When Should You Switch POV?

Early Harlequin romances were written in 3rd person from the heroine’s pov (point of view). It was quite a while before the hero was allowed his pov. Once he was, it wasn’t uncommon for writers to “head hop.” (Go from the heroine’s thoughts to the hero’s and back.)

When I started writing romances, I was head hopping—not within a paragraph, but within a scene. It wasn’t until 1990 that a new editor (to me) suggested I stay in one pov for a scene. (She was, however, okay with head hopping in a love scene.) Her feeling was by staying in one character’s pov the reader would feel closer to that character. So, I started writing that way . . . and so have many other writers. In fact, nowadays, many writers use the close pov, which makes writing in the 3rd person almost like being in 1st person.

At the turn of the century I started writing mysteries. I chose the 1st person pov for my P.J. Benson mystery series because I wanted readers to know P.J.’s hopes and fears. I needed readers to understand what motivated her, and I also didn’t want her knowing everything that was going on around her. For A Killer Past, I needed two povs, both close, so the reader would understand the tension between Mary and Jack, why she wanted to keep her past a secret and what motivated him to dig deeper. For that book I chose to switch povs scene by scene. When I wrote Echoes of Terror, which will be released March 2017, I knew I would need multiple povs. With that book, I decided to have the switches chapter by chapter.

This summer I’ve been reformatting one of my last Silhouette romances. Heiress Seeking Perfect Husband was written for Silhouette’s short-lived Yours Truly line. The idea for that line was to have stories with more than one suitor with the heroine finally choosing one. It was a “you’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs before you find Prince Charming” concept.

I loved that idea. (Been there, done that.) So I created a story where my heroine, a young, rich, widow, starts getting love letters. I set it up so the hero, who works for her and is secretly in love with her, is coerced into writing letters for one of the “Frogs.” What I discovered was using the one pov per scene was not as effective in creating the romantic tension I wanted between my hero and heroine as switching from one character’s thoughts to the other’s within the same scene. So even though I had stopped using the “head hopping” method years before, I went back to it for that book . . . and I think it works.

The point of this blog is to say, when it comes to deciding whose pov to use and how to present it, you, the writer, must decide what works best for the story. There are no rules. What’s right is what works, so don’t be afraid to try different ways.

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12 Responses to When Should You Switch POV?

  1. Melissa Keir says:

    Very true as the writer, you write using the best POV to tell the story. Some people were all upset about the current trend of 1st person POV for romances but then some people loved them better.

    You can’t please everyone. Just write the best story and that is enough!

    • Maris Soule says:

      Melissa, that’s exactly right. You can’t please everyone, so the first person you should please is yourself. If you’ve written the best story you can, then don’t worry if others say, “That just isn’t done.” Sometimes you have to be the first.

  2. I’m glad to hear you went with what you feel is best for the story. Too many times we’re told, “you must do it this way.” When I revisited my short stories, I found I did a lot of head hopping when I first wrote them…and it worked just fine! So I left that alone since no editor had called me out on it. I try to keep to one POV per scene in the books I’m writing now because it’s become almost a habit, but I don’t mind when I read two different ones. Often makes for a richer story!

    • Maris Soule says:

      You’re so right, Lucy. One reason I enjoy reading books “out of my genre” is I’m exposed to different styles of writing. As far as I’m concerned, if it works, it’s fine.

  3. Min Edwards says:

    When I wrote my first novel, I just wrote, sometimes changing POV paragraph to paragraph. My editor at the time stopped me on that saying it would confuse the reader. She may have been correct. Now I’m careful to give one POV only within a scene… of course sometimes my scenes are very short. It seems to work for my romantic suspense novels, at least for me. Now though, when I read others’ works skipping around POVs are jarring and pull me right out of the story. It’s a personal thing though.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Min, you’re right, it is personal. For me, it’s not a matter of one being better than another, but rather if one style works for a story or not.

  4. Nancy Gideon says:

    When I edited my early books to get them reissued, my POV was all over the place, sometimes within the same paragraph (only books 1 and 2 thankfully!). And these were published books! Though most of the time, I now stick with the one POV per scene rule, there are times when they need to swap within a scene, and as long as the reader isn’t confused or jerked out of the ‘moment’, I’ll go for it.

    • Maris Soule says:

      I’ve been running into the same thing, Nancy. In one case I thought about trying to change how I handled the pov, but then I realized I would change the story, so I left it as it was.

  5. Diane Burton says:

    Finding what works is a lot of trial and error. I love writing my mysteries in 1st person POV. I think her character comes through better. Just like P.J.’s comes through in your mysteries.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Diane, I agree. I think the reader (and writer) feel closer to a character when the story is written in first person. Of course, using first person limits what the character can know, but that some times adds to the mystery.

  6. I found your blog and the comments by fellow authors of great interest. Point of view is one of the important components of fiction writing. In romance, I’m mostly with the heroine but try to give space to the hero as well and I do keep to close third person. In mysteries, it can vary. In THE THIRD EYE: A PINE BARRENS MYSTERY, my son and I alternated point of view by chapter. There were two main characters, one’s story was in first person, the other in third, and since it was a mystery they intertwined. It worked well.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Jacqueline, I think it’s so neat that you and your son write the mysteries together. My son writes, but there’s no way we could write a story together.