Lisa Ricard Claro – Author

Romance is good for your heart!

Why POV Matters: Power Over Perspective

Posted on Apr 6, 2016 by Lisa Ricard Claro   21 Comments | Posted in The Naked Truth

Old shoes

Courtesy of TC Photography via Flickr.com

A while back I wrote a blog post about my favorite movie tag line. The movie was “Absence of Malice” starring Paul Newman and Sally Field:

“Suppose you picked up this morning’s newspaper and your life was a front page headline . . . And everything they said was accurate . . . But none of it was true.”

That struck a chord with me, to the point that all of my fiction writing circles the essence of it—that things can be accurate without being true. It highlights the fact that our perspective of a thing is what determines its reality for us.

I’ve written about the importance of perspective before, and while I could say that words have power, that isn’t exactly a newsflash. What I’ll say instead is that perspective has power, and as a writer, that means the almighty point of view (POV).

For a fiction writer, determining POV is important. It sets the tone for the book. It also gives the author power over reader perspective. As a reader, I don’t give POV much thought unless the author’s choice doesn’t work for me. If you’re reading this now and you’re not a writer, it might never have occurred to you that the authors of the books you love often give lengthy thought to which POV will best serve their story. Sometimes we’ll begin in one POV, realize it’s the wrong one, and start over in another POV. I know authors who write their first draft of a book in first person to steep themselves in their character’s perceptions, and then rewrite the whole book in another POV.

When new writers talk POV it’s usually in the context of getting their heads around the different literary forms: first, second, third/objective, third/limited, and third/omniscient. It’s confusing, to say the least, and easy, especially for a new writer, to move from one to the other without even realizing it. (This .pdf from Mesa Public Schools explains the differences well and succinctly: http://www.mpsaz.org/rmre/grades/grade5/homework_help/files/point_of_view.pdf)

For my romance novels, I write in third person limited omniscient. This allows me to show my reader the romance from the perspective of both the hero and heroine, but not within the same scene. If you’ve read my books then you know I switch character POV from chapter to chapter, and often with scene changes. It allows me to employ that tagline I love—something can be accurate without being true—and gives my reader a broader picture. In most cases—though not all—I want readers to know what the hero and heroine don’t, because I believe it ups the emotional stakes, and readers want to see how things will play out when a character discovers how his/her perception was wrong. Romances can be tricky, because there isn’t always an archetypal villain. Sometimes the villain is a character’s skewed perspective or an impossible circumstance. It isn’t a breeze to write that, where the villain isn’t flesh and blood.

In my novel Love to Believe, the heroine, Rebecca, finds a sexy blonde in the hero’s house. The facts as Rebecca sees them are accurate: Sean is living with another woman. He never allowed Rebecca to spend the night, but it’s clear the blonde has done just that. So, just from that small description, you know Rebecca’s perception of the scene, what she draws from that knowledge. And here’s the point: She’s not wrong. The facts as she knows them are 100% accurate…but not true. There is living with someone and living with someone. A person of the opposite sex can spend the night or spend the night. The ostensible truth depends entirely on POV.

In terms of altering a reader’s world view through POV, there are novels that have that power. Fellow author/blogger Sioux Roslawski recently gifted me with two great novels: Freeman by Leonard Pitts, Jr. and The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. In the former, we see the post-Civil War South through the eyes of a former slave, a man who fled to the North before the war, became educated, and returns to the South after the war in search of his wife (so many amazing layers of perception in this novel—put it on your to-read list). In the latter, the pre-Civil War South is shown through the eyes of two young girls/women: a slave and her reluctant owner. The rich tapestry woven by both of these novels offers myriad perspectives worth exploring. And quite aside from that, both novels are brilliant, the writing stellar. I highly recommend these. (Thanks, Sioux!)

