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Writing the Romance Novel: Point of View

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Though this is coming under much more debate these days, with all of the editors and agents saying chick lit is dead, dead, dead (which they said about historicals several years ago, but I digress), the standard POV for romance is third-person limited, past-tense, featuring the viewpoints of the heroine and the hero. That is what the romance reader is looking for.

I have heard from several authors recently that their first-person/present-tense “romance” novels were rejected, because the editor felt they were too chick-litty; or the author was asked to rewrite the story in third-person/past-tense and include the hero’s POV. And, by way of full disclosure, I am extremely prejudiced against the first/present POV and actively avoid reading it in books labeled “romance.”

Yes, single viewpoint romances have been written, and yes, they can be done well. In fact, we could say that there is almost a subgenre of romance which is the “girl must choose between two boys” romance. Young adult romances use this setup a lot (such as the Sunfire romances I read as a teen), as does chick lit.

I just want you to be forewarned that selling a romance novel that isn’t third/past/dual POV might be a struggle. Not impossible. But a struggle. But, don’t just take my prejudiced word for it.

  • A writer should stick to one POV per scene. “Headhopping” is a definite no-no.
  • For category romance, a book should either contain just the heroine’s POV, or, optimally, the heroine’s and hero’s POV.
  • Multiple POVs [more than hero/heroine] should be reserved for single-title works only.
  • In general, third-person POV is the preferred viewpoint.
  • (Rebecca Vinyard, The Romance Writer’s Handbook)

    What does she mean, no headhopping? What about Nora Roberts and Jude Deveraux and Julie Garwood and Lori Wick? They headhop all over the place! Yes, and they’re all multi-published authors whose books sell on the strength of their brand-name, not the strength of their craft. Honing the skill of writing in deep, third-limited POV will strengthen your writing like nothing else.

    The most common point of view in Christian romance is third person limited, alternating the hero’s or heroine’s POV by scene or chapters. . . . This method allows readers to enjoy getting to know both the hero and heroine intimately by seeing their relationship through both characters’ thoughts.
    (Gail Gaymer Martin, Writing the Christian Romance)

    Let’s take, for example, the movie You’ve Got Mail. What if it only had Meg Ryan’s scenes and the scenes in which she and Tom Hanks are together? Take out all of the scenes of him apart from her. You’d lose a big chunk of what’s important to the development of Kathleen and Joe’s relationship: the conflicts he brings to the table because of his family. If the story were told only from Kathleen’s POV, we would probably never understand why she ends up falling in love with him—nor would we get the chance to see the change and growth in him. Without getting inside the hero’s head, it’s a lot harder to convince the reader that the hero is worthy of our heroine’s love.

    By using POV to allow the reader an intimate glimpse inside the character’s perspectives, the writer allows the reader to understand why the character is threatened by the conflict and why she [or he] feels so strongly about the subject.
    (Gallagher/Estrada, eds., Writing Romances)

    Including both the hero’s and heroine’s viewpoints not only gives us insight into both sides of the developing relationship, it’s also a way to create and maintain suspense and conflict. As we talked about in the Hooking the Reader series, being able to cut away from a character’s POV at a pivotal moment—a moment of decision or the cusp of taking a new action—hooks the reader and keeps them reading to find out what happens next.

    In romance, it is the hero who carries the book. Within the dynamics of reading a romance, the female reader is the hero, and also is the heroine-as-object-of-the-hero’s-interest. . . . Through her own and the hero’s eyes, the reader watches and judges the heroine . . . the closer she moves toward spontaneously identifying with both hero and heroine, the more rich and rewarding the romance is likely to be for her.
    (Laura Kinsale, “The Androgynous Reader,” Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women)

    For Discussion:
    What POV do you prefer to read romances in? Do you always want the hero’s POV? Would you ever consider writing a single POV romance from the hero’s viewpoint? Do you find yourself identifying more with the heroine when you see her through the hero’s eyes—wanting to be in her place as the object of his admiration? What POV have you chosen to use? Any other thoughts on POV in romance?

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    1. Wednesday, April 23, 2008 10:41 am

      I prefer third-person, limited. But I read a lot of romance so that’s predominantly what I read. Occasionally I come across a chick-lit or women’s fiction book in first-person. It has to be really well done for me to read it. The first time the author jumps out of the main character’s POV, usually to omniscient POV, I’m done.

      I don’t like head-hopping but I can tolerate multiple POVs in the same chapter. This takes a particularly skilled writer so that it doesn’t feel jarring but rather like watching a movie where you get to see what’s going on from both vantage points. I don’t recommend it although I have seen it done.


    2. Wednesday, April 23, 2008 11:53 am

      Head hopping can all depend. If you do it from the beginning, then readers know what to expect (though it gets increasingly harder to call it 3rd person limited the more you do this within a single scene).

