Multiple POVs in romance?

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SwallowFeather

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For some reason, it's sort of "cool" to dis romance. I'm not sure why--maybe it's the bosomy and manchesty covers that once characterized the genre. Maybe it's because it's targeted so towards women (and everything woman-focused is lower status in our culture). Maybe it's because our society embraces cynicism, so a genre that unapologetically embraces happy endings that most see as "unrealistic" is seen as frivolous. But this forum is about taking romance writing seriously and respectfully.

It's also sometimes pseudo-feminist to diss romance--a sort of "cooler than the other girls" move. I'm not interested in doing that, or in suggesting that a story about love (an extremely powerful and important part of human life) is inherently inferior. I've gotten increasingly aware there's a lot of cool stuff out there, but I just haven't gotten into it. My dislike is quite specific to the Christian romance I've read so far (and of course my sense of the genre needs a serious updating as discussed) with certain added... reasons for doubt as to whether it's changed all that much. There's a certain muting of the realities of life, a certain we're-the-good-guys pandering that I don't expect to see completely gone from the genre. (But I'm keeping an open mind dammit!) I mean you're looking at someone very conflicted here. I posted elsewhere a few months back about whether I should seek a new publisher so as to get out of the Christian market. I ended up deciding not to do so after my publisher, who'd been hesitating, ended up biting on my next novel partly because it's a romance... which is strong in the Christian market. (That's not what drove the romance decision for me--history did. It's complicated, but a romance seemed the only way to tell a particular story I had in mind. ETA: and I want to mention, I've been really enjoying it. Falling in love is a really fun thing to write about.)

I do think what I have is really a romance. The love story is structurally central to the novel, the crisis is the lovers breaking apart, the climax is their forgiving each other and reuniting. There's a good deal of suspense (they are French people at the end of WWII, he's in the Maquis, she's got her own underground activities) but since the stakes are not life-or-death at the climax it probably doesn't qualify as romantic suspense, at least from what I've read on the topic.

Interesting point about who's hiding what from whom. That sort of thing will come into play, so I'll remember that. & thanks for your interesting post.
 
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Roxxsmom

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Well, Christian fiction in general can have particular formulaic requirements, at least from the imprints or "lines" that handle it. It's a matter of branding, I believe. For better or worse, the concept of Christianity is very tied up with a particular set of sociopolitical views as well as a particular take on theology--one that definitely isn't in line with what all Christians believe.

Because of this, readers of books branded as "Christian" expect it to feature evangelical Christians (not Episcopalians or Catholics) and for them to embrace a precisely defined set of values about sex and marriage etc. There's also an expectation that the story will center around someone's faith journey. If someone's faith in evangelical Christianity is tested, it will be reaffirmed etc., and the couple will end up with a relationship where these values are at the center.

This doesn't mean one couldn't write a romance with characters who identify as Christian (certainly most characters in a pre-modern European setting will do so) of some kind or another, or feature characters who go to Church etc., or tell a story where the characters' religion is important to them and their story in some way. It just likely wouldn't be branded under that particular label. Actually, it's rather curious that the characters in so many historical romances are irreligious or take their beliefs completely for granted so they never think about it. I suspect that's more about the interests of mainstream modern readers, however.

At this point, maybe try writing the story the way you want to write it and see how it evolves. Then you can solicit feedback from critting partners or beta readers about where it fits genre and subgenre wise.

There are different heat levels within romance too. I believe there is a category called "sweet" where there is no sex or swearing, for instance, but the story doesn't emphasize the characters' religion in the same way as Christian/inspirational romance does. You may want to look for some titles in that category and see if it fits your story.
 

Tocotin

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I do tend to feel like the same exact scene from two POVs wouldn't work on the page, though--I feel like repetition might slow down the narrative too much for the reader, even if they might be curious about the other perspective. (I might tend to do the first half of a scene in one POV and the second half in the other, maybe, or have the alternate POV recap their reactions later to an event we didn't see through their eyes.)

KBooks is right, and you are right too – I didn't mean 100% repetition. What I meant to suggest was that you either try to split the important scenes, or show them in such a way that they don't feel like exactly the same scene, because the POV characters's understanding of the event is so vastly different. This wouldn't always work, however; it all depends on the characters and the way you have been presenting them up to that scene.

Although I know it can be done in some forms... I think my instinct would be to say it can be done in literary fiction. And even though I have some literary pretensions, I'm in a place where I need to be aware of the reader of commercial fiction & what they want. Is your dual-perspective story going to give both perspectives in full? I do think you could pull it off. (I'm starting to picture the full story--all in order--told twice, the second time in ways that give the first some surprising new interpretations...)

