Monday, March 18, 2013

A Writing Pet Peeve by Marsha R. West

When I got the subject for this blog post, I thought, huh? Do I have a pet peeve about writing? I’m still in a state of euphoria that my first book, VERMONT ESCAPE will be published this summer! What do I have to kick about?

I thought and pondered and realized I do have a bone to pick with contest judges and editors. It’s a personal bone and may not resonate with everyone, but here’s my chance, so here goes. 

Some people have a bias against more than two POVs. I usually have four or five. I want the reader to experience the story from a variety of POVs: the heroine, the hero, the bad guy(s) (I write romance with suspense.), and sometimes a secondary character or two.

Let’s be honest here. When I began writing with the idea of being published, I knew nothing about craft. I used a form of omniscient writing, which for the most part is not used in genre fiction. I took classes, learned those lessons, and don’t head-hop anymore. I don’t object to that being one of “the rules.”

As a reader, I much prefer to learn about the story from the author telling it from multiple POVs. I admire writers who can tell a story in first person or one, third person. I’ve read stories that way and enjoyed them.

For one editor (obviously not MuseItUp publishing VERMONT ESCAPE) I actually, took my five POVs down to three. Major rewrites that I cried through. In retrospect, I don’t think it made the story stronger, just different. The editor didn’t take it, but in all honesty, the manuscript, at that point, wasn’t quite ready yet, but not because of the number of POVs.

Here’s my question. Why do editors/publishers care how many POVs an author uses, so long as she does it well? Do we think a reader will become confused? 

When I was only a reader and not also a writer, I never noticed whose head the author used to tell the story. I’d taught English at one point in my life, so I knew what POV was. I just never noticed. I read for the story to find out what happened next, to see how the problem was resolved, and yes, to share in the emotion. But POV? Not so important.

Well, apparently, I’m more incensed about this issue than I realized. LOL You know what? It doesn’t spoil at all the euphoria I mentioned earlier about getting be a published author, and I will continue to write my books with multiple POVs.Am I the only one this bugs? Could be. But thanks for letting me sound off about the issue.

Marsha R. West, a former school board member and theatre arts teacher, is also a retired elementary school principal. She writes heroes and heroines who have experienced life, love, and loss. They discover they’re never too old to find romance, suspense, and second chances. Experience is required and welcome.
Marsha, who loves to travel, lives inTexas with her supportive lawyer husband. They’ve raised two daughters who’ve presented them with three delightful grandchildren. She admits to being at the beck and call of their two dogs, who run her home. 
She’s served as the president of her local chapter of Romance Writers of America, attended two national conventions, numerous local conferences, and studies writing through on line courses. She’s currently editing her latest work in progress.
She’d love to hear from you. Check out her blog Thoughts on Thursday at
Her first published book is VERMONT ESCAPE coming July 2013 from MuseItUp Publishing.    

Blurb: After the murders of Jill Barlow’s husband and then her father, she flees to Vermont, but the Texas gambling syndicate believes she’s hiding damning evidence against them. To get it, they’ll kill. Again.


Wendy said...

This is a can of worms. I'm not game to tackle this one. If a writer truly knows the difference between pov and head hopping then I guess the pace, tone and mood of the story won't be affected. I like to read stories though the eyes of one character per chapter or at least per scene. I guess it's a matter of taste.
Good peeve from different angles. :)

Pat McDermott said...

I agree: who cares how many POVs there are if the author manages it skillfully? My longer stories have multiple POVs, though only one per scene or chapter. Let a storyteller tell his/her story, I say! Speaking of which, congrats on your upcoming release, Marsha.

Marsha said...

You are so right. The author really has to have a handle on the difference betwen head hopping and a POV shift. I can appreciate that you like to see it limited to a chapter/scene. I've read some books done where each chapter was from a different POV. Not an unlimited number, of course.:) Thanks for commenting, Wendy

Marsha said...

Thanks for stopping by, Pat, and for the congrats on the release. :)I'm still in that area of, "Jeez, is this really gonna happen?" Glad you mentioned length of story. Because I write longer ones--85-90K or so in length, that may influence my opinion about this. Might be harder to pull off well in a 45-50K book. Food for thought, Pat.

Jen FitzGerald said...

The number of POVs doesn't necessarily bother me either as long as I know who I am and the switches are handled well.

Barb Han said...

Done well, multiple POVs wouldn't bother me. I do prefer the story to be well rooted in one person's POV though. Otherwise, I have a hard time connecting to the main character.

C. A. Szarek said...

As you know Marsha, I write fantasy so I TOTALLY feel this! I have quite a few POVs. As a reader, I LOVE different prospectives of the characters..even if it's not the particular character's book. I like seeing what other chracters think and feel in regards to the heroine, hero, even plot stuff! And even if you're gonna keep things *tight* you need three sometimes. In my Rom Sus I have only three...heroine/hero and bad guy! Who would want to read a rom sus with only 2? We need to see what's going on with the bad guy!
So I guess this can be my pet peeve, too. ;) Happy Monday!

Marsha said...

Thanks to my NTRWA chaptermates for stopping by. Jen and Barb are so right. The key is to doing it well. And Chrissy, I agree. Some genres lend themselves to differing numbers of POV. Because I write, Romance with Suspense, I'm not sure I'd really considered that. Lots of YA work really well in the one deep POV of the hero/heroine. Good ideas, y'all!

Anonymous said...

Loved your peeve, Marsha! I too don't mind multiple POVs as long as it's clear who's thinking what, but I can see an argument to keeping POV contained per scene. I sympathise about the rewrites :( Congrats on your release!

MuseItUp Publishing said...