It is interesting to explore the different perspectives in books. As an author, I study the use of POV in books that I read, sometimes imagine how the tone of the book would change had the author used a different POV. If you feel like stretching your writing muscles, choose a scene from a book by your favorite author, rewrite it using a different POV, and watch how things change. Give it a try. It’s a challenge, but it also provides a deeper understanding of the power of POV.

One of best quotes I’ve ever seen about writing and the importance of character perspective was floating around Facebook. Here you go:

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The thing about POV is that it allows us to walk in other shoes. The perspective we draw from that is often the thing that resonates and becomes the reason we love a particular book.

When I was a teenager, my cousin JoJo and I teamed up with our guitars and voices. Jamming with her is one of my fondest memories. We harmonized, and sang everything from Godspell tunes to Blowin’ in the Wind. One of our faves was Walk a Mile in My Shoes by Joe South. JoJo lived with us in New England for a few months, and she and I would huddle in the downstairs family room and make lots of music. My mother, upstairs, heard the muffled version of that song and came downstairs to inquire, because she heard the lyrics “guacamole my shoes,” proving yet again, Buttercup, that perspective is everything. 🙂  If an author does his/her job well with the right POV, you will indeed walk a mile in the characters’ shoes. And maybe that’s the difference between a good book and a great one. What do you think?

If you’ve never heard the song, here you go. If you know the lyrics, crank it up and sing along. I’m offering up the original Joe South version, but Elvis covered this, so his might be the one you remember.

When it comes to POV do you have a preference, either for reading or writing? Can you think of a literary example of my favorite movie tagline? What author do you love that allows you to “walk a mile” in his/her characters’ shoes?

As always, thanks for hanging out with me! See you next time. Have a great week!

Lisa

Romance is good for your heart! To purchase your copy of Love Built to Last or Love to Believe in eBook or Print, go to AmazonBarnes & NobleBlack Opal BooksKobo, or AllRomance.

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21 Responses to "Why POV Matters: Power Over Perspective"

  1. Comment by Cathy C. Hall
    April 6, 2016 at 11:14 am  

    It comes down to age for me–I like a third person POV for younger kids and a first person POV when I’m telling a story for MG and up. UNLESS the subject demands that omniscient POV, like a fairy tale. First person definitely allows you to get into the character’s head but it’s a challenge, too, only allowing a reader to see/hear. know what the MC knows, sees, hears (assuming the MC is telling the story). I like the immediacy and intimacy of first person but it took some getting used to–ha! I resisted that change because I liked the distance and now I can’t imagine writing in 3rd person for my MG or YA stories.

    • Comment by Lisa Ricard Claro
      April 7, 2016 at 5:04 pm  

      A lot of what I know about POV I learned from you, Master Yoda. 🙂 As seasoned a writer as you are, I imagine you always choose exactly the right POV for the tale you’re telling.

  2. Comment by Karen Lange
    April 6, 2016 at 12:21 pm  

    Even as a writer, it still amazes me how much goes into the process. POV, I think, can make or break a story. Thanks for your insight!

    • Comment by Lisa Ricard Claro
      April 7, 2016 at 5:06 pm  

      I agree, Karen. The trick for us as writers is to make the it look easy.

  3. Comment by Rob
    April 6, 2016 at 2:20 pm  

    Loved Joe South. One of the first albums I bought.

    • Comment by Lisa Ricard Claro
      April 7, 2016 at 5:07 pm  

      Bet that song brought you back some, then. 🙂

  4. Comment by Claudia
    April 6, 2016 at 3:38 pm  

    Wonderful essay and I want to read it again later. Yes, you do handle POV very well in your books! I need more work on POV.

    • Comment by Lisa Ricard Claro
      April 7, 2016 at 5:08 pm  

      Thanks, Claudia. I used to write in first person all the time, but had trouble with the telling/showing issue. I love limited omniscient because I get to tell the story from two different views.

