Saturday, October 17, 2009

How to Write a Romance Novel-POV

I’ve finished the second read-through of SPELLBOUND, the second book in the Time of Transition series, and now I’m waiting for the input of my agent and other beta readers before sending it to my editor. I am also eagerly awaiting the cover of my first book, THE WISH LIST. I can’t wait to see what the art department at Tor has come up with.

In the meantime, I’m continuing the series on How to Write a Romance Novel. This post: Point of View. Point of view simply means how the story is told, through whose eyes do we view the novel. Point of view is important because it decides how the reader will experience the story. And many readers have strong opinions on their favorite way to read a story. From now on I’m abbreviating Point of View as POV.

A writer has the choice of several points of view. First person is told from the “I” viewpoint. One character tells his or her story without the ability to know the emotions or feelings of any other character besides themselves. Writing in first person POV can be a challenge, because the author has to convey the emotions and all actions of the non-POV characters through the eyes and experiences of the one main character. First person is common in mystery and urban fantasy. Many fans don’t like first person POV in straight romance, but first person done well will work in any story. (For those of you who love first person POV or write in first person, don’t try to argue with me. I’m just relaying what I’ve heard, not giving my opinion.)

Books aren’t written in second person unless you’re writing a “choose-your-own-adventure” book. Second person is “you.” Try and see. “You are walking down a street. You see a handsome stranger leaning in a doorway. You smile at him.” I will offer an opinion here. A book written in second person would be annoying.

Third person is the most common choice for fiction., but even here you have choices. You can use omniscient, where the reader is privy to every character’s thoughts. Omniscient is rarely used today. Limited third is most common, where the reader experiences the novel through the eyes of just a few characters. In a romance, limited third is often limited to the hero and heroine.

So that’s the technical explanation of POV. But, wait, there’s more. Many authors don’t handle POV well. The problem occurs when the author tries to give information that the POV character couldn’t possibly have or wouldn’t ever think. I can’t tell you the number of times I have read something like, “She tossed her long, silky, blond hair over her shoulder. Her long, slim legs were curved just the way a man liked, and her cute figure did the same,” while in the heroine’s POV. The heroine wouldn’t think of herself in these terms unless she is arrogant and conceited. And the heroine very well might be, in which case, go right ahead, but be aware of the POV pitfalls.

POV is the main tool you use to pull the reader into the character’s brain. We need to experience their thoughts, their feelings, their reactions. Once you achieve placing the reader in the character’s mind, you switch to deep POV. You don’t want to use terms like “she felt” or “she thought”. Their thought is the reader’s thought at this point; you don’t have to introduce it. Also at this point you shouldn’t refer to the character by name unless it is grammatically necessary. A character wouldn’t refer to themselves by his own name. Switching out of deep POV happens by accident or when other characters enter the scene or at scene breaks or, or, or (yes, I wrote “or” three times), but once it is established it is easy to reenter that state.

In the course of writing you will also hear the term “head-hopping.” Head hopping is jumping from one character’s POV into another’s at a rapid pace. Most readers don’t know enough about POV to realize when it happens, but they might feel some dissatisfaction with a scene or a book because of it. They won’t feel as drawn to the characters; this is because they haven’t had a chance to live in the character’s head for long enough to identify with him or her. Staying in one character’s POV gives the reader the chance to know and understand the hero or heroine. Purists (authors who believe in the strict adherence to the POV rule) will tell you to stay in one character’s head for an entire scene or longer. Non-purists will switch when they wish. You have to decide for yourself how you will write. I tend to write from one POV for a scene or chapter, but I will change when I need to. I have enjoyed books by Purists and non-purists, but I do tend to notice the rapid POV change, and I have also gotten annoyed unless it is masterfully done.

One last thing about limited third: to help build the page-turning capacity of your book, think about putting the scene into the POV of the character who has the most to lose.

All writing rules are meant to be broken. One of the newest trends is to write the heroine in first person and other characters in third. So, study the books you enjoy and examine the author’s use of POV. Then choose your POV and keep writing.


Books I’m reading now:
Knight of Desire by Margaret Mallery
Never Trust a Scoundrel by Gaye Callen
How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author by Janet Evanovich and Ina Yalof

Thursday, October 1, 2009

How to Write a Romance Novel--Plot (and Conflict)

Sorry I’m late. The good news is that I finished both the copy edits for THE WISH LIST, my May release, and the second book in my series, SPELLBOUND, and got it out to my beta readers. The bad news is that this blog was one of the things I have to set aside for a few days. But I’m back now, and trying to catch up.

Plot is up next. Picture if you will (Rod Serling, just kidding) a five or six year-old, hmmm, let’s make her a little girl (only because I didn’t have any boys, and I’ll have an easier time imagining it). Ask this little girl about a movie she saw, let’s say FINDING NEMO, and she’ll happily recount the film: “There’s a mom and dad fish and a barracuda eats the mom and all the babies, but there’s one left and he has a bad flipper, and his dad won’t let him do anything, so he swims to a boat, when a diver comes and scoops him into a bag. The dad chases the boat and…”

You get the picture. That’s what plot is--what happens. Nothing more, nothing less. I’m one of those readers who prefers plot over characterization, and I know I’m in the minority among romance readers. Don’t get me wrong; a book needs characters and their problems, but I like plot--what happens next. The number one reason I put down a book is because the characters have so much baggage, I can’t believe they can get to a happy end without a porter, a luggage cart, and an account with UPS. (But I will defend your right to read such novels--hey, you have your own taste.)

Now the controversial part. I think conflict belongs under plot, not characterization. In all honesty no one element can be truly separated out from the others. Characterization is a part of plot, and conflict is a part of characterization. But conflict drives the plot. Conflict and the way your characters react and respond to the conflict tells the story--the plot. It sets the story in motion.

There are two types of conflict: internal and external. Internal conflict is the struggle within one’s self. Any decision a person makes can constitute an internal conflict. Recovering from pain, changing one’s image, maintaining one’s temper, and resisting an urge are all possible internal conflicts. As the name implies, an internal conflict takes places within one character, and no other character will share the conflict unless the original character chooses to share the conflict. External conflict is any struggle with forces outside oneself. War, weather, fights, competing in a beauty pageant can all lead to possible external conflicts.

There are four kinds of conflict: Character vs. Character; Character vs. Circumstance; Character vs. Society; and Character vs. Himself. The first is a physical conflict; it requires a test of strength against other men, forces of nature, or even animals. The second is also known as the classical struggle, a fight against fate, the gods, or the circumstances of life, like aging (Don’t get me started--my knees will never be young again). The third is a struggle against the ideas or customs of other people. And the last is psychological--the character struggles with himself, with his own soul, ideas of right and wrong, physical limitation, choices, etc. (Sound familiar? Look above at internal conflict.)

Here I am going out on another limb: I believe every book should have both types of conflict. Internal conflict alone leaves me cold. External conflict alone doesn’t leave much room for character growth or change. (See, I told you all these elements are interconnected.)

Conflict is a highly complex idea. I will revisit it later in this series, but until then, I hope I gave you something new to think about.


Books I’m reading now:
Goddess of the Hunt by Tessa Dare
A Hint of Wicked by Jennifer Haymore
Suddenly One Summer by Barbara Freethy