Oh, no! I'm certainly not going to write both perspectives in full for several reasons, one of them being simply that it would bore me horribly :D and second, because the characters live apart, in different places and milieus, and are rarely experiencing the same events. What they are both experiencing is, well, falling in love, and that process would be worth exploring from both perspectives. It's not the same as writing the exact same story twice; it's more like writing two stories which share some elements.

Writing everything from both perspectives would be more of an exercise than anything. I don't think it's necessary, but it might be worth doing, just to see what works and what doesn't, whose point of view is more absorbing and illuminating, or more suited to a particular scene. I know that it seems like a lot of work, but it might be what you need; and what we do is a lot of work anyway.

Now, for a totally different thought – how about trying omniscient narration for this story? Not an in-your-face omniscient, but a discreet, even a bit transparent one? You wouldn't have to worry that much about the POV ratio, or introducing historical details, or the POV voices. (You will have other concerns, of course.) I know that omni is not very popular, but oh, how compelling can it be!... And yes, I do think you could pull it off...

:troll
 

Marian Perera

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Actually, it's rather curious that the characters in so many historical romances are irreligious or take their beliefs completely for granted so they never think about it. I suspect that's more about the interests of mainstream modern readers, however.

There's a historical romance which begins with the hero praying, and emphasizes that he goes to church every Sunday even though he's shunned by the community. But once he starts having premarital sex with the heroine, he never so much as wonders if God would be OK with this, nor does he feel at all guilty that he's doing something the church would find wrong.

As you said, though, this is written for mainstream modern readers, and the sexytimes wouldn't be as enjoyable if the hero was thinking about the morality of his actions.

One series of books that combine religion and sex is Tiffany Reisz's The Original Sinners, where one main character is a Jesuit priest and two others are Catholics. And yeah, this is erotica so they all have tons of kinky sex. But everything is sane and consensual, if not especially safe to me, and it's still clear that certain aspects of their religion are very important to them.
 

Earthling

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I'm curious--would you prefer a romance with only 1 POV to a romance with 2 POVs but a big imbalance? Or would you simply be more likely to put the book down b/c of either of those?

Yes, I'd prefer a single POV to a wildly imbalanced POV. I really like to be immersed in books, so if I settle down in one character's POV and then suddenly I'm thrown into another, it jerks me right out. If there's a regular POV change then I settle down with both.

I wouldn't necessarily put a book down because of POV imbalance, though. I just probably wouldn't enjoy it as much as I could have.
 

SwallowFeather

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Well, Christian fiction in general can have particular formulaic requirements, at least from the imprints or "lines" that handle it. It's a matter of branding, I believe. For better or worse, the concept of Christianity is very tied up with a particular set of sociopolitical views as well as a particular take on theology--one that definitely isn't in line with what all Christians believe.

Because of this, readers of books branded as "Christian" expect it to feature evangelical Christians (not Episcopalians or Catholics) and for them to embrace a precisely defined set of values about sex and marriage etc. There's also an expectation that the story will center around someone's faith journey. If someone's faith in evangelical Christianity is tested, it will be reaffirmed etc., and the couple will end up with a relationship where these values are at the center.

Mm-hm. I grew up evangelical, so all that part is pretty clear to me. I have personal reasons for wishing to continue publishing, for now, within that realm.

This novel, like my last one, does center around a faith journey, not so much explicitly as structurally. There's not that much direct religious talk, though there is some, but the plot turns on the idea of forgiving your enemy. The characters (based on a real community) are conservative Protestants and their notions of sex and marriage fit the genre perfectly. The lack of lots of direct religious talk might be the biggest issue for readers, but there's absolutely no way, so there it is.

Actually, it's rather curious that the characters in so many historical romances are irreligious or take their beliefs completely for granted so they never think about it.

Is, isn't it? :) I always miss it. Not because I'm religious so much as because I want history to be history, I want to feel like I'm in a different world--which is our world as it really used to be. I want my ancient Greeks to really think Zeus is throwing the lightning.

Yes, I'd prefer a single POV to a wildly imbalanced POV. I really like to be immersed in books, so if I settle down in one character's POV and then suddenly I'm thrown into another, it jerks me right out. If there's a regular POV change then I settle down with both.

I wouldn't necessarily put a book down because of POV imbalance, though. I just probably wouldn't enjoy it as much as I could have.

Thanks for answering! Good to know.

KBooks is right, and you are right too – I didn't mean 100% repetition. What I meant to suggest was that you either try to split the important scenes, or show them in such a way that they don't feel like exactly the same scene, because the POV characters's understanding of the event is so vastly different. This wouldn