      If your limited 3rd POV character suddenly becomes clairvoyant in the middle of your work, then it gets weird.

      I’ve found as I write from the hero’s perspective, I like HIM a lot more. In fact, for my last two mss, I’ve gone back and written a SS about the hero, set before the novel. (It’s a form of withdrawal, I think 😉 .)

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Wednesday, April 23, 2008 12:38 pm

      Third person limited please! First drives me batty and I stay away from it. I don’t write it either because I dislike it so much.

      Would I ever consider writing something just from the hero’s POV? Of course! That would be so much fun for me.

      And I write entirely in third person limited, with the exception of one contemporary prologue that begged to be written in 1st. But the rest of the book is 3rd.


    4. Wednesday, April 23, 2008 4:10 pm

      Third person limited is my pick, too. There’s a reason why it’s the most common–it works!

      I’d definitely consider writing a book just from the hero’s POV, but as for a romance, I’m not so sure. I really like having the duo POV, that way I can be confident they’re a good match. When you’re never in one of their heads, you have to wonder, are they as good as they appear or POV character just blinded by their love?

      Liked by 1 person

    5. Wednesday, April 23, 2008 7:44 pm

      I’m not writing a romance, but an historical with a strong romantic thread. I tend to tell the bulk of my stories through a male POV (for whatever reason…). In my current WIP, I’m writing my male protag’s scenes in third (roughly 2/3 of the book), and my female protag’s in first person. I didn’t mean to do this. I simply couldn’t capture her voice in third.

      I like to read both third and first. I like books that mix them, too.

      Liked by 1 person

    6. Thursday, April 24, 2008 11:33 am

      Aww, you’re making me blush =) Thanks, Kaye!

      For straight romance I do prefer both hero and heroine. That said, I also like first person because then you’re kept guessing as to the hero’s thoughts/intentions, much like real life.

      Liked by 1 person

    7. Thursday, April 24, 2008 7:53 pm

      I like both POV’s third past limited. I think it might have been easier in the past to restrict a romance to the heroine’s POV exclusively, because neither the reader nor the heroine had any idea what the hero was thinking. When you write from the hero’s POV, you have to make him a more three dimensional character, with inner conflicts. He ceases to be a paragon/mystery.


    8. Lynda H. permalink
      Sunday, April 27, 2008 7:21 am

      Hello I am a new writer and I would like to know the basics of writing a romance novel.
      Like, where do I start and how do I structure a beginning middle and end and so on. if you would please advise. Lyn.


    9. Lynda H. permalink
      Sunday, April 27, 2008 7:24 am

      What is third person limited and how does it read/what does it look like? Is it like, ‘I saw him at teh corner of the street, licking his lips and looking in my direction…’ Thanks, Lyn


    10. Jessica permalink
      Monday, May 5, 2008 1:19 pm

      I am writing a romance novel from the hero’s point of view. Will it get rejected right off because of that? I’m considering maybe switching over for part II, but she’s sort of a complicated person. I think maybe she should be left to herself, to let the hero and the reader figure her out on her own. Do you have any advice about this?


    11. Valerie permalink
      Wednesday, June 23, 2010 8:17 pm

      I’m writing in the heroine’s POV only because I don’t want to get into other characters thoughts or feelings. I find that writing as one person is easier and less complicated, I think the reader can put herself in the shoes of the heroine. By the way, I didn’t know they were called Chick Lit stories, thanks for explaining that. I have no idea of this will be excepted wherever I decide to send it and I knew this when writing it but once I got started I couldn’t leave the story line alone. But if you know where I could possibly send my romance mystery novel, I’d love to hear it! Thanks


    12. Christine Mann permalink
      Monday, August 21, 2017 1:56 pm

      One of the things I loved about Gone with the Wind is that we never went into Rhett’s point of view, so what he thought was part of the mystery of the story. I also really like Georgette Heyer novels, and she uses third person omniscient as well as third-person limited, and switches POVs freely in the middle of a scene. Those are both older novels, true, but I dislike the arbitrary rules that say other ways than limited-POV alternating his and hers aren’t viable. POV police, don’t lock up my story!

      When self-publishers are starting to dominate the romance market, and can certainly be successful without the approval of a traditional publisher, how important is it really what old-school publishers prefer?


      • Monday, August 21, 2017 1:58 pm

        I think it’s important to keep in mind that the reason the traditional publishers set these guidelines/standards is because that’s what the readers want and expect.


    13. elyra35 permalink
      Sunday, September 17, 2017 12:58 pm

      I have already started writing my novel in first POV but now I’m thinking to write it as that and solidify the draft further by rewriting in third pov. I have a question. When should the male’s POV come or how do I show the hero’s goal if I just use the girl pov.


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