As many wrote, multiple POVs can be done as long as it's smooth. The headhopping issues editors and publishers have is when within one given scene the writer tries to jump from one character to the next to show how he/she is feeling/thinks/sees. This is jarring to a reader and disconnects them from having any bond from any particular character that is supposed to be the main focus in that scene.

Using multiple POVs as chapters is totally different, but then again, use main characters that have a direct role in the plot and connected with the protagonist. Who cares about a chapter where the baker tells the story of how the romantic couple came into his shop and discussed their wedding plans...unless that baker is involved in murdering this couple at some point later on and it's offering foreshadows of this event.

And yes, at times it is confusing keeping all the different POV characters straight in a reader's mind. Take the Potter series, as an example. Most of the time we are seeing Harry's world and circumstances from his POV but along the way the author has also allowed us to see and feel the secondary characters POVs along with Harry, done in a way there is no interruption of the storyline, or jarring us out of the read. So in one scene, we see Harry's POV, but also 'feel' what Hermione and Ron think. How? By their dialogue, by their body stance, by their emotions/actions.

So using multiple POVs a writer needs to make sure that each POV offers something different to the reader that the other POV character hasn't seen.

Angi Morgan said...

I think it boils down to having the reader care about the POV which is experiencing the story versus a character only telling the reader the story.

Multiple POVs can be done well as long as the reader experiences all of the emotion, which comes from showing the story-- As MUSE PUBLISHING points out...who wants a secondary character TELLING us what happens. As a reader, we want to experience the danger and the romance.

Anonymous said...

Congrats on Vermont Escape!

I like multiple POVs, but not too many and usually only from main characters. I have violated that rule but only because I couldn't think of another way to do something. I suspect genre has a lot to do with their acceptance or not.

anne stenhouse said...

Hi Marsha, we've met already as fellow newbies, I think. I really prefer one pov per scene and try to restrict my historical romances to two overall. I just know if I allowed my villains/esses their pov, I'd be into blockbuster territory in no time at all. But it's good to learn why someone else thinks differently. Anne

Marsha said...

Well, we're certainly having a spirited conversation here. I love it. Thanks for the congrats and stopping by Helene, a fellow Muse author. Hey, Angi,from my NTRWA chapter, and Kate from KODRWA. Appreciate your thoughts. And
Muse pub, my goodness. Thanks for stopping by. I'm honored.

Let's be clear that I'm not talking about head-hopping where within one sentance or paragraph you've got two or three people's thoughts/feelings. That's just old omnicient done in a slap-happy way. (IMHO) Or some dear soul who is just learning craft. :)

Within a love scene, I think it adds to everyone's enjoyment to experience that scene from the H & H's POV. Not writing one paragraph and then hopping to the other's in the next paragraph. (Though I actually have read that in a pubbed book!) My rule of thumb (cliche alert)is at least a page or more in one POV. Almost always it's more. Occassionally with the villian, his/hers might be shorter. I've written whole chaps in one POV before switching.

This issue arose for me because of contest judges saying no, and if you have to, make sure you put a break and this kind of a break. I've sence learned those kinds of breaks are up to the pubbing house. Whether you leave space, no space, a #, ###, ***, or as I've just learned MIU uses * * * *

Our job as writers is to pull the reader in emotionally and keep them there. Again, as Kate and others have mentioned, genre plays a large part in what is accepted. Allison Brennan, NYT bestselling author, writes gritty suspense with romance. She uses multiple POVs all the time. Of course, most of us don't do it quite as well as she. We keep working on it. :)

Marsha said...

Hey, Anne. Yes, you have a point with your historicals. LOL Genre really does play a role. I'd never considered that, because I just write romances with suspense. We'll hold each other's hands through this process. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Jerrie Alexander said...

Marsha! great post. Congrats for having the nerve to be honest. I've heard it preached both ways, but I've read books written by Allison Brennan with 7 or 8 points of view. I believe I remember her saying her first book had more than that! Didn't bother me one bit. Why? Because the transitions were seamless, the POVs were relevant and added depth to the story.
So far I've stopped at 4 but who knows what the future holds. :)

Marsha said...

Hey, Jerrie. Yeah, Allison really knows how to do it. Just to get better at it, I think I'll read one of hers I've read before, and mark all the shifts to analyze how she did it.
5 was the most POV's I've had, and that's the one down to 3 now. Don't think I'll put them back. LOL Huge amount of work. :( Thanks so much for stopping by. Appreciate you.

Regina Richards said...

As a reader, I admit I hate head-hopping within the same scene, but changes of pov by chapter, if done well, are fine.

J.Q. Rose said...

Oh, Marsha, I was fortunate to have gentle Karen McGrath as my content editor on my first mystery from MIU. She asked me to cut a couple of POVs in my original ms, and she supported me through the ordeal to make the tale more suspenseful and a better story for our readers. God bless those MIU editors! I learned so much about writing from her, I called it Writing 401. Great post!

Marsha said...

Hey, Regina, another of my good NTRWA buddies. I agree. Nobody should head hop. I've put down some books that did that. But the POV thing is really a matter of preference. Thanks so much for stopping by.
Hey, Janet, a fellow MIUer, (Newby here, so not certain of the right terminology.:)) Bless you for successfully going through the cutting process. And you like the end result. That's good, and the book got pubbed. Thanks for stopping by.

Cathy McElhaney said...

Well, I am a freelance editor and I don't care how many POV's are used as long as the story flows. I actually like to know what other characters are thinking...I think it adds depth to the story. I look forward to reading Vermont Escape!
~Cathy McElhaney~

Marsha said...

Yea, Cathy. A woman after my heart! I hope you like the book, and thanks so much for stopping by.
Love your last name, btw. :)