Point of View in Romance Books – What’s the Point?
~Written by Adriana Kraft~
We authors hear a lot about “point of view” in romance books – do you ever wonder what’s the point of it all? How did it get started, anyway, and why bother paying attention to it?
It wasn’t always so. In the era of Jane Austen – regarded by many as a founder of what we now know as romance books – authors could insert themselves into the story, could convey information to the reader that none of the characters could know, and generally could write from what is known as the “omniscient” perspective.
Fast forward to the contemporary romance novel, any time in the last half century: Romance books are now primarily written in what is known as “third person limited” point of view. In any given scene or chapter, the story is being told from a specific character’s perspective. Readers are in that character’s “head” for the duration of the scene, and can only be told what that character could know and observe, would think, or would experience.
Typically, in standard romance books, readers are allowed to experience two such perspectives: the hero and the heroine. The point of this limitation is to help readers identify with the characters. As readers, when we spend a lengthy scene feeling what the heroine feels, seeing what she sees, understanding what she’s thinking and immersing ourselves in her moment-by-moment lived experience, we want to be her. Our engagement in the story is deepened and we find ourselves pulled to turn the page, and the next, and the next.
Longer novels and more complex plots may give us more than the standard two points of view, but the principle of increasing reader involvement with the characters remains: one scene, one point of view/perspective. Readers have come to expect this. They want to know whose thoughts and feelings they’re being asked to experience. This helps them stay grounded in the story.
This means several things for authors. First, we must decide whose perspective best tells the story or scene. Typically, we’ll want to select the character who is most impacted by what’s going on. Sometimes we’ll have other reasons, perhaps to keep variety in P.O.V., or to provide the reader with information only a particular character would know.
Second, we must establish that perspective in a manner easy for the reader to follow. Near the beginning of each new scene, we’ll want to be sure to convey what our P.O.V. character is feeling or thinking, and not just the facts of what they’re observing.
Then comes the tough part. We have to stick to it – we have to avoid the dreaded “head hopping,” until the scene is over and we can switch to a different character’s point of view.
How do we do this? We don’t say or reveal anything our P.O.V. character couldn’t know. For example, our character cannot know what is going on in another character’s head – what they’re thinking, or feeling, or deciding. Our character can only observe expressions and make deductions about the thoughts of others.
But there’s more. We don’t convey anything our character wouldn’t be thinking, even if it’s something we know they know. Sure, we’d love to let the reader know that our heroine’s eyes, which she felt widen when she was startled, are green and sparkling. But she won’t be having that thought, not when she’s newly startled, and if we want the reader to know that, we have to wait for a scene in another character’s point of view and have that character observe it.
If we succeed in all of the above, we’ll be dropping our romance book readers into ever fuller opportunities to experience the lives of our characters, in all their depth and nuanced detail.
About Author Adriana Kraft:
Adriana Kraft is the pen name for a happily married pair of hopeless romantics who love to read and write hot sex. By day, we’re serious academics with backgrounds in social science and human services. At night? Possibilities seem endless and we love coming out to play. Our erotic romance novels celebrate more than consensual mind-blowing sex—we feature strong story lines, heroes and heroines you’ll fall in love with, passion and profound connectedness.
Our specialty is bisexual heroines. Our stories lift up the dilemmas faced by women who deeply want it both ways, but won’t be denied the right to commitment, true love and a happy ending, sometimes with more than one special partner. While that may sound serious, it also permits us to get into swinging, voyeurism and ménage, great opportunities for being playful. It’s rather challenging at times to describe all the possible entanglements.