Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Study of Writing the Christian Romance by Gail Gaymer Martin: POV Discussion

First off, for those who are just starting out and don’t know, POV stands for point of view.

The POV character is the one who owns the scene. It is through the POV character’s eyes that readers experience the scene or sequel, as the case may be. Christian romances are most often written in third person (he and she) with multiple viewpoints, alternating the scenes or chapters between the hero and heroine’s POV. But there are other POV types found in popular fiction, which includes Christian romance, such as first person, and multiple first person. Omniscient and a combination of POV types can also be found in Christian romance.

If you are just starting out, though, it is a wise choice to write your novel in third person multiple, the most common POV type that is widely accepted by readers and editors alike. This is probably the easiest method to write, and it allows the reader to get to know both the hero and heroine on an intimate level through introspection— which is an important facet of hooking the reader long term .

First, we’ll take a look at what’s involved in each of the POV types and the benefits and disadvantages of each that is Gail Gaymer Martin addressed in Writing the Christian Romance, while including own personal thoughts, too.

Third Person: Is most often written in past tense. In third person novels the reader is shown the life experiences, thoughts, and actions of a specific character, rather than being told the story directly. Third person multiple refers to revealing scenes from the POV of one character at a time, meaning more than a single character will own scenes of your novel. Often in Christian romance those POV characters are only the hero and heroine, but other secondary characters may be given a POV as well.

The advantages of using third person multiple in Christian romance is that the reader can learn the attitudes, emotions, and thoughts of each of the POV characters allowing them to get into the heart and soul of the characters at a relatively intimate level. Another key advantage third person has is that secrets can be kept not only from other characters within the novel, but from the reader as well. Which provides a big opportunity to build suspense into your work.

The disadvantages of using third person is that while in one character’s POV you are limited to showing what that particular character thinks, sees, hears, tastes, feels, etc. unless of course the other character reveals such information in dialogue within those scenes and sequels. If you break that golden rule, then you venture into “Head Hopping” which is unacceptable in most editor’s and agent’s eyes. That’s a privilege that only multiply-published authors achieve and that’s because they are deemed to have the experience to make it work without jarring or confusing the reader, and of course, they already have their devoted readership so publishers are more willing to take a chance on them breaking a few rules.

You must write your scenes from the perspective of only the POV character who owns that scene, and to do that well, you should give each of your POV characters an individual, distinct voice, that allows the reader to know who is talking even when no speaker attributions are used. That’s probably the toughest part to master in writing in third person. A good way to approach each scene is to put yourself in the POV characters head while writing. Be the POV character for that scene as your fingers work the keyboard!

Gail Gaymer Martin offered a really good test for authors to check the quality of their third-person POV use in Writing the Christian Romance. Checking the authenticity of what your POV character can really reveal, what he/she is capable of experiencing in his or her's owned scenes is an important aspect of writing well. For each occurrence of the POV character’s name, replace it with “I”, and for the pronouns he/she, replace them with “my”. Does the writing still ring true? Does everything seem plausible now? In many cases when using this trick you’ll discover that your character would really need to be seeing themselves in a mirror to honestly explain a situation in that way. The POV character can feel their expressions, scrunched up nose, heat rising to their temples, etc, but they cannot see their eyes snapping or face turning red.

First Person and Multiple First Person: Writing in first person POV offers the story to be viewed through one person’s eyes only. This type of POV is the “I” voice. First person offers the most intimate view of the one POV character as the reader only experiences the story through that person’s limited vision. This type of POV is usually told in past tense, but is also found in present tense which provides immediacy as well as action and excitement. Multiple-first-person POV can be found in Christian romances with the hero and heroine alternating scenes from the first-person perspective, to allow for the reader to get to know both characters intimately.

The advantages of this type of POV use is the intimacy it offers. And if you go with multiple-first-person POV then the reader can get to know both the hero and heroine on an intimate level. The disadvantages, though, if you stick to just one character’s POV written in first person for a Christian romance is that the reader only really gets to know either the hero or the heroine, not both. And considering that the Christian romance is the story of both a man and a woman falling in love, most readers want to know both characters to be sure they are right for one another.

