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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About POV

FICTION, Point of View

By Kathy Carmichael

Kathy offers a monthly question and answer blog that presents a subscriber’s question and answers offered by other subscribers or by Kathy herself.  There is plenty of great advice here for the writer to glean.


This month, my question went out to various members of the Mid America Romance Authors (MARA) chapter. The question is: Do you use secondary character point of view (POV)? Why or why not?

Answered by Val Daniels (aka Alfie Thompson) who learned everything she could about POV to sell traditional romance to Harlequin Romance (which prefers heroine POV only). [Note: At the time this article was originally published this was true, but this is no longer the case.] Currently on the stands, Sweet Valentine from Harlequin Romance, is told strictly in the hero and heroine’s POV.

I decide whether to use secondary character POV based on the length of book I’m writing and on the story I want to tell. Though there isn’t a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ POV to use, there is ‘best’ POV for the story I’m telling. I use the following questions to help me decide:

  • Whose viewpoint makes my fictional world seem most real? EX: In Between Dusk and Dawn, the villain’s POV showed his motivation in choosing the heroine as his next victim. Without his POV the plot wouldn’t have been believable or logical.
  • Whose story is it anyway? Which character will the reader root the hardest for?You want the reader to pull for your main character to make the right choices. The more intimate the reader becomes with the character (reader identification) the more she cares for what happens to that character. The more character viewpoints you use, the less the reader has a chance to get ‘intimate’ with any one or two. (That’s why length of story is so important in deciding how many viewpoint characters to use.) And do you really want your readers to feel close to the bag person at the grocery store?
  • Which character(s) will best convey what you, the author, want to say?Whatever your theme/premise, your viewpoint characters can’t be people who’ve already learned it. You’ll preach (tell) instead of showing your main character learning the lesson and using it to come to terms with the conflict.
  • Which viewpoint(s) will keep the reader turning pages? Make the story most compelling?Too many viewpoint characters may unwittingly lessen the tension or suspense. Limited POV helps keep the suspense alive because the reader can only know what the viewpoint characters know. Secondary characters’ POV is especially good in plot oriented books because it lets the reader see many things he couldn’t in a more restricted point of view. But if a viewpoint character knows something you don’t let the reader in on, the reader may feel cheated when they get to the end—if they get to the end. So do you want to keep secrets? Who from?

… read more

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