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Sunday, March 1, 2009
POINT OF VIEW—What Is It and Why Do You Care?
As a reader, you probably don’t care about the mechanics of point of view, but well written points of view will make the story flow smoothly and the characters come alive. As a writer, using point of view to your advantage can be the difference between writing a memorable bestseller or a book that bombs.
There are three main types of point of view or POV.
First Person: In first-person POV, the main character narrates the story. Everything that happens is told from that person’s point of view. First person uses I or me and is common in mysteries and chicklit. For example, Francesca Prescott in Mucho Caliente uses first person POV:
It’s not. It can’t be. It bloody well can’t be. Oh my goodness; it is! It’s Latino heart-throb, Emilio Caliente! Why is someone like him sitting next to someone like me on this flight to Ibiza? He should be up front, behind the curtain, hidden away in first class. Just what I need! Without so much as a glance in my direction, he’s short-circuited weeks of life changing, positive affirmations. Hiding behind my hair, I clench my fists, shut my eyes and recite, ‘I’m a beautiful, intelligent, newly single woman and I’ ;m taking control of my life.’ Yeah right. What a joke! I’m sweating. I’m fidgeting. I’m finger combing my hair back to life, smoothing my eyebrows and wishing I’d retouched my makeup before boarding.
In one paragraph, we are given glimpses of heroine’s personality and insight into her current situation.
Third Person: In third-person POV, the story can be told from one view point or multiple view points. In romance, it’s preferable to focus on one character’s viewpoint per scene. Third person uses pronouns such as he or she when narrating the story, even though each scene is usually described from a particular character’s point of view. Here’s a scene from “The Dance” told in Rico’s point of view.
Rico cringed as some snot-nosed kid, barely old enough to be in a bar, butchered one of his biggest hits. Then to add insult to injury, the kid attempted to imitate some of Rico’s signature dance moves.
Only Rico, a former pop singer, would see this situation this way, use these words, and have this reaction to the kid singing his song. Each character needs to have their own unique personality which should come out in their point of view. Here’s a scene in Mariah’s POV, the heroine from The Dance.
Mariah turned and scanned the bar. Rodrigo was perched on a tall barstool. His long legs were wrapped around the stool and the heels of his scuffed boots were hooked on the footrest. He’d abandoned his T-shirt in favor of a well-worn, white cotton shirt with short sleeves. He wore it open at the throat and unbuttoned several buttons to reveal his tanned chest and crisp, dark chest hair. His black jeans fit him like a second skin. To her abject horror, a Yankees baseball cap covered his unruly hair. Didn’t the man realize he was deep in Mariners’ territory and Yankee might as well be a four-letter word?
In Mariah’s point of view, her obsession with fashion and her roots as a Seattle native come through, traits that are unique to her.
In my newest release, The Gift Horse, I actually wrote a few scenes from the horse’s POV. Here’s an example:
Gabbie watched as the two humans engaged in some odd courting ritual. She tossed her head and offered a disapproving snort. Too bad humans didn’t have tails. All a mare had to do was swish her tail in a stallion’s face. He got the point. After which, a couple well-placed kicks kept him in line. Horses didn’t have to do all that groping, moaning, and slobbering on each other.
Omniscient: Omniscient point of view is rarely used in romance. The story is told from the point of view of a narrator who knows things the characters don’t know. An example would be:
Little did she know when she opened the door that there would be a serial killer waiting for her on the other side.
Combining Narratives: It’s not uncommon for romance writers to use a few sentences of first person on occasion. Done correctly, those sentences can enhance the story, done incorrectly or overdone, they pull the reader out of the story. Here’s a scene from The Dance, in which Rico realizes Mariah might be falling in love with him. I used first person POV to that Rico could have a conversation with himself about his realization.
Rico stared at Mariah. Her eyes glowed with passion and something else. He knew that look. No, Mariah. Don’t think that. Don’t. I can’t give you anything but sex. That’s all. Let’s keep it simple. Don’t fall for me. I’m no good for you. Hell, I’m no good for myself.
You could also write a book in which some scenes are first person, while others are third person. I’ve seen this done by some authors quite effectively. For example, I read a thriller in which the heroine is after a serial killer. The heroine’s point of view is first person. The killer’s point of view is in third person narrative. It was very effective.
Deep Point of View: This is another phrase writers like to toss around. Essentially, when you’re writing or reading in deep point of view, you become the character. You know their feelings, their hopes, their dreams, their insecurities. They’re no longer cardboard, one-dimensional characters. They’re real, living, breathing people. When you finish the book and read the last page, it’s like leaving old friends behind.
The point of view used by an author depends on their voice and writing style and also their genre. Very few romances are written in first person, so that’s a harder sell, while general women’s fiction is often written in first person.
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