narrative, usually the hero and the heroine. This allows the reader to become involved in the story from the other person’s perspective (think heroine) even if your hero is not in the same room. The key to doing this successfully is to remain in that characters 1st person POV. I’ve also know authors, including myself, who deliberately left out the identity of a character you are talking from. This tends to be a very useful technique when an author is writing mysteries or thrillers and you are writing from the killer’s or antagonist’s POV.
One of the most unusual novels I read this past year, which you do not see that often, actually switched from 1st to 3rd person every other chapter. I will admit I was surprised how well the author pulled it off. It was an amazing tale of a suicidal has-been rock star primarily told from the 1st person. On alternating chapters the author would fill in the blanks of his story in 3rd.
In third-person narration, whether limited, omniscient or deep, the author has the freedom to guide the reader down the story brick road to see what everyone sees, hears and feels, but remember, too many view points can take away from your story just as much as it can enhance it. You definitely wouldn’t want to describe a party scene from everyone that was in attendance, would you? It is said that every time you jump from one character to another in the same scene you actually separate the reader from the 1st person’s experiences. Sometimes, this can leave the reader empty, rather than doing what the author hoped for; giving more exposure to the scene.
Personally, I think there is one major exception to this and that would be the intimate love scenes. Quite often in romance novels, you will see both couples in bed. The author will focus on the hero’s actions, writing what he feels, sees, etc. then a paragraph or so down the page the author will switch to the heroine. The author may do this several times until all actions and feelings are expressed though each POV. Nora Roberts has become a master at this as well as many others.
Although it is not recommended to describe every scene from both heroine and hero it may become necessary to show both viewpoints of the same scene, particularly if that scene is one where the heroine and hero are at odds, each seeing things differently. A few years ago, I set two chapters aside in my manuscript to do this. It was their official meeting and they were in total opposition on what each experienced. To help the reader have a better understanding I felt it necessary to write the same scene from their individual deep POVs. It seemed to work out for me, for them and for the book. In case you are wondering that scene is the initial meeting between Gabriel and Jennifer in Eternal Lovers. Gabriel is overcome with emotion, traveling back in the past to a time when he first feel in love with an Egyptian priestess while Jennifer, on the other hand is extremely afraid of Gabriel's size and mannerisms.
There are several things that are frowned upon within our industry with the first one on my list being too many Points of Views within the same novel or within the same scene. With the increase of soap operas and night-time addicting series, television has spurred on a wide range of new thinking when it comes to POV shifts. Take a look at some of the award winning HBO and SHOWTIME series and you’ll see what I’m about to talk about. Game of Thrones is gearing up for it’s forth season; a multi-plotted adventure with a complete cast of characters where the audience visits a vast array of scenes. My PNR series is written much like a night-time soap/series in the 3rd person POV. Even though I have a specified hero and heroine per book there is a cast of characters a mile long in that series. I gambled, broke a few rules and wrote this series in multiple POVs. I even had one review say, "Jesus, even the butler has a POV, but, this author has pulled it off effectively allowing the reader to get a real insight into her massive character's roles.
To avoid un-necessary complications, I ask myself the following questions before I ever sit down to write out the scene then hopefully I will have my answer on whose POV should I write it from.
(1) What is this scene about and does it move the story forward?
(2) Who has the most to loose or gain from the scene?
(3) Who is able to see everything in the scene?
As I previously mentioned, switching POVs mid-stream in a scene is not recommended, unless it can be avoided. The third question above I added while writing the first book in my PNR series. I’ll explain below and hope you will see why I did what I did.
Saying this particular scene was very difficult for me to write is an understatement. At first, I wanted to write the scene from the heroine’s POV. She opens the hotel door, sees her husband in the arms of another, screams and within moments is shoved out the door to the hallway for her protection and is a catatonic state when the hero arrives.
Did I forgot to mention I also tend to be a rule breaker? Oh yeah, I did. I started a romance story with a married heroine... another big no-no in the industry. To save my heroine’s face and get her out of a marriage I needed to create a situation no one could ever blame her for leaving, which would indirectly set her free to be with the hero of the story.
Back to the drawing board… I tried writing it from the hero’s POV. Sadly, he enters the scene too late for the reader to know what happened before she became catatonic. I knew I needed to guide the reader into the room and to have someone who was in that room the entire time who could describe in detail what took place before and after the main event.
I also knew I was gambling with this scene even though it was essential to the story. You see my heroine’s husband wasn’t with his girlfriend; he was in the arms of another man. Not wanting to give my readers a bad impression towards gays, I also had to tread lightly where the male couple was concerned. I finally made the decision to try something new. Even though the husband’s lover was not previously mentioned in the manuscript (except for this scene), deep in my heart, I knew he was the only one I could write the scene from and be able to pull it off correctly so that everyone would be happy, especially the reader. After everyone else leaves the hotel suite, it is the lover who embraces the husband and tells him everything will be alright. It was a win-win situation. Hero eventually gets the heroine and my two male lovers go off on their new adventure. They are not involved in the rest of the story, but I suspect in the near future those two guys will reappear later in the series.
Please forgive me as I got a little side tracked in this article. My main purpose was to expose you to an alternative when selecting whose POV to write from. My only other two choices would have been (1) scratching the scene all together which wouldn’t have given my heroine an out or (2) write the scene from multi POVs. I still feel my decision was the best for this particular scene. And after asking several readers what they felt about the scene they agreed whole heartedly with me, I had written from the correct person’s POV even though he was a secondary character.
I’ve included some more things to consider when making the decision on what and who’s POV to write from.
The viewpoint character is the guide through a scene.
The viewpoint character often is, but does not have to be, the protagonist.
If the viewpoint character can’t hear, see, touch or feel it – neither can the reader.
Who will make the best presenter of the information you wish to covey.
Before making your final decision, look at your scene and look inside all those present – get into their heads and see who can relay it the best.
Experiment and if you’re having trouble, write the scene from another person’s POV – you will be surprised what you might come up with.
Historically genre has often dictated what POV we are to write in. Don’t be afraid to try something new or break a rule. Remember, there was a time all romances were written entirely from there heroines POV. I'm happy to say this isn't the case anymore.
I hope you enjoyed today's insight into POV and wish you all the best in your writing.