Historical and Contemporary Romance Author

What’s Your Point of View on Point of View?

Although I’m about to set it aside to dig into writing the second short story under my Spice Briefs contract, I’ve been working on a manuscript for the past few weeks that’s giving me fits on the issue of point of view and whether to go with third person or first person narration. Although I’m not going to “reveal” the plot here (because, shhhhh, it’s super secret, lol), I can tell you it’s urban fantasy (ghosts, angels, werewolves, etc.) set in London at the turn of the 20th century. There are romantic elements in the story, but it’s not a romance per se, and I envision at least a three-book series with this heroine as the protagonist.

I started out writing this in third person with the idea that I would tell the story from multiple characters’ POV, but now that I’ve gotten into the story a bit further, I’ve realized that the plot demands that certain information be parceled out to the reader in the same way it’s parceled out to the heroine. Because the other characters know things that I can’t reveal to the reader before the heroine learns them, I really can’t write from multiple characters’ point of view without “spoiling” it. (I suppose in theory I could write the other charactres’ POVs and just not let them reveal anything I don’t want the reader to know, but I am incredibly annoyed by this tactic when I encounter it in other books. If I’m in a character’s head, I want the narrator to share with me any relevant information that character knows, or I feel I’m being manipulated by an untrustworthy narrator.)

Now that I realize I’m going to write the whole book in ONE character’s limited POV (as opposed to multiple POVs and/or omniscient POV), I’m wondering if the narration shouldn’t be first person rather than third person. I can’t remember the last time I read a full-length novel that was narrated in third person from a SINGLE character’s point of view. It seems to me that writing in third person almost demands that the author present multiple points of view.

On the other hand, as much as I like writing (and reading) first person narration, I’m aware that a fair percentage of readers (and editors) dislike first person intensely. Given that I like the voice of the third person narration in the book I’m writing, I don’t want to change to first person just because I’m afraid someone will be annoyed by the lack of other characters’ POVs.

So, that’s my dilemma, and it’s made me really curious how you all feel about point of view and person. I’ve added a little poll below on the subject, but if you have additional thoughts, I’d love to read them in the comments.

[poll id=”7″]

P.S. Totally appropos of nothing in this post, I notice that Behind the Red Door is back on sale for the bargain price of $5.58 at Amazon. That’s cheaper than most mass market paperbacks, so this is a good time to buy :)!


  • Jill Sorenson May 11, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    I don’t think you need multiple POVs in third person. I’ve read plenty of romances that are from heroine’s POV only, and not in first. UF is so heroine-centric, too, isn’t it? Sounds like it would work fine.

    I also don’t think you have to share everything a character knows, either. Omission is a fair technique.

  • Jackie Barbosa May 11, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Hi Jill, thanks for your thoughts.

    Yeah, UF is often very heroine-centric, although the UFs I’ve read recently have been either first person or third person multiple/omniscient. I think third person single POV is more common in old-style category romances than it is now. The only place I’m really seeing that very often anymore is in novellas. I’m not saying I can’t do it; I just wonder if readers aren’t conditioned these days to expect multiple POVs when the narration is third person.

    You’re right, omission can be a fair technique, but when what the heroine is finding out is directly related to who/what the other characters ARE, that’s a hard thing to “omit” from those characters POVs. It’s like having a character who’s a vampire, the heroine needs find out he’s a vampire, but in his POV somehow NOT having him EVER think about the fact that he’s a vampire. It might be possible, but it’s VERY tricky to pull off and make it not seem unnatural.

  • Victoria Janssen May 11, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    It sounds like you’re leaning towards a single pov. I think a big difference between using 1st and 3rd in this situation is going to be voice. In first, the narrator’s voice needs to be really strong, really consistent. In third, “your” voice can dominate. I realize they’re both your voice, but one is more subsumed in the character than the other.

    In first, the reader feels what the character feels (my heart froze). In third, the reader SEES what the character is doing (she crushed the flowers beneath her heel); it’s more show and less tell, even though you can tell to some degree (She felt awful.)

    You can get some good fun for the reader out of the 1st person narrator not realizing/figuring out stuff that the reader might understand/figure out (think when a child narrator is witnessing his parents fighting; we know one of them is having an affair, the kid thinks it’s about the last slice of pie). Ditto third because the reader gets to figure out what’s going on from the clues presented, just as the character is doing.

  • Elyssa Papa May 13, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    I voted other mainly because it depends on the genre or sub-genre in Romance. I’m fine with 1st pov when it comes to chick lit, women’s fic, UF, YA. But I prefer mutiple 3rd povs when it comes to contemps, paras, and historicals.

    I also think at the end of the day is doesn’t matter what pov or tense the story is told in as long as it’s a “good” story. And I’m sure yours is.

  • Cora Zane May 13, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    It depends on the story, but most of the time if I’m picking up a book off the shelf in a store, I put it back if I see it’s in 1st person.

    I very much prefer 3rd person. It doesn’t matter to me a lot if it’s multiple or limited 3rd, but I’ve put down some books that had entirely too many POVs going on.

    I understand there are some stories that must be told in 1st person, or through multiple 3rd, so again, it depends on the book. Whatever works best for the story, you know?

  • Leslie May 13, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    I think 3rd person with multiple POVs is dangerous unless it is handled extremely well. I would only go that route if you plan to stay in one character’s head in one chapter or section, then move to another character in the next. I cannot abide head-hopping, personally.

  • Ericka Scott May 19, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    Lots of mystery books are written 3rd POV with just one person narrating (in order to keep the clues secret). I enjoy that…first person is okay, as long as I like the character. If you can’t make me like the character, I don’t want her “I’ing” me to death….

    Urban Fantasy from what I’ve read seems to be a mix of one narrator, first or third…

  • HelenS May 22, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    I like tight third person, and don’t see any problem with keeping it strictly from the heroine’s point of view (though untrustworthy narrators can be fun, if you don’t like them you probably won’t want to put in the time to make one — or more — work right). As long as you actually *know* which person you’re working in, that’s half the battle — the big problems turn up when authors switch without knowing that they are.

    I once read a supposedly first-person book that kept going after the death of the narrator — the author had gotten lost in his own description and simply hadn’t noticed that he’d switched to omniscient. Now that was weird. Presumably you’re not going to do that unless your heroine actually HAS a life after death — no, don’t tell me.


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