Writing the Romance Novel: Point of View
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)
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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