Point Of View Made Easy
© Jamie Denton
I’ve become a stickler when it comes to viewpoint. I’ve become one of those annoying purists who rarely switches POV within a scene. This could be because way back in the day when I first started writing, I made a mess of POV and was determined to master this elusive component in crafting a novel. I went beyond your average Head Hopping Syndrome and stormed right into so ridiculous it wasn’t funny. With a little help from my friends, and by studying how other authors handled POV in their stories, I learned. But first, I had to understand exactly what was POV.
There are different types of point of view; omniscient viewpoint, sometimes referred to as authorial intrusion. There is first person point of view (POV/1), otherwise known as the “I” perspective. And finally, third person point of view (POV/3), which is most commonly used in genre fiction, romance in particular, which is what I’ll be talking about today.
We live our lives in only one viewpoint, so this should be simple, right? It’s looking at the sunset, or listening to Mozart (or Nickelback), maybe enjoying a banana split on a Saturday afternoon, or inhaling the sweet fragrance of a dew-kissed rose. Let’s not forget the swelling of our heart when we look at a newborn child. Hard to believe that we experience this all through only one perception, isn’t it?
Now let’s transfer this to our characters.
One of the most important things to remember is if your viewpoint character can’t see it, hear it, taste it, smell it, or feel it, then neither can your reader. In other words, the heroine can gaze at the hero, but she can’t gaze at him with desire burning in her gaze if we’re in her point of view. Why? Because your heroine can’t see this.
Confused? Try this…
If your hero is observing your heroine from across a crowded room, your heroine can’t know that the hero is lusting after her unless she sees some sign of his lust. Now, if your heroine is standing next to your hero, and she can see that “his gaze burned hot” or some such, your reader can know it as well. Why? Because we know your heroine saw this from her own viewpoint.
That all sounds much simpler, doesn’t it? But, the question remains, how do you convey the non-viewpoint character’s emotions without jumping into their head? Easy—emotion through action.
Here’s an example of emotion through action from my first romantic suspense novel, THE MATCHMAKER (Kensington Brava, 2006), with the heroine, Greer, observing the hero, Ash:
She looked into his eyes and her pulse took off like a rocket. Desire burned within the intense depths of this gaze and whatever protest she’d been searching for vanished. Instead of pushing away from him like she knew she should, she reached up to cup his jaw in her palm.
And then she kissed him.
Within Greer’s viewpoint I established not only Ash’s emotions (desire), but also Greer’s, which we see through her actions and her thoughts. We know that she still desires Ash (her estranged husband), but also how she still feels about him, which we see through the tenderness of her touch. All of this information is given to us through Greer’s point of view. No head hopping necessary.
Now that we have a better idea of what point of view is, how do you decide who should be the viewpoint character? Answer the following:
- Who will be the center of the action?
- Who will have the most at risk?
- Whose struggle toward their goal is the fuel of the scene?
- And finally, who will be moved or changed by the outcome?
In romance, most likely the viewpoint will be that your hero or your heroine. Once you’ve answered these questions, the appropriate point of view character should no longer be a mystery.
For example, let’s say Hannah Heroine has just announce to Hank Hero she’s pregnant. In the previous scene, we’ve already established Hannah’s angst over being pregnant. She needs to know Hank’s reaction to the news because it affects her. She’s the one at risk. Therefore, the scene belongs to Hannah. But, you still need to know Hank’s reaction. Why? Because you know from the story that Hank has something at stake as well. He was planning on leaving town in the morning to take a long awaited promotion he’s been longing for on the opposite coast.
You DO NOT have to wait until the end of the scene before getting into Hank’s head to know what he’s feeling. We can use the ol’ point of view switch <insert shocked gasp here> within a scene to find out what Hank is thinking. Keep in mind that you want your transition to be smooth. Take a look at this example:
[HANK’S POV] . . . Restraint and nobility fled. A groan rose from deep in his chest. He grabbed hold of her hips, pulling her tight against him. Her lips sought his in hot, opened mouthed demand.
[HANNAH’S POV] Hanna’s skin warmed and she went all dizzy as his hands skimmed her hips, inching the material of her sundress higher. She wanted him. It was that simple. She couldn’t explain what made her forget the warnings that she was playing with fire, and she didn’t think she wanted to know.
Note how I re-establish the reader in the heroine’s viewpoint by using the senses, specifically, how she feels when Hank touches her. And Hank can’t possibly know that she is feeling all warm and dizzy, or what she’s thinking in regard to warnings she’s choosing to ignore.
Here’s another short example of point of view switching within a scene. We begin this scene in the courtroom during a custody hearing in Melina’s viewpoint, but watch the change into Mario’s POV:
…This man staring at her [across the courtroom] with such disdain was not the same man who’d nearly told her loved her a few days ago. This man looked as if he wished her dead.
Mario sensed Melina’s torment but hardened himself against her. The flash of fear in her eyes gratified the part of him that wanted to hurt her. Hurt her as she’d hurt him, not once, but twice.
Both characters are in emotional angst at this point in the story, which is conveyed by their separate points of view and their observation of the other. From Melina’s viewpoint we know that Mario can hardly stand the sight of her because of the way he’s looking at her. From Mario’s point of view we know that he’s glad Melina is suffering right along with him because of what we see through his eyes.
If you absolutely have to change viewpoints within a scene, keep the transitions seamless. Really cement the reader into your new viewpoint character’s head by using Name (Mario), Action (Stared) and Emotion (in disbelief).
The best way to learn how to switch point of view is by not switching point of view. Sound confusing? Not as much as you might think.
The way I learned to make a seamless point of view change was to write an entire scene in one character’s viewpoint using the five senses as my rule of thumb. If my heroine couldn’t see it, hear it, taste it, smell it or feel it, then quite simply neither could my reader. Once you understand what it takes to firmly establish your character’s viewpoint within a scene, making the transition between the hero and heroine’s point of view is a great deal easier to accomplish.
One thing to always keep in mind — when using a singular POV per scene, DO NOT rehash the same information in the next scene in the opposite character’s viewpoint. If you remember the theory of Scene and Sequel, this shouldn’t be a problem. Whether you want to switch point of view within a scene, or become a viewpoint purist, in the end, the best thing you can do for yourself, and your characters, is to always trust your instincts.
Jamie Denton sold her first attempt at a contemporary romance to Harlequin Books four days before Christmas in 1994. Despite a few bumps in the road, in the almost 20 years since her first sale, she’s gone on to final and win several notable awards, made a national bestseller list and has seen over three million copies of her books in print worldwide and translated into several languages. Jamie is currently at work on her 30th novel.
Five authors contribute five novellas to this romantic collection set over centuries, in one home on the Albemarle Sound.
Home is where the heart is…
One stately residence on North Carolina’s Albemarle Sound. Five stories of heart-warming romance. Told against the backdrop of the Civil War, the loss of an unsinkable ship, the patriotic zeal of the second world war, the heart-rending conflict of Vietnam, and the thrill of modern day Nascar, Jamie Denton, S. K. McClafferty, Kathleen Shoop, Marcy Waldenville, and J. D. Wylde deliver a variety pack of poignant, sexy, and sweet.
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Genre – Romance
Rating – R
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