Wed
Sep 12 2012 5:30pm

Many Different Points of View on...Point of View in Romance Novels

Couple’s legs image by grodt1987 via FlickrPoint of view (POV). When you get a bunch of writers together, those three letters can start a good, old-fashioned donnybrook. These days it seems everyone’s got an opinion on the subject. I’ve even seen readers mention it in book reviews. It’s a topic I find fascinating since the trend lately is to have a very rigid, controlled POV, even if there are multiple POVs in the story itself. I, personally, love a good head hop if it’s done well and with some finesse. Changing POVs within a sentence or paragraph = no. Changing POVs in a chapter or scene (without the obligatory scene break!) = I’m on board.

Here’s the thing. I’m a fan of some old school romance novels. Ms. Judith McNaught, whom I consider incomparable, can head hop like nobody’s business and I think it’s done so well, I don’t mind one bit. In fact, when I first began to study writing and was told OVER AND OVER again by everyone how I MUST restrict my POVs, I went back and read several McNaught books to see how she did it, if it bothered me (now that I “knew better”), and if not, why not.

 I recently wrote a blog post for H&H on angsty scenes where I mentioned a specific scene in Whitney, My Love and how wonderful and rich it was because of the multiple POVs. I repeat, because of the multiple POVs, not in spite of the multiple POVs. In the scene I examined, we have the heroine’s POV, the brother’s POV, and the mother’s POV all in the same SCENE. Not book, scene! And I shamelessly adore it. I don’t have a bit o’ trouble following it and I find that it adds a level of complexity that would otherwise be lacking in the scene.

Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaughtNow, I know that there is an entire camp (a big camp! more like a commune actually) of writers and reading purists who will tell you that a skilled writer can achieve that same level of complexity using only one POV. They’ll tell you that multiple POVs are simply out of vogue, no longer done, '80’s-tastic. “It’s not deep enough,” they say. “You’ll jar the reader out of the story,” they cry. Well, I’ve read Whitney, My Love probably 50 times (er, not an exaggeration) and I’m positive I have never once been jarred. Never. Once.

And no discussion of on POV in romance novels would be complete if I didn’t mention that Nora Roberts herself is an aficionada of the POV switch. Hasn’t hurt her sales a bit, has it?

So, what gives? Am I just retro? Am I the only one who likes a little head hopping upon occasion? First of all, as a reader, do you even notice some head hopping and if so, convince me. Why is head hopping so wrong? Do you have any beloved head-hopping authors?

Couple's legs image by grodt1987 via Flickr

 


Valerie Bowman writes Racy Regency Romps. You can find her on Twitter at @ValerieGBowman and on the web at www.ValerieBowmanBooks.com.

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15 comments
Jordan R
1. jrojrojro
I really love getting different POVs as long as it is done in a way that the reader knows who is thinking what. Like you said, I think Nora Roberts manages this very well. One of the things that I tend to dislike about some of the newer UF books is the limited (usually to one person) POV for a whole book. I know that other awesome things are happening and it bugs me that I don't get to see them because I'm stuck only in one person's head! I think that's why outtakes have become so popular - really, deep down, everyone really wants to be a head hopper!
JacquiC
2. JacquiC
Count me among those who doesn't mind head-hopping at all, and in fact, when it is done well, I find it makes the story more interesting. Somehow it makes the other characters, other than the one or two main ones, more three-dimensional. I only think it is a problem when the shifts are too jerky or too hard to follow. And I know exactly what scene you refer to in Whitney, and I agree with you! (as a not unbiased reader who used to think Whitney was the romance to end all romances, despite its rape-iness...).
Kwana Minatee-Jackson
3. kwanawrites
Thanks so much for this post. I'm been slapped around about my head hopping so many times that I've begun to have a complex over it. Then I'd read some old skool romances and I see a head hop and be like what gives? I'm fine with it so when did the world get all stick up the bum with the head hop? I guess I need to work on my technique and do a Whitney research re-read.
Heloise Larou
4. Heloise
There is difference between having different PoVs and head-hopping, though - it is one thing to have different chapters of a novel told from varying perspectives, and quite another to just switch around between characters inside a chapter, or even a paragraph.
The former will for the most part broaden a novel's perspective (although it is quite possible to overdo things) while the latter will most likely be annoying (although it can work and make sense in some cases, for example to imply a particular closeness of the characters and for that purpose to make their PoVs kind of blend together).
JacquiC
5. Oberon Wonch
Julie Garwood, at least in her historicals, had crazy-wild head-hopping, and I loved every bit of it. I still love every bit of it, every time I reread one of those books. I feel the stories are much richer for the multiple POVs within scenes, even within paragraphs.
JacquiC
6. Virginia Nelson
Personally - I love multiple POV's...if it is done correctly. I do understand the difference between changing POVs correctly and head hopping. Writers who change POVs every other line will of course loose some of their readers who have never read a screenplay which is what head hopping reminds me of. Nora Robers isn't the only one who writes from multiple POVs currectly. J.R. Ward immediatly comes to mind as do several over well known paranromal authors. Leaving a space between paragraphs will give the reader a warning something is changing is a good way to indicate a POV change. Three little *** will indicate not only a POV change but a scene change...My two cents worth.
JacquiC
7. Eileen Emerson
I love the novels I grew up on, but I am one of those poor souls for whom head-hopping within a scene is absolutely jarring now (especially inside a sex scene. Gaaaah!) And those beloved novels that are chock-a-clock with head hops? Oh, I can still enjoy them with a nostalgic fondness, but the head-hopping makes my teeth itch and has me reaching for a red pen. I can *forgive* a beloved writer for doing it, but only because of the story's depth, or the richly drawn characters, or the wonderfully angsty conflict. So, I will still read Whitney My Love, but I can't help but make note of each POV shift within a scene.
Valerie Bowman
8. ValerieBowman
The thing I hear over and over is that bestsellers can "get away with it" because they are bestsellers. But I have to wonder if their bestseller-ness wasn't contributed to by their well-done head-hoppery.