Other difficulties are that the first-person character must be present and most-often active in every single scene of the book. And the author must create dynamic and extremely interesting characters to sustain the length of the novel. Also, the POV character must always be honest in first-person POV works, no POV character secrets are allowed as you are in that character’s head 24/7, so to speak. I will add one of my own pet-peeves regarding a common element I find in first person books. The number of occurrences of the word “I” that appears in many first-person POV books is overwhelming. After reading page after page with “I” practically occurring in every sentence, that single letter makes me cringe. Sorry, but it does.

Omniscient: This POV type is not often used anymore. It is far more common in classic literature. Omniscient POV can often be confused with “Head Hopping” if one does not do it well. This style is really the deliverance of the story by the “all-knowing” author, the narrator, if you will. It is the narrator who explains what is happening and why and the narrator has access to everything. Because of the lack of intimacy with the story characters, omniscient POV is very limited in Christian romance.

An advantage to this style of writing is that a multitude of information, from any POV, can be given at any time. It is not limited by the presence or absence of characters. This style can also be used to expedite scene transitioning by way of telling readers rather than showing them.

Omniscient POV style, though, often pulls readers outside the characters, rather than allowing them to form an intimate bond with them. It is not common in works today, and as such, is not widely accepted.

Now that we’ve looked at the varying POV types and know that we can combine these differing types in our work if we are experienced enough to make it work, lets take a look at how we might choose who to deem the POV owner of any given scene. Now there’s a topic that stumps many of us. In Gail Gaymer Martin's book she offers several questions an author could ask to help make that important decision.

Try asking yourself the following:

* Which character has the most at stake in the scene?
* Which character has the most to lose?
* Which character is the most vulnerable?
* Who is more likely to disclose a secret, share a fear, or open the door to the relationship? Are you ready for that to happen at this stage of the novel?
* Who do you need to share their true feelings? This is done mainly by way of introspection and the POV character of that scene is the only one who can reveal introspection at that time.
* Which character would be most suited to present the scene to the reader? Who will present it in the most exciting way?
* Which character can lead readers astray with a bad deduction? This can provide a twist or further conflict in your story many times.

If you write a scene in one character’s POV and it seems to fall flat or doesn’t take you in the direction you want to go, rewrite it in the other’s POV and see if you get better results. Using multiple POV’s in your story doesn’t mean that your POV characters have to share the scenes by alternating in a consecutive manner. Let your individual scenes dictate who owns them. No pattern is required. As often heard, “story trumps all”.

A couple of last notes from this chapter in Writing the Christian Romance by Gail Gaymer Martin:

Create clear changes in POV shifts. If you have several scenes within a chapter, to mark a change of scene you should provide an extra double-space or put a symbol like an * or *** centered on its own line, separating the scenes. And this goes for when you switch POV within a scene, which should be done rarely, if ever. Note the shift in POV by providing that extra double-space or giving a line with an asterisk or three centered in between the shifting POV characters

When a chapter or scene opens, it is wise to start the scene by using the POV character’s name so that the readers have no question about who owns the scene.

That’s my study notes on POV. I will take a break from this series until Monday, April 21st, when we will resume the study of Gail Gaymer Martin's writing resource, Writing the Christian Romance, by starting off the week with the topic of Sexuality in Christian Writing.

Tomorrow I’m excited to post my first Authors-Helping-Writers Interview featuring Mary Connealy. She shared some wonderful information and I hope you will find her story as inspiring as I have. Then on Friday…well, Friday’s will be my musings and Vocabulary Enhancement day. I’m working away at finding an interesting word that didn’t exist in my limited vocabulary until recently. My critique partners will prove to be quite helpful with this topic, even though they don’t know it.

So that’s the planned routine: Mondays to Wednesdays are study note days, Thursdays are book review or Authors-Helping-Writers Interview days, and Fridays will be general musings and vocabulary enhancement day.

Any thoughts on this? I’d love to hear if what I’m doing is of any interest to anyone. I know I’m learning from these study notes and the interviews, so at least I know the time spent here isn’t really a waste of time. But it would be nice to know if anyone else is getting anything out of these notes or if you have suggestions of how you might learn more from them.

Blessings to all,


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