Genre Talk / Uncategorized

Genre Talk: POV, Genre, and the Sins of Little Women

Little WomenI’m starting a workshop today over at Savvy Authors (not too late to sign up!) on “POV: Going Deep and Staying Put,” so I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to point of view, and genre fiction, and the different theories and beliefs about how all those things are related.

As a reader, do you pay much attention to point of view? If you do, I wonder if it means it hasn’t been done well? POV—the characters through whose eyes you see the story unfold, through whose minds you filter the meaning of events—should be almost seamless to be effective.

Each genre has its own POV conventions.

Urban fantasy is almost always POV singular—the hero or, more often, heroine is the point of view character. For a while, most UF also was written in first-person POV, although I think the trend is swinging more toward deep third-person singular (or maybe that’s just me swinging….hm….).

Paranormal romance is almost always third-person multiple. Both the hero and heroine are POV characters. Occasionally, one might see first-person multiple in a romance, but not often.

Suspense will often add a third POV character to the mix—the villain. I think this holds true for all flavors of suspense, even when it’s combined with urban fantasy or paranormal romance.

Then there are what I call the “true” third-person multiple point of view stories. It’s long been a staple of pure epic fantasy, but is a technique I fell in love with from reading JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series. You still don’t see it much in the paranormal genres.

The first BDB book, Dark Lover, had eight or nine POV characters, which would have been way too many for a reader to keep track of except A) several of those only had once scene in their point of view, and B) they were really, really well done.

(If you’ve read the series, for example, you know the cop, Cruz, had a POV scene toward the end of the book because, I suspect, it was the only way Ms. Ward could figure out to let us know what people thought had happened to Butch. Likewise, Darius, the POV character for the first scene in the book—I hope I’m remembering this right—gets blown up shortly thereafter so he doesn’t get another POV scene. Oops—sorry if that was a spoiler. It isn’t, really.)

In fact, I became so fascinated with the flexibility afforded by the deep third multiple POV that I used it in my Penton Legacy series, written as Susannah Sandlin. The first book, Redemption, has six POV characters, and each subsequent book hovers around five. It lets the reader know about things the hero and heroine don’t know, which can build tension. It introduces readers to a couple of secondary characters who will be the hero or heroine of the next book in the series. It’s also a horrific juggling act, because the hero and heroine need the lion’s share of the POV scenes, while the others need to be staggered in less frequently.

Anyway, whichever POV you find in your favorite book, it needs to be deep. How can you tell? What’s the last book that made you cry? (My own usually make me cry at some point while I’m writing them, but it’s probably stress.) What’s the last book that you absolutely could not put down until it was finished, and then you had a strange urge to start at the beginning and read it again?

That book, I will bet you cold hard cash, had deep POV characters. You got lost in their lives and couldn’t leave. I’ve come to think of point of view as one of the most crucial decisions an author can make. Deciding on the right person to tell the story, then whether that character will “speak” in first- or third-person (second-person is rarely seen, and with good reason)—those decisions can make or break a novel. My Sentinels series, for example, is told from the POV of the heroine, DJ. If I’d decided to tell those stories from the POV of the undead pirate Jean Lafitte, the books would have been very (very, very) different. Hmmm….

Lots of people hate first-person POV; I like it, but it’s a lot harder to write well than most folks think.

Some readers don’t want more than one POV character.

Big decisions.

In the end, whatever book you’re currently reading, the author made a decision that made the book what it is. A different decision would have yielded a different story.

What does that have to do with Little Women? It was one of my favorite books as a kid, and I haven’t looked at it in years. In searching for some examples of “bad” POV usage for the workshop participants to rewrite, I picked up the book and read the first few pages. Holy cannoli. Had she submitted that book today, Louisa May Alcott would be wallpapering her boarding house with rejection slips. There’s head-hopping, infodumps, overwrought language and melodrama.

Which just goes to show that every fashion has its day, and today’s no-nos were yesterday’s fashion.

What’s the last book that made you cry? Made you laugh out loud? Made you throw the book at the wall in anger (hopefully, not at the author)?

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5 thoughts on “Genre Talk: POV, Genre, and the Sins of Little Women

  1. Morning, Suzanne. Correct me if I’m wrong – I haven’t had coffee yet – but it sounds like multiple deep POV can be likened to film scenes. Your hero/heroine is not going to be in every scene, but each scene will have a POV.

    Am I crazy?

    • Hi Lara! Right–great analogy. Each scene or chapter (however the author decides to change POVs) will change POVs. In a romance, the POV shifts often are hero-heroine-hero-heroine. But in deep third-multiple romance, the scenes’ povs might be hero-heroine-hero’s bff-villain-hero-heroine-bff-hero-heroine- etc. The h/h still need the bulk of the scenes but the others are sprinkled in and the h/h aren’t necessarily in every scene.

  2. Great post! Shelley Laurenston and Molly Harper and Darynda Jones all write books that make me laugh. Ilona Andrews always makes me gobble up the book and reread it again. I never could finish The Great Gatsby. And The Scarlet Letter in high school was painful too!

    • LOL. I re-read Gatsby about five or six years ago and liked it a lot better now than when I was in school, when it bored me to tears. I haven’t gone back to The Scarlet Letter but I imagine it would still be painful. It’s funny how different our tastes are now, and might be why people struggle so with reading “the classics.”

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