Today we welcome romantic suspense author, Terry Odell. Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of editing several of Terry’s novels, including Where Danger Hides, which won the the 2012 Romantic Suspense Holt Medallion Award. To learn more about Terry’s novels, visit her website at: http://terryodell.com
Terry Odell was born in Los Angeles, moved to Florida, and now makes her home in Colorado. An avid reader she always wanted to “fix” stories so the characters did what she wanted. Once she began writing, she found this wasn’t always possible, as evidenced when the mystery she intended to write rapidly became a romance. Although her genre is labeled “romantic suspense”, Terry prefers to think of her books as “Mysteries With Relationships.” Her titles include her Blackthorne, Inc. series, her Pine Hills Police Series, as well as other stand alone titles. Look for her newest release, NOWHERE TO HIDE, a spinoff of her Pine Hills Police series.
Point of view (POV) is the vantage point from which we show a section of the story to the reader—and it’s one of the hardest things to deal with when we write.
Usually, we only tell the story through the eyes of one character—or at least one character at a time. When we switch back and forth, the reader is jerked from one person’s head to the other, and it’s hard to develop empathy for either character.
If we’ve chosen to use our heroine’s POV, then the reader will see what the heroine sees, hear what the heroine hears, and know most of what the heroine’s thinking.
The reader won’t know what anyone else is thinking, or what’s happening behind the heroine’s back, or what’s said after she leaves the room. If the heroine doesn’t see it, hear it, smell it or taste it, then it can’t happen for the reader—not in that scene, at least.
So how do you show the other character’s state of mind (like the hero)? We’ll know his state of mind by what he says, what he does, how he acts, and what the heroine thinks about it.
Let’s try an example. Sally’s the heroine, and she has just confronted Joe, the hero, about a lie she thinks he’s told her. Sally’s the POV character.
- Include Sally’s words. (“Why did you lie to me, Joe?”)
- Include her feelings as she works herself up to express herself. (Should she say it? Her head feels like it’s going to burst. Maybe it would be better to stay silent because he’ll only lie to her again.)
- Describe what she sees. (Joe’s jaw sets. The corner of his mouth twitches. He looks away instead of straight at her. His knuckles go white.)
- Include what she thinks. (He’s looking away rather than at me, so that must mean he’s admitting he was lying, or he’d look me in the eye.)
In Sally’s POV, we never include what Joe’s thinking—we don’t know if he’s feeling guilty for lying, or upset because he has been unjustly accused—and we don’t need to know. Knowing what everybody’s thinking will throw all the suspense right out the window. We know what Sally thinks, but we don’t know whether she’s right. And that makes readers want to keep turning the pages!
Types of POV
The most commonly used in fiction are first person (where the character tells the story as if talking to the reader) and third person (where a narrator describes what’s going on, sort of like a radio announcer doing the play-by-play of a basketball game).
Most romance novels use third person (Jane walked down the street), though chick lit often uses first person (I walked down the street).
In general, in a romance you’ll alternate between the hero’s POV or the heroine’s throughout the book. In longer books, you may go into the head of a significant secondary character who’s the pivot point of the story. But if a character only shows up in one scene, then it’s unlikely we get to hear her private thoughts. We’ll only hear what she actually says, or see her actions. The rule of thumb is that the POV character is the most important character in the scene.
Mystery novels often use first person, and the story is told from the POV of the detective. This is closest to reality, because the reader doesn’t get to know what’s happening until the detective does. However, third person also works well in mystery, especially when the author uses a deep POV.
Finally there’s a POV which tells everybody’s thoughts and actions. It’s called omniscient POV. Trouble is, the reader knows too much about what’s going on inside everybody’s head, and at the same time the reader doesn’t have a personal connection with any one of the characters. That’s why most entertainment fiction is written from one POV (or one at a time, with only a few total) and often with a very distinctive voice that draws the reader into the story and invites him/her to be the character’s friend.
As much as we try to stay in one character’s POV, sharing only their thoughts and feelings and impressions is difficult.
If you have your heroine thinking and then say, “She didn’t hear the hero coming up behind her,” if she didn’t hear it, then we’re suddenly outside her POV.
We do have to know what’s going on in all of our characters’ minds all the time, in order to select what they’re going to say, what they’re going to do, how they’re going to react. So it’s simple to let something the hero is thinking sneak into a scene where the author should only be giving the heroine’s thoughts.
Think about what your POV character can see and hear. If he can’t see it or doesn’t hear it, then you’ve shifted POVs. You can test for this by reading your scene aloud in the first person. If your scene is supposed to be the heroine’s POV and you’re reading, “I said… I moved…” and then suddenly you get to “he thought”—that’s a POV shift.
Of course, it is possible to have many POVs represented in one book. But it must be done judiciously and on purpose. The authors who do it well generally switch only a time or two during a scene (not with every speech) and only at places where it’s critically important to see what’s going on in the other character’s mind. If you’re writing suspense, it’s almost mandatory to show multiple POVs, because by definition, suspense means the reader is a step ahead of the action. Most suspense novels show the villain’s POV, so the reader knows what’s coming, and has to hope the protagonist will figure it out in time.
To switch POVs, you can always start a new scene. Starting too many new scenes, however, can make your story choppy and jerky. If you’re skilled, you learn how to lead your reader from one character’s head to another without scene or chapter breaks. But again, you have to be careful to do this seamlessly, and only when a POV change moves the story forward.
Are there rules? No. If your reader can follow your POV shifts, then you’ve done your job. But if you’re just starting out, it’s better to limit your POV characters and make your changes at logical breaks.
Thank you, Terry, for joining us today. If you have questions or comments for Terry about her novels, or about point of view, please feel free to post them. Thank you!