The dreaded POV: What is it?

POV stand for Point of View. As with many things you’ll encounter in the wacky world of writing, POV can have many different meanings. There are in fact five different Points of View

Objective Point of View
In objective point of view, the writer tells what happens without stating more than can be inferred from the story's action and dialogue. The narrator never discloses anything about what the characters think or feel, remaining a detached observer. Writing an objective point of view story would be very much like watching a movie. We see what the characters are doing, but we can only infer from their actions how they are feeling.

Third Person Point of View
In this POV there is no narrator for the story. The writer lets us know exactly how the characters feel, what they see, hear, taste, touch and smell. We learn about the characters by being inside their heads. This is the most common point of view used in literature today.

First Person Point of View
In the first person point of view, the narrator of the story is generally the main character. We see the whole book and everything in it from their eyes. We can’t see what anyone else is thinking. It’s like real life. I can only assume that you are bored to tears at this point in my blog. I can’t hear you thinking about how you’d like to click over to something more fun. Like Spider Solitaire or Word Whomp. I know but please bear with me.

Omniscient Points of View
In this type of writing the story narrator knows everything about all the characters. He or she is all knowing, or omniscient and can relay what each character thinks or feels.
A narrator whose knowledge is limited to one character, either major or minor, has a limited omniscient point of view.

Blah, blah, blah. Okay now to the stuff you wanted to know. How to use POV in your writing.

Okay, Character POV.
Most romance novels today use only two character points of view. The hero’s and the heroine’s. Sometimes the writer takes us inside the head of a secondary character, but the visit is usually short. I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand to be in the villain’s mind for long. Too creepy.

It’s very tempting for a new writer to want to let us know what everyone in the room is thinking. They may not even realize they are doing it. Georgette Heyer, one of my favorite authors, slips into the head of the butler, the dressmaker, even the urchin passing by on the street. It was a common way to write in her day and she does it well.
Nora Roberts does it, too, and no one can argue that she isn’t successful, but new writers beware. Most editors today only want to see through the eyes of the two main characters. Ask yourself when you are writing, who has the most to gain or lose in this scene. That’s whose point of view you should be in. That’s whose head you need to be inside.

There's a lot more to POV, how to use it, how to switch it. Other WARA members can tackle some of those issues later. Right now, I have a game of Spider Solitaire to get back to.


Rox Delaney said...

Ah! Spider Solitaire. It wakes me up, helps wind me down, and does a great job in the area of procrastination.

Great explanations, Pat!

POV is one of those things that confuse a lot of writers and something we've all had experiences with, both good and bad.

Reese Mobley said...

I still struggle with POV. I generally stick with the hero and heroine and, so far, haven't ventured into any street urchin's head--but then again the day aint over yet. (grin)

If I'm having a hard time, I close my eyes and become the character. I experience what they see, hear or taste. I imagine how they would feel and then write their responces and reactions based on who they are. It may seem a little elementary but it helps me stay in one POV and not head hop. Too much anyway.

Rox Delaney said...

Reese, it sounds like you have a great system! There are lots of tricks to staying in one POV.

Here's a hint on CHARACTER POV:

Only the POV character can see, hear, feel, think. If another character smiles, the POV character can guess by the smile or other body language what the other character is thinking or feeling, but cannot know.

POV Purists are considered to be those who stick with one POV per scene. POV "sluts" change POV several times in a scene, but still not as often as "head-hoppers". I'll leave that one to someone else. :)

Penny shared a great link the other day to one of The Wild Rose Press blogs that dealt with POV. I hope she doesn't mind if I post the link here. It's great advice for anyone who isn't quite sure about POV and how to handle or notice it in their writing.

Rox Delaney said...

Looks like the link I posted won't take you to anywhere, so here's the way to get to it. And it's definitely worth trying.

Go to TWRP On the right side, scroll down to "Blog Archives", then look for "March". Click on that, and you'll be right there!

Pat Davids said...

POV can be confusing because we know what all the characters in our books are thinking and feeling. I like Reese's way to stay in one head.

When I first started writing and learned what POV was, I found I had shifted back and forth too quickly, sometimes as much as every other sentence or paragraph. That's head hopping. I even had a bear's POV in one story.

Can you do that? Can you give the cat or the dog a POV? It's been done.

Becky A said...

Hey Miss Pat, thanks for such a clear and complete answer. I will pay attention but I can't promise it will change anything. I just like head hopping. To me it makes the story fuller getting more than two opinions. I suppose it's because I know all my characters and what they are thinking. I'll probably have to change my tune when I get a publisher involved but until then I think I'll stick with "inquiring minds want to know". I know, I'm being rebellious and unrealistic, but for now I'm going to continue dreaming. You know, like in la la land!!!!! :-)

Rox Delaney said...

Becky brings up a good question. Why is staying in one POV per scene better? Remember, this isn't the same as a single POV book. Although at one time, romance novels were written in only the heroine's POV, it's been several years since the hero's POV has been added. It makes for a much richer story. But...