  5. Comment by Debra Mayhew
    April 6, 2016 at 5:46 pm  

    I don’t know that I know enough to say much on the subject of POV. I can say I’ve done the “switch” many times…experimenting between first and third and discovering which one allows me to tell a more compelling story. I can’t read James Patterson because he has so many characters and he hops from one head to the next. I just can’t keep track! Right now, I’m reading ‘The Help’ and LOVE the different POV’s in this story because they’re so well done. You’ve got me thinking, Lisa, about how best to use POV to say what I want!

    • Comment by Lisa Ricard Claro
      April 7, 2016 at 5:11 pm  

      You know a ton about POV…you were in the critique group with me picking up ooh-gobs of info from Master Yoda, aka Cathy C. Hall. I’m not letting you dis yourself, lady. You’re a wonderful writer! Do you remember the MG/YA ghost story I wrote? I went from third person to first, and flip-flopped again before I was done. One of these days I’m pulling that sucker out and I’ll revise it so it’s actually readable. lol

  6. Comment by Linda O'Connell
    April 7, 2016 at 8:41 am  

    This was an excellent post. When you illustrated with Rebecca’s POV I completely understood accuracy vs. truth.
    Have you ever read Toni Morrison? She can do so much with a few words. Have a great day, Buttercup.

    • Comment by Lisa Ricard Claro
      April 7, 2016 at 5:12 pm  

      Thanks, Linda! 🙂

  7. Comment by ButtonsMom2003
    April 7, 2016 at 10:55 am  

    Thanks for another very interesting blog post and the link to information on POV. At one time I thought I hated first person POV. I’m not sure if it was the book/writer or if it was because I had been away from reading for a long time and wasn’t used to all of the different POVs.

    Now, one of my favorites is the alternating first-person POV, with the story being told by the main characters. But truly, I think that it doesn’t matter that much to me as a reader. If the story is written well I’m not sure I even pay that much attention; I just get lost in the story. How I know this is that I usually try to mention the POV when I write a review and I often times have to go back and skim over the book to remember what the POV was. 🙂

    I’m late again to read your blog but this time I have a good excuse. 🙂 As of yesterday, hubby and I are now at 42 years of marriage (and my mother said it wouldn’t last). 🙂

    • Comment by Lisa Ricard Claro
      April 7, 2016 at 5:14 pm  

      Congratulations! You’ve got me and Joe beat by six years. We’re coming up on 36 in May. As to you being late to comment, no worries. I’m always just happy to see your name whenever it pops up.

      • Comment by ButtonsMom2003
        April 7, 2016 at 10:39 pm  

        I think I might have you beat by about 6 years in age, too! LOL

  8. Comment by Donna Volkenannt
    April 7, 2016 at 11:48 pm  

    Hi Lisa,
    Great quote from “Absence of Malice” and fascinating post. The correct POV can make or break a story.

    • Comment by Lisa Ricard Claro
      April 12, 2016 at 10:43 pm  

      Thanks, Donna.

  9. Comment by Sioux
    April 10, 2016 at 9:34 pm  

    Lisa–Thanks for the pdf on point of view. It would be a great resource to use in the classroom.

    I don’t have a favorite POV when reading. When it’s done well, it’s great no matter what choice the author made.

    In my current beast/WIP, I initially used third person objective (I think. It’s like a car accident with horribly mangled bodies strewn about. I try to not remember it. 😉 However, in this draft, it’s in first person.

    We’ll see…

    And I’m so glad you liked both books. They’re two of my favorites of all time books…

    • Comment by Lisa Ricard Claro
      April 12, 2016 at 10:44 pm  

      I really did love them, Sioux. Heartbreakingly beautiful, both.

  10. Comment by Pat
    April 12, 2016 at 7:37 am  

    I am drawn to reading and writing stories told in first person, but as someone mentioned earlier, if the piece is compelling, POV becomes secondary to enjoyment.

    • Comment by Lisa Ricard Claro
      April 12, 2016 at 10:45 pm  

      POV doesn’t bother me one way or the other unless it’s not done well. The key for me is voice…if I love the voice, then POV can be anything.


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