POV, Or: Whose Head Am I In
Copyright Cynthia VanRooy -
All Rights Reserved
Fiction writing is about people.
Romance fiction is about two people in particular,
your hero and heroine. The story is told from their
point of view, so understanding and effectively
using point of view is basic to romance
POV (or Point Of View) can sound
technical to a new writer, but it simply refers to
the character whose perspective the story events
are told through. Readers see, hear, feel and
experience events as that character would—and
only those things that character would
experience. In a romance this is usually the hero
or heroine, with possible occasional side trips
into the POV of a secondary character.
In other words, if you’re in the
heroine’s POV you’re not going to mention her
creamy skin or silky hair unless she’s looking at
herself in a mirror—and is an incredibly vain
person. You’re seeing the world through her eyes,
so you see only what she would see. Describe
the hero’s coffee brown eyes and broad shoulders. J
That’s what your heroine sees.
In the short scene below from my
book BLUE SKIES our couple is at a formal
dinner dance. It’s written from the heroine’s POV.
There’s a slight problem. Can you find it?
She felt a small flash of
annoyance. "What have you got against
"Nothing. Let’s do it." He
drew her back into his arms and stepped out as the
music began again.
A tiny line appeared between
her brows at the resignation she heard in his
voice, but at least he was holding her.
Got it? It’s the tiny line
between her brows. She wouldn’t be able to see
this. The hero could, but . . . we’re not in his
POV. I didn’t write this, it’s something the
copy-editor inserted. I about went ballistic when I
saw it, but c’est la vie. This one is a
simple fix. Replacing a tiny line appeared
between her brows with she frowned with
concern brings the POV fluctuation back into
POV congruency also means that
you the writer describe those things a particular
character would experience in a vocabulary that
character would use. You’re in his or her thoughts.
If your character is a high school dropout, you
wouldn’t use language more appropriate to a Ph. D.
An unfortunate example of this mistake turned up in
the first scene of an unpublished (it still is)
manuscript I was asked to critique. In the scene,
the only two characters are a belly-scratching,
beer-guzzling, good-old-boy deer hunter and his
dog. They are alone in the back country, the hunter
leaning against the fender of his truck
congratulating himself on the buck he has just
illegally bagged. Suddenly there is the observation
of dust motes dancing like ballerinas in the
beam of sunlight slanting through the
Huh? Who is supposed to be
having these thoughts—the good old boy or his dog?
In an effort to sound literary, the writer managed
only to sound silly. Being disciplined about POV
will help you avoid embarrassing lapses, like this
one, into purple prose.
Some new writers think they must
change POV every time a different character speaks.
Not only is this not necessary, it’s not even
desirable. However, writers fall into one of two
POV camps. There are the purists who prefer to
write in one character’s POV for the duration of a
scene, and sluts who change POV so often the
reader’s head spins. I started out a slut, head
hopping so frequently my characters had no chance
to become individuals. I gradually developed into a
purist because I discovered I wrote more powerful
books that way.
If you’re in the heroine’s POV
and the hero is angry, you don’t need to leap into
his perspective to show the reader this. Have your
heroine recognize the hero’s anger through his
expression, body language, and manner of speaking.
Granted, this is a little trickier than just
saying, John was furious, but handling the
tricky stuff well is what makes better writers
better. The following paragraph in the hero’s POV
is also from BLUE SKIES. Note that the scene
never waivers from this POV. The heroine has just
said something unfairly insulting to the hero.
"I don’t deserve that remark,
He watched her wrestle with
her conscience, saw the guilt come and go on her
face. Her gaze veered away from his and he waited
to see if she had the guts to acknowledge the truth
of his words.
At her continued silence his
mouth twisted in disgust.
Yada, yada, yada (I’m
sparing you unnecessary story detail J )
He got as far as the kitchen
door when Gina stopped him.
He turned impatiently She
stood in the middle of the room gnawing on her
bottom lip, her fingers knotting and unknotting in
front of her, then dropped her chin. "I’m sorry,"
she said quietly.
"For . . .?"
She raised her head and the
pain in her eyes was so real he almost let her off
How does Gina feel in this
scene? Guilty, ashamed, regretful?
How do you know? You were never
in her head to hear her think. You know by what the
hero observes about her body language and manner,
the look in her eyes.
You can stay in the same
character’s POV for an entire chapter and yet the
reader can be perfectly aware of how every other
character in that chapter feels. Through your point
of view character, you will be able to convey the
emotions and thoughts of all your other characters
if you can pinpoint the physical actions that give
away those thoughts and feelings.
Become a student of body
language. Watch television with a notebook and pen
and make note of how the performers portray
sadness, surprise, happiness, and anger. Have you
ever been in the mall and seen two people arguing.
You couldn’t hear them, but you knew what was going
on, didn’t you? Analyze why.
You aren’t committed to staying
in one character’s head for the whole book. That
would be frustrating and boring for you and the
reader both. Just don’t change POV
Why not ? What’s wrong with
I’m glad you asked.J When a
reader becomes emotionally engaged in a book, he or
she enters into the story. The writer has
hypnotized the reader into participating in the
illusion of the fictional world. The reader
understands the book world isn’t real, but in order
to fully enjoy the story, he or she chooses to
temporarily pretend otherwise, or to suspend
their disbelief, as this state is referred to
in book-writing circles. (See, you just learned
something else.J )
Every time you shift the reader
from one character to another, they are jarred out
of their suspension of disbelief and reminded they
aren’t actually living in the fictional world
you’ve created, they’re only reading a story. Do
that often enough and they’ll stop reading
your story. Scene changes or new chapters are the
best and least disruptive places to change POV.
Settling into a character’s head
and staying there awhile will also prevent you from
writing generic heroes and heroines. Deep POV gives
the reader a chance to really identify with a
character, something you aim for as an author. Even
Nora Roberts, famous for her frequent changes in
POV, lets the reader stay in one character long
enough to become thoroughly hooked.
Here’s a quick way to check how
well you’re staying true to your characters’ POV.
In your current WIP (work in progress) use pink and
blue highlighters—all right, I’m a sexist—to
highlight things in a couple of your scenes that
are unique to your hero or heroine’s POV. You
should have nice, long runs of one color or the
other. If your pages look more like checkerboards,
you’ll know you have some work to do!
author: Cynthia VanRooy is an award
winning romance novelist with eight books published
by both print and epublishers. Her ninth romance
will be released late 2005 by New Age
Dimensions. Additional details can be found at