Writer’s Wednesday Guestblogger Terry Odell with Tips on Point of View

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

http://terryodell.com/blog1/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/portrait3_200x300.jpg 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.

Using POV

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.

Multiple POVs

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.

Nowhere to Hide     Deadly Secrets

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!



40 thoughts to “Writer’s Wednesday Guestblogger Terry Odell with Tips on Point of View”

  1. Thanks so much for inviting me to be your guest, Brittiany. Point of View was the first lesson I had when I started writing, so it’s something I’m very aware of when reading.

  2. Terry, great points. I took your workshop on POV on Savvy Authors, and it was hugely helpful, as I’m working on a science fiction novel with a four-way romantic relationship and an antagonist – five points of view. That workshop is the only reason my head hasn’t split open from the strain {grin}.

    1. Margaret – so glad my workshop helped you. Point of View is one of my “sensitive” issues, and I get pulled out of a story immediately if it’s not handled well.

  3. Great Post Terry,
    I find POV difficult to manage, possibly because I’ve read Nora’s books for so long. She writes in omniscient POV. So that’s what I did when I began writing and contest judges were quick to slap me for it! It was a struggle to change my style, but I’ve finally pulled it off by using a fellow writer’s trick.

    I change font color for every person’s POV, then I can scan at a glance (best if shrinking page size to about 20%) and check for balance. Also, then when doing a read through, it pops for me if the words don’t fit the POV.

    1. Nice trick. I used to head my scenes with the POV character so I knew whose head I was in. I still am a “one scene, one POV” person. Early on, I’d print them out and highlight in different colors. I occasionally get in trouble if I’m revising and don’t make sure to check who’s the POV character in a particular scene. I agree that Nora started writing when omniscient POV was more prevalent, and nobody’s going to argue with her success.

  4. Excellent discussion of POV, Terry.
    I prefer third person myself since in romantic suspense it’s important to alternate hero and heroine’s viewpoint. One way to make it work is to have a break between shifting viewpoints or even alternating chapters.

    Jacqueline Seewald

    1. In any romance, readers expect the dual POV, so it’s important to understand how to handle it. If you do it well, you can transition without scene or chapter breaks, but I prefer that signal to the reader that a change is coming. Another “trick” is to make sure you start each POV shift with something than can only be from that character’s POV.

  5. Kathyrn, that’s an excellent idea I haven’t thought of. Terry I used colored highlighted also put it got mess (lol). I write in the third person. I’ll tack this up over

  6. Your blog was extremely informative. I have struggled with POV shifts. It’s one of my bigger booboo’s as a new writer. I have only one book published and learned a lot going through the process with an editor. I also have a great critique partner who is also a talented writer who caught my POV issues in the second novel I submitted recently. Almost done with third and I am going to go through it again to make sure I am not head hopping. Your tips are very helpful.

    Great Blog!!!


    Erin Simone, Author

  7. Great post Terry. You concisely nail the subject. I think the quality of my stories at this stage of my writing hinges on finessing deep POV, so I appreciate you sharing your experience and wisdom.

    1. If you can get your hand on an old handout from Suzanne Brockmann about Going Deep With POV, it’s got a lot of great help. I used it for my POV class at Savvy Authors. Good examples and explanations.

        1. I don’t know how often Savvy Authors lets you repeat classes; I’d certainly be happy to do it. Perhaps more people should request it. However, I know others offer workshops on the topic, so they might be “sharing the wealth” rather than have the same person do a repeat.

    1. I normally write third as well, but I had a couple of detective short stories that seemed to demand first person … it was a great exercise as well as the “right” way to tell the story. Sometimes the characters know and you have to trust them.

  8. Your insight on POV really has helped me. In my critique group I am the worst at “Head hopping”. I have to control my urge to have an internal reaction by my characters for everything that’s said or done. I’ve learned, as you’ve stated, to do it through showing not telling. I also watch for key words such as thought, mused, believed, then I know whose head I’m in and can ensure it’s the same character throughout the scene.


    1. Lisa — if you focus on the POV character in each scene, and limit yourself to one per scene until you get the hang of it, it should be easier to stay in the character’s head. You might also try substituting “I” for your POV character to make sure you’re not hopping around.

  9. Thank you, Terry. You gave some very precise and helpful points for POV. It’s a very important part of the story, so we have to pay attention to it and get it right. Have you ever spoken at a RWA conference? If so, I have the tapes from 2008 to present, and would love to hear your workshop sometime.



    1. Lily – I’ve never gone quite as “Big Time” as RWA nationals, but I have given my workshop at smaller conferences. If your local chapter wants me to speak, I’d be happy to see if we can work something out.

  10. I took your POV workshop through Savvy and it was very helpful. So is this post, Terry. Thanks so much for sharing.

  11. A very good post, Terry. When I read current novels, I note where the POV shifts, and many times it isn’t clear. I will stop and reread, and I’m still not sure what the author meant to do. I try to remember that when I edit my stuff.

    1. Gerri – if you’re pulling the reader out of the story, then you’re not doing a good job. Sometimes I wonder who edits those books! (Not Brittiany, I’m sure)

  12. Terry great POV post. I have to share a funny. When I first started writing, POV meant nothing to me. From years in the military environment it meant Privately Owned Vehicle. So imagine my confusion. I still struggle not to “head hop” but I’m working on avoiding it lol. Hugs and I hope you have a great day.

    1. Funny, Kathy … I remember reading Cold Zero by Christopher Whitcomb, who was a sniper with the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team. He abbreviated it HRT, and throughout the entire book, all my brain would see was “Hormone Replacement Therapy” (You can tell where I was in my life when I read the book.) I met him at a conference and told him–he even used it in his talk, making sure the audience knew what HRT meant in his book!

  13. Great post, Terry! Lots of important things to remember. I write in first for one series and deep third in another and like both equally. But both are fraught with peril. Thanks for the tips!

    1. First and deep third are almost interchangeable, I think. You do have a little more freedom with third, but you have to stay tight in both.

  14. Very nice post, Terry. You cover the topic clearly and succinctly. Right now I’m using only close third person and find it much easier and in some ways more fun than multiple points of view.

  15. Excellent tutorial o POV, Terry. Maybe you can guest again here and detail how to effectively use deep 3rd person POV. You do that so well, and I have picked up tips from your comments on other blogs, as well as from reading your books.

  16. People forget how important clear POV is. Who wants to get motion-sick from head hopping? Not me! 😉

    There is one crime author, Louise Penny, who writes the Armand Gamache mysteries set in and around Montreal. She uses third omniscient, out of favor now and hard to do, but she does it so seamlessly, and by putting us so deeply inside one character, then sliding us into neutral territory before putting us in the next, that one barely notices and it works.

    My feeling is that I don’t want to watch a movie of the story in words– that’s why I’m reading a book and not watching a movie. I want to live the story from within the characters, which is why I prefer, as a reader and writer, strong, clear POV.

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