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Challenging POV

There are a lot of “rules” when it comes to point of view. There is first person, often used in young adult and mysteries, and often either loved or hated by readers. There is third person, often used in romance. This is the basis for deep third person POV, which has been particularly popular for the last few years. The “rules” say you can only have two, the hero and heroine, or three, the hero, heroine, and villain. There is omniscient POV, once popular and now guaranteed to gain you a low score in any contest if a POV purist is judging.

Any POV needs to be handled clearly and competently by the author. That’s one rule that should always be kept. And as authors, we need to remember that different readers like different styles of POV.

Being a mystery writer, I thought I was one who preferred first person until I read Louise Penny. Bury Your Dead is a Chief Inspector Gamache mystery and uses a large number of points of view with dexterity and clarity. At one point, after a police interview with an English speaking witness who can read French fluently but struggles with spoken French, there is one paragraph in the POV of a police constable taking notes. The policeman is never named, but the story would have been poorer if  a POV purist editor had removed this paragraph. This same man gets another paragraph in his POV many pages later as another witness is interviewed. Again, it enriches the story.

And then a page or two later, the POV changes from the chief investigator to a witness for four paragraphs before it returns back to the chief investigator.

The next chapter changes POV to a different investigator in another town. This frequent changing continues on for the entire book. I was never confused, but I was fascinated. I’d never read a book with so many POV shifts, or if I had, it was probably thrown at the wall. The story drew me in to such a degree I didn’t notice until I was well into the story. By then, I didn’t care about anything but the story.

And that taught me something. It’s not the POV, it’s not the rules, it’s all about the story. And if it works, that’s all that matters.

 

Kate Parker continues to write both the Victorian Bookshop Mysteries and the Deadly series in first person. Her entries into the Christmas Revels anthology series are in third person, but without the flair with which Louise Penny uses POV. 

 

17 responses to “Challenging POV”

  1. Darynda Jones says:

    I adore this, Kate! I remember thinking how much I hated first person present tense. I’d mentioned it in a conversation and my friend said, “Wait. I thought you liked The Hunger Games.” “I did,” I said, a little confused. Then I realized what she was getting at. I grabbed my Kindle and read the first paragraph again. Yep. First person present. I never even realized it. Very important lesson for me that day. I never question a writer’s choice. Just get lost in the story.

    I’ve actually struggled with a couple of projects on which POV to use. There are advantages and disadvantages to any a writer may choose. I’ve decided to use a deep POV third person for a historical fiction ms I’m working on now even though I’ve grown to love first person past. The story just calls for it. So I think flexibility is important as well, when reading and when writing.

    I’ll definitely check out Louise Penny!

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    • Kate Parker says:

      Yes, Darynda, you can tell it’s brilliantly done if you don’t notice what POV the book is written in. And you’re writing a historical mss. now? Cool! Can’t wait to read.

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  2. Vivi Andrews says:

    I love this post, Kate. You make such a good point. It’s not about the rules; it’s about the execution. With clarity and skill, any POV can work.

    My default POV is 3rd, but recently I wrote a proposal in 1st and WOW, what a huge challenge that was! I don’t know how you mystery mavens do it. 🙂

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    • Kate Parker says:

      Vivi, I originally wrote The Vanishing Thief in third person and found it didn’t quite work. I switched to first person and got published. Good for you to be able to write in both.

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  3. jbrayweber says:

    I have to admit I’m not a fan of first person POV. But you are absolutely right, Kate. It’s all in the delivery. I have read amazing stories that tossed out conventional rules. It’s all about the reader experience and finely crafted POV is a part of that.

    Jenn!

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  4. Julia Day says:

    I write 1st person past. I’ve never published a book in any other POV. I’m trying to write 3rd person with a women’s fiction manuscript–and it is hard. As in–I find myself writing it in 1st and then trying to change it to 3rd later.

    But I agree–it’s all about executing the story well. I prefer 1st person, but some of my favorite authors write in 3rd.

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    • Kate Parker says:

      Julia, do you think your default writing style is first person past? I’ve discovered mine is. When I write the Christmas novellas, I find myself going to a different part of my brain to write in third person.

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  5. I write in deep 3rd, but I love reading first person if it’s done well. One of my favorite books, Jimmy’s Girl, was done in two points of view, male POV was 1st person present while the female POV was 1st person past. It was a lesson in POV for me.

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  6. Rita Henuber says:

    I believe it’s more than the tense, or the character POV. I think it begins with the author’s voice. If the author isn’t comfortable writing in the tents they’ve chosen it comes across loud and clear. I find it uncomfortable to read. I’ve also put some books down because the author’s voice does not lend itself to the POV they’ve chosen to tell the story from. As in attempting to tell the story from the male POV and not hitting the mark. When it’s done well you are so engrossed in the story you don’t notice.

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    • Kate Parker says:

      Rita, it sounds like some authors were trying to grow their talent and needed more practice before they published. Any skill, from writing in male POV to switching from first to third, takes practice. You make a great case for beta readers and editors to tell us when we miss the mark.

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  7. Tamara Hogan says:

    In a scene and story structure workshop I teach, I suggest to students that it’s useful, early on in a book’s gestation, to consider which of the book’s characters get “point of view rights.” Whose insights do you need to tell this story? Hero/heroine? Hero/heroine/villain? Hero/heroine/villain/minion? Etc. This decision influences structure, scene count, and story length.

    Trust author Kit Rocha to break those rules structure-wise, and to do it so damn well!

    Kit is the author of the “Beyond” series, which is post-apocalyptic/dystopian erotic romance. The series spans 9 full-length novels, numerous novellas and prequels, and now a delicious spin-off series called “Gideon’s Riders,” but in all these works, it’s not unusual for Rocha (the writing team of Donna Herren and Bree Bridges) to a) include chapters written from the point of view of several secondary characters, and b) to gleefully break chapter number sequencing while doing it.

    For example, in “Ashwin,” the book I’m reading right now, one finds chapters as follows: Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Deacon, Chapter Six, Chapter Seven, Chapter Eight, Chapter Nine, Ana, Chapter Ten, and so on. I’ve read enough Rocha to realize that Deacon and Ana will be important series characters, and likely a hero and heroine in a future book.

    I find this departure from typical chapter structure to be very, very clever. Getting to know these characters now definitely piques my interest in future books in the series.

    Great post, Kate!

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    • Kate Parker says:

      How clever, Tammy. Kit Rocha writes romance, which has one different thing built into series – a different hero and heroine getting their HEA in each book. In mystery series, the investigator carries on from book to book while the victim and killer vary from book to book (at least we hope so, which could bring on the cleverest twist ever). But the way she’s numbering her chapters is brilliant.

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    • Darynda Jones says:

      Wow!!! These books sound awesome, Tammy. I will check them out. You sold me with this:

      post-apocalyptic/dystopian erotic romance

      Yes!

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  8. I agree, Kate, it’s all about the story and how well an author uses POV. Most of my books have multiple POVs that include my hero, heroine, and several secondary characters. In my GH winner, A Little Bit of Deja Vu, I had SIX POVs, and it worked just fine.

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    • Kate Parker says:

      That shows how often I don’t notice POV changes when the story is good, because I didn’t realize you had that many POVs in your wonderful stories. Thanks for reminding me, Laurie.

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