Whose Head Am I In Anyway?
By Cynthia VanRooy
Fiction writing is about people. Romance fiction is about
two people in particular, your hero and heroine. The
story is told from their point of view, so understanding
and effectively using point of view is basic to romance
writing. Given that fact, I thought point of view would
be a good place to launch this column.
POV (or Point Of View) can sound technical to a new
writer, but it simply refers to the character whose
perspective the story events are told through. Readers
see, hear, feel and experience events as that character
wouldand only those things that character would
experience. In a romance this is usually the hero or
heroine, with possible occasional side trips into the POV
of a secondary character.
In other words, if youre in the heroines POV
youre not going to mention her creamy skin or silky
hair unless shes looking at herself in a
mirrorand is an incredibly vain person. Youre
seeing the world through her eyes, so you see only what
she would see. Describe the heros coffee brown eyes
and broad shoulders. J Thats what your heroine
In the short scene below from my book BLUE SKIES our
couple is at a formal dinner dance. Its written
from the heroines POV. Theres a slight
problem. Can you find it?
felt a small flash of annoyance. What have you got
Nothing. Lets do it. He drew her back
into his arms and stepped out as the music began again.
A tiny line appeared between her brows at the resignation
she heard in his voice, but at least he was holding her.
Got it? Its the tiny line between her brows. She
wouldnt be able to see this. The hero could, but .
. . were not in his POV. I didnt write this,
its something the copy-editor inserted. I about
went ballistic when I saw it, but cest la vie. This
one is a simple fix. Replacing a tiny line appeared
between her brows with she frowned with concern brings
the POV fluctuation back into line.
POV congruency also means that you the writer describe
those things a particular character would experience in a
vocabulary that character would use. Youre in his
or her thoughts. If your character is a high school
dropout, you wouldnt use language more appropriate
to a Ph. D. An unfortunate example of this mistake turned
up in the first scene of an unpublished (it still is)
manuscript I was asked to critique. In the scene, the
only two characters are a belly-scratching,
beer-guzzling, good-old-boy deer hunter and his dog. They
are alone in the back country, the hunter leaning against
the fender of his truck congratulating himself on the
buck he has just illegally bagged. Suddenly there is the
observation of dust motes dancing like ballerinas in the
beam of sunlight slanting through the trees.
Huh? Who is supposed to be having these thoughtsthe
good old boy or his dog? In an effort to sound literary,
the writer managed only to sound silly. Being disciplined
about POV will help you avoid embarrassing lapses, like
this one, into purple prose.
Some new writers think they must change POV every time a
different character speaks. Not only is this not
necessary, its not even desirable. However, writers
fall into one of two POV camps. There are the purists who
prefer to write in one characters POV for the
duration of a scene, and sluts who change POV so often
the readers head spins. I started out a slut, head
hopping so frequently my characters had no chance to
become individuals. I gradually developed into a purist
because I discovered I wrote more powerful books that
If youre in the heroines POV and the hero is
angry, you dont need to leap into his perspective
to show the reader this. Have your heroine recognize the
heros anger through his expression, body language,
and manner of speaking. Granted, this is a little
trickier than just saying, John was furious, but handling
the tricky stuff well is what makes better writers
better. The following paragraph in the heros POV is
also from BLUE SKIES. Note that the scene never waivers
from this POV. The heroine has just said something
unfairly insulting to the hero.
deserve that remark, Gina.
He watched her wrestle with her conscience, saw the guilt
come and go on her face. Her gaze veered away from his
and he waited to see if she had the guts to acknowledge
the truth of his words.
At her continued silence his mouth twisted in disgust.
Yada, yada, yada (Im sparing you unnecessary story
He got as far as the kitchen door when Gina stopped him.
He turned impatiently She stood in the middle of the room
gnawing on her bottom lip, her fingers knotting and
unknotting in front of her, then dropped her chin.
Im sorry, she said quietly.
For . . .?
She raised her head and the pain in her eyes was so real
he almost let her off the hook.
How does Gina feel in this scene? Guilty, ashamed,
How do you know? You were never in her head to hear her
think. You know by what the hero observes about her body
language and manner, the look in her eyes.
You can stay in the same characters POV for an
entire chapter and yet the reader can be perfectly aware
of how every other character in that chapter feels.
Through your point of view character, you will be able to
convey the emotions and thoughts of all your other
characters if you can pinpoint the physical actions that
give away those thoughts and feelings.
Become a student of body language. Watch television with
a notebook and pen and make note of how the performers
portray sadness, surprise, happiness, and anger. Have you
ever been in the mall and seen two people arguing. You
couldnt hear them, but you knew what was going on,
didnt you? Analyze why.
You arent committed to staying in one
characters head for the whole book. That would be
frustrating and boring for you and the reader both. Just
dont change POV randomly.
Why not ? Whats wrong with changing?
Im glad you asked.J When a reader becomes
emotionally engaged in a book, he or she enters into the
story. The writer has hypnotized the reader into
participating in the illusion of the fictional world. The
reader understands the book world isnt real, but in
order to fully enjoy the story, he or she chooses to
temporarily pretend otherwise, or to suspend their
disbelief, as this state is referred to in book-writing
circles. (See, you just learned something else.J)
Every time you shift the reader from one character to
another, they are jarred out of their suspension of
disbelief and reminded they arent actually living
in the fictional world youve created, theyre
only reading a story. Do that often enough and
theyll stop reading your story. Scene changes or
new chapters are the best and least disruptive places to
Settling into a characters head and staying there
awhile will also prevent you from writing generic heroes
and heroines. Deep POV gives the reader a chance to
really identify with a character, something you aim for
as an author. Even Nora Roberts, famous for her frequent
changes in POV, lets the reader stay in one character
long enough to become thoroughly hooked.
Heres a quick way to check how well youre
staying true to your characters POV. In your
current WIP (work in progress) use pink and blue
highlightersall right, Im a sexistto
highlight things in a couple of your scenes that are
unique to your hero or heroines POV. You should
have nice, long runs of one color or the other. If your
pages look more like checkerboards, youll know you
have some work to do!
Copyright 2005-2006 Cynthia VanRooy. All Rights Reserved
a romance novelist with eight books published by both
print and epublishers. Four of her novels have been
published by Kensington Publishing with foreign sales of
same to Denmark, Holland, Russia, and Romania; one book
with Five Star; one with Thorndike for large-print; and
two with Sands Publishing in both electronic and trade
paperback formats. Another large-print edition, her ninth
book, will be available in November as will her tenth, a
new romance to be released by New Age Dimensions.
She is a three-time finalist for the San Diego Book Award
for Romance, a finalist for the PASIC Book of Your Heart
judged by booksellers, a finalist for the Independent
eBook Award for Romance, and a finalist for the Romance
Writers of America, San Diego branch Chemistry Test. She
also has a tips ebooklet, The Secrets to Query Letters
That Work: Getting Your Manuscript Out of the Slush Pile
and onto the Editor's Desk, available at http://www.tipsbooklets.com. More details are
available at her website http://www.cynthiavanrooy.com