Today, prolific author Virginia Smith is joining me for a little Q & A regarding POV (point of view.) POV can make or break the prospect of a book being published.
Virginia, I love your writing and so enjoyed reading recently Just As I Am
and Sincerely Mayla. I was intrigued by your use of a single POV (point of view). This isn’t easy to do. So, I thought who better to interview on POV
than an author who does it so effortlessly.Please explain the importance of POV in a novel.
I really think understanding POV is the most important thing a writer can do to create a good novel. It’s through the character’s viewpoint that a reader is drawn into the story world, and how they
experience the action first-hand. Whether the POV is first person or third person doesn’t matter – as long as the writer is true to the viewpoint, the reader will build a deep affinity with the character, and will step into the story through his or her shoes.
Now, I have to admit that when I first started writing, I had never even heard the term POV (short for Point of View).I had picked up on some characterization techniques by reading extensively, and
I sub-consciously identified what worked and what didn’t. But when someone first critiqued a story I’d written with a comment about my disregard for the “rules of POV,” I was incensed. I thought, “What in the world is that? Obviously, if I’ve never heard of it before, it can’t be that important.” Ha! Little did I know, that critiquer had pinpointed a basic flaw in my storytelling ability. It wasn’t until I began to work hard to understand viewpoint and its effect on a reader’s story experience that my writing skills
grew to the point of being publishable.
I have read some lesser known novels that were over flowing with POV in every scene. So much so I found myself confused . In your experience how many character’s POV should be shared in a novel? In a scene? On
I’ve read books like that, too, and I’ve seen the mistake made by tons of aspiring writers in the stories I’ve critiqued or contest submissions I’ve judged. Some people seem to think that the more
viewpoint characters they use, the deeper and more intricate their plot will be perceived. In fact, skipping around between so many characters confuses a reader and dilutes their affinity to any single character, therefore diminishing their enjoyment of the story.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that every scene must be from the viewpoint of a single character. (I’m talking
about first- or third-person limited viewpoint stories, which are by far the most accepted in publishing today.) Every POV switch must occur after a chapter or scene break. No exceptions. There is no hard-and-fast rule for the number of viewpoint characters in a novel. In general, I try to stay with two POV characters in a contemporary story, and no more than three in a suspense story.
(It’s fun to give readers a tantalizing glimpse at the murderer’s viewpoint every now and then, as well as the hero and heroine!)
I do hold to the idea that, when writing in first person, it’s best to stick with one single character throughout the entire book. There are exceptions, of course, but in general, when a writer
chooses to write in first person (as I did in Just As I Am and Sincerely,Mayla), she is making the choice to show the entire book from the perspective of a single character. I think those stories are more character-driven than plot-driven. The plot is still a critical element, of course, but the reader’s focus is most often on the character’s reaction to the action going on around them.
Here’s a funny story that happened when I was writing Scent of Murder, which was a finalist for the 2010 Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. I turned in the manuscript, and my editor called me, aghast.
“Ginny, you have four viewpoint characters! Four! You can’t do that!” I couldn’t understand why. To me, they were all four explainable – hero, heroine, murderer, and police investigator.
We discussed each character and the reason I chose specific scenes to be told from each viewpoint. In the end, she convinced me of the wisdom of rewriting most of the scenes from the viewpoint of the hero or heroine, in order to strengthen the readers’ affinity with them. I reduced the scenes from the viewpoint of the murderer to only a few, and only when I needed to crank up the tension. And there were two scenes that, in my opinion, had to be told from the
viewpoint of the investigator. But I agreed to cut the other scenes from his perspective way back. When I finished the rewrite, the book totally worked! We were both happy with the result.
How important is the crafting of POV?
As I said, I think a solid handling of POV is essential to telling a compelling story. Each viewpoint has its own challenges.
When writing third person, it’s often a challenge to let the reader see deeply inside a character’s thought process. That’s what “Deep POV” is all about –using techniques to let the reader see the thoughts unveil as a character thinks them, without resorting to ‘telling’ (as opposed to ‘showing’). It creates that deep affinity I mentioned earlier.