And @EileenEmerson, I had to smile at your post b/c in my own work, I control my POV with scene breaks but my love scenes are a wild free-for-all. In more ways than one. (wink)
Vanessa Ouadi
9. Lafka
I really prefer multiple POVs books. It frustrates me to no end to have only a one-sided version of a story! Nonetheless, I prefer when the narrator is clearly identified _ for example when the change of POV means a new paragraph. When the POV changes without any indication through punctuation or whatever, it tends to confuse me.
Many authors, even the most recent ones, handle the head-hopping pretty well _ actually, I read almost exclusively multiple POVs romance!
JacquiC
10. CCRead
I just finished reading "A Stranger's Touch" by Roxy Boroughs. She wrote the POV of the four main characters throughout; the POV changed at each chapter. It was very easy to know who's head you were in. I thought it was very well done.

Reading both sides of a story is nice. Many people must like it otherwise why would authors re-write so many scenes, and a few whole books, to please fans.
JacquiC
11. NettaJS
I never noticed the changes of POV until someone critiqued something I wrote and told me to not go from one POV to the next even in a new paragraph without the spaces. Big no-no. I would prefer to know her or his reaction to the scene when it happens not three or four pages later. Guess I am old-fashioned
T.K. Anthony
12. TKAnthony
You've struck a nerve here, Valerie. I grew up reading all those head hopping writers--both SF and Romance. When I started writing, I naturally (and unconsciously) fell into their "bad" habits. I tell pretty epic stories, and I needed more than the one or two POVs traditional to a straight "romance." In the debate with my editor (who really is marvelous, BTW), I won my point with number of POVs; she won her point in using them with a lot more discipline. Which I think goes right to the "done with finesse" point. At least now, when I write, I'm aware of it...which makes me a better writer. And, perhaps, a pickier reader. Now, I notice when it's done wrong.
Carol Stoneburner
13. lapillus
While I don't mind switching by well-marked scene, within scenes I want to stick to one. Constant switching tends to leave me feeling a) that the author has no idea who has most at stake in the scene. b) is telling rather than showing. I'd much rather be shown what the other characters are feeling by their outward signs than by always jumping in their head. Or if there is a wild disjunct between what more than one character is showing vs. what they are feeling, deal with it in flashbacks or the like. I finally decided to try a Lisa Kleypass novel and have been stuck for the better part of a month because of her switching.
JacquiC
14. parawriter
Most of my favorite stories are multiple POVs. While some very talented authors can pull off wonderful books written from one perspective, I enjoy knowing what the other characters are thinking/feeling. I have never been thrown out of a story by this unless the change in viewpoint was unidentified, requiring me to backtrack and see who was who in what sentence or paragraph. If the story flows right along with its many POVs, anyone paying attention to the story should have no trouble following. Also, I like a little tell along with the show ;)
JacquiC
15. Jill B
I agree with the general concensus above: Multiple POV is a wonderful benefit to the reader IF it is done well. I agree that changing within a single scene without the benefit of a line break can add a hiccup (I have a hard time saying it's "jarring").
My one exception: I *don't* want to jump inside the head of a deeply criminal mind. I stopped reading Julie Garwood historicals after one went deeply inside the sinister mind of a cold-blooded killer. There was absolutely no sympathetic reason revealed for the actions or even a sinister motive revelation. It came across as a gratuitous trip -- and I didn't like it one bit. I *don't want* to be inside that mind!!
A new POV can be a guilty pleasure, an ability to "try on" a new persona, to look out a the world through the character's eyes. Or it can provide a reader with new insight's into a character's motivation. The use of an Unknown Character's POV can be an effective way for an author to slowly slip new clues about a growing mystery into the reader's knowledge while still keeping the main characters "in the dark" -- another way to build creative tension and anticipation.
Well-done POV changes are another tool in the author's bag of tricks--but it should have a purpose that helps move the story forward.
Ultimately there is no "right" or "wrong" -- just personal preference. If the author is successful with a growing fanbase, then the POV-status is just part and parcel of their writing style.
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