Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Scene Writing Series, Part VII - POV

By Jax Hunter

Greetings Campers, time to move on from Setting. On to Point of View. 

POV. It’s not a topic that comes up much within the screenwriting sources, but, in my ongoing discussion of putting scenes together, I’d be remiss to not touch on POV.

POV, for our purposes, is the particular character viewpoint within each scene. Now, if you’re writing in first person, you will have different concerns than the author that is writing in third person. However, you still need to be concerned a bit with POV.

The rules of shifting POV are changing as writing changes. You will find that most how-to books instruct the beginning writer that he should write the entire novel from one character’s POV. Some say that changing POV for each chapter is acceptable, while a few claim it’s okay from scene to scene. Rarely, you’ll find an “expert” say that it’s okay to head-hop within a scene.

I remember,  as I was learning to write, being nearly hamstrung by all the POV rules. I became the POV Nazi and grumbled when my favorite authors would slip from inside their hero’s head to inside their heroine’s. Now, I’m a bit more relaxed, but I’m glad that I have never lost my awareness for POV.

Last week, I began reading the book Ireland, by Frank Delaney. I have to admit to being a bit thrown by his use of POV. It might simply be that he uses omniscient POV, or it might be he head-hops even within paragraphs - next time you’re at the bookstore, pick up this book and read the second paragraph.  

Here’s the Jax Rule: Know when you’re switching POV and have a good reason for it. Oh, and be clear about it when you change.

How do you know whose POV a scene should be written in? Often, we’re told to write in the POV of the character that has the most to lose in the scene. That’s good advice. But sometimes you’ll want the other character to watch the first character suffer. The best “rule” is to write each scene from the most dramatic POV. Often, what isn’t seen is much more important to show the reader than what is seen. This is especially true when a character is acting “out of character” and you need the reader to know why. Sometimes that means writing the scene from each POV and then choosing the best one. 

Hey, that sounds like great homework to me. Give it a try this month. 

Remember, the POV character can’t see himself  (except for the cliched mirror scene that even Dan Brown used in DaVinci Code) and can only guess what the others around him are thinking. When you’re showing a scene from Rick’s POV, you will only see, hear, smell, and feel what Rick’s experiencing. Rick can THINK that Lily is angry (from her body language and from his expectation of what she’s feeling) but Rick can’t know for sure. 

How many POV’s can you use in a book? The rule of thumb is that you use as few as you can - only main characters and very important secondary characters. I find that, in romance, it’s very difficult to NOT write in both the hero's and heroine’s POV. Aside from that, I like to have at least one “mentor” type character that gets some scenes in his POV. Sometimes, it’s necessary to have a few scenes from the villain’s POV, as well. 

Remember, if you only write from one POV, then that character has to be in the room for each scene. This is also true when writing in first person.

So, again, when can you change POV? My suggestion would be to, at the very least, attempt to keep each scene in a separate POV. I have to tell you, though, that some scenes (especially in romance) will be better with two POV’s within the scene as the characters react to each other. 

When I finally broke down and used two POV’s in one scene, I wondered how to do it so my reader would know who was “speaking.” So I dragged some romances from my shelf and studied them. Most of them shifted POV by simply starting the shift with a paragraph that began with the new character’s name. Since I write romance, I study how romance authors do it; you should do the same with your target genre. You can learn far more from reading good books than you can by reading how-to books.

I guess the upshot is that you simply need to be AWARE of the POV at all times. Recently, I was in the midst of edits for Rick and Lily’s book that comes out in September. My line editor caught each POV change within a scene and I had to defend each one. One I changed, the rest I defended successfully. 

Okay, enough said about POV for now. If you need more information, I send thee to the Google. (Before I leave, though, you have to check out this article on POV, it’s a scream.)

Until next month, when we take a look at set dressing, BIC-HOK (Butt in Chair - Hands on Keyboard).

Jax (

(This series first ran in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers newsletter in 2005.)

About the Author: Jax Hunter is a published romance writer and freelance copywriter. She wears many hats including EMT, CPR instructor, and Grammy. She is currently working on a contemporary romance series set in ranching country Colorado and a historical romance set in 1775 Massachusetts. She lives in Colorado Springs, belongs to PPW, RMFW and is a member of the Professional Writer's Alliance.

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