First Person POV is in some ways easier than third. Everything in the entire story is filtered through the viewpoint of a single character. The writer is free to indulge in more lengthy passages of
internal monologue, as long as they are true to the ‘voice’ of the character, and relevant to the story’s plot. Readers interpret long passages of narrative as internal dialogue, and they’re drawn closer to the character.
What is the biggest hurdle to writing POV?
The challenge of First Person POV is to keep the plot moving while only showing the perspective of one character. The reader
can’t know anything that the character doesn’t know. If not handled properly, that can drag a plot down. One trick, I think, is to handle the transitions from one action scene to the next
without making the reader feel like they’ve missed anything during the time lapse. Every scene has to move the plot forward (as is true when writing any viewpoint), and the reader has to feel satisfied that the story is progressing.
Another challenge to first person POV is the simple fact of story length. It’s hard to write 80,000 words and develop a story with multiple sub-plots while only using one character’s viewpoint. That
character has to have a lot going on at the same time! In that respect, third person is easier – the reader can switch back and forth between the hero and the heroine, and the things that each of them do independently of the other.
The hurdle of third person, of course, is to create that deep affinity with the reader for multiple characters. When you leave one character’s viewpoint, you want the reader to feel reluctant to
leave, and at the same time eager to get back to the other character.
When is it good to show the POV of a secondary character?
When writing first person, I don’t ever show a secondary character’s viewpoint. The entire story needs to be told from one
character’s viewpoint, in my opinion. I know it has been done effectively. Angela Hunt’s book Doesn’t She Look Natural does it to great effect. But Angie is a gifted writer with a strong track record, so she can get away with things a less experienced writer can’t.
In most cases, slipping into another character’s POV makes the reader feel distant. In third person POV, a writer can expand the
field to secondary characters. Still, a reader’s affinity is disrupted every time a POV switch occurs. For relationship stories, such as romance, it’s extremely effective to show the development of the relationship from the viewpoint of both the male and female leads. But more than those two tend to pull the reader away from the developing romance. Not a good idea.
In a mystery or romantic suspense, it’s also okay to throw in a scene or two from others’ viewpoints, such as the villain.
I’ve done that in most of my mysteries, and it is a great device for increasing tension. It’s fun to let the reader in on things that the hero and heroine don’t know. But I can’t overdo it, or I risk distancing them from the main characters. I keep those scenes very short, and purposefully distant, so I don’t give away any clues as to the murderer’s identity.
In my quest to perfect my own fiction writing I read a lot of
novels. And I am amazed when an author gives me the POV of a minor character. Less than minor really, a one- dimensional,-pass- through –the- scene- never-to –be- heard- of -again -character. What would have been a better way to let the reader know this character’s reaction without getting into her head?
Having learned my lesson from Scent of Murder, I’m a firm believer that the reader gets the most enjoyment from a story if they experience it through a limited number of characters. In the case of Just As I Am, I worked so hard to create a strong relationship between the reader and Mayla, I wouldn’t dream of introducing another character, because I would risk breaking that bond. So I’d skip the pass-through character. To me, the story was all about Mayla and her world. Ifshe didn’t know it, then the reader didn’t need to know it.
Thanks so much for sharing your insights on POV on my blog. Can
you update us on your latest novel and new projects coming up or speaking engagements?
I’m staying busy. At the moment, I’m under contract for five novels. (Yeah, I know. I’m working really hard!) I just
finished the first of a 3-book romantic suspense series. It’s called Deadly Imposter, and will be released sometime next year. Right after I wrapped that story up, I started work on my
first historical novel, a western set in the 1880’s on a cattle drive. I’m having a lot of fun with that!
I’m really excited about my next book to bereleased. Lost Melody is my firstbook co-authored with bestselling author Lori Copeland. It’s about a young woman who suffers an injury that destroys her dream of being a concert pianist– but soon after, starts having dreams of a different kind. She feels compelledto warn the residents of her seaside town that they must evacuate before a
coming disaster strikes. Lost Melody will be released in October. Zondervan did a beautiful book trailer, which you can
see here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ar-UaEPMZbA
Thank you so much for letting me talk to you
and your readers on your blog, Cindy!