Switching back and forth often every three or four paragraphs or even sentences--"head-hopping"--actually weakens the story. Sticking with one POV in each scene or even half of a scene gives the writer the chance to go deeper into the hero/heroine's thoughts and feelings. The reader can better experience the character, becoming her or him within those pages. Switching POV doesn't afford that same sensation.

Why? There isn't time to go deep into the character's mind and can only give surface feelings and thoughts. With only quick bytes of this and that with little substance, the reader isn't able to identify with the character, because there's too little to identify with.

Also, it builds tension, whether sexual or emotional, when not knowing at that moment what the other character is thinking and feeling as the action goes along.

What I've heard about Nora Roberts' POV switching is that it's done smoothly and in a way that doesn't jar the reader. There are tricks to doing that, but it takes knowing them and knowing when and how to use them.

Pat Davids said...

You're a wonderful teacher.
This is the best explaination of why to avoid head hopping I've ever heard.

You go ahead and write your stories as you see fit. They are, after all, your stories told with your unique voice.

When you go to high shcool, you're required to learn a number of things. Math, English, History, Science and others. They are the basic building blocks of our education. How, of if, you use them in your life is up to you.

That's all we are doing here. Supplying some basic education on how to become a writer. No two people do it alike.

Rox Delaney said...

It would be really nice if my internet connection would stay up for more than five minutes. grrrrrr

But thanks, Pat. I hoped it was fairly clear. I tend to be wordy. (That's an understatement!) I learned about POV from someone, who probably learned from someone else. That's how it works. I'm lucky though, because POV has never been a problem, and I may have internalized it from reading a lot for so many years. Remember, I'm a visual learner, so I probably picked it up without knowing what it was.

And you're right. How the author writes is the author's choice. It's part of "voice"--another one of those terms that's thrown around a lot.

I've heard many, many authors say that to be able to break the rules, one must know the rules. When it comes to writing rules, there are reasons for them. I just gave the ones I'd learned and hoped they were clear enough to understand.

Unknown said...

My frustration is that I understand point of view, but I am not clear in my own writing! I'm trying to find tips for my brain to train itself so that I am asking myself the right questions!

Pat Davids said...

I find when I read my work aloud I become much more aware of problems such as pov, echo words and poor motivation.

Rox Delaney said...


Check out the link from Penny I posted earlier to the TWRP blog. There are some neat tricks to finding those switches. :)

Joan Vincent said...

A very good explanation of POV. I still have some trouble with it and like Theresa's idea--which I would never had learned about without your post!

Penny Rader said...

Thanks for taking on POV, Pat. When I first started writing I didn't even know what POV was. Contest feedback gave me some guidance on the subject...and pointed out that I shouldn't pop into the pov of my dog character.

Head-hopping bothers me when it's not smooth and when it doesn't give me time feel emotionally connected to the characters. An explanation by Susan Naomi Horton on a workshop tape I was listening to yesterday helped me understand why I was feeling this way. Instead of feeling like I'm right there in the scene with the character, too much bouncing around puts a barrier, like a piece of glass, between me and the character. It pulls me out of the story and makes me aware that I'm reading a story when instead I want to lose myself in the story.

Nina Sipes said...

POV. Why not head hop? Because in this day and age of instant communication, we can surprise our reader by withholding information. One of the easiest ways to do that is to make sure the reader doesn't know what someone is thinking or seeing, or feeling.

Suppose my heroine is quivering. Shaking. Staring at a man who has killed before. She has seen and spoken to one of his victims before she died. What is my heroine feeling? Thinking? The torturing, debaucher has his own thoughts crowding through his mind.
Later, we find out she's shaking because she was worried about whether the poison pill that she has conveniently tucked under her tongue to slip into the killer's
mouth will be strong enough to kill him and how quickly. She's not sure. But, she's not afraid of him, she's luring him to her apparent weakness. Do you see that if we were already in her head that the scene would be dreadfully changed to the reader? I like leading readers gently to wrong conclusions.

Rox Delaney said...

Oooooh! Good point, Nina. And it doesn't work for only suspense. For instance, what if the hero and heroine knew each other when they were kids, but the hero didn't recognize the heroine, years later. If done in the hero's POV, it could lead to some interesting early sexual tension, espcially if the heroine isn't real receptive to him. The reader then learns (in the next scene?) about the heroine's old unrequited love and how she'd felt hurt that he hadn't been interested in her romantically, although she definitely had been interested in the past.

The reader will then wonder why she reacts to their meeting, but learns at least a little about it later in the heroine's POV. The reader will then wonder when and if he'll remember that he knew her back when.

Starla Kaye said...

Another wonderful explanation of a particular source of great pain to many writers. So you say I shouldn't go into a stray dog wandering through the story's head? Ah well, okay.

Penny Rader said...

LOL, Starla. Except when you write Blossom's stories. Then it's perfectly okay to be in her pov. Or, in Ferdinand's when you're telling a story from his pov. (grin)

snwriter52 said...

I deal with this troublesome problem all the time.
Wonderful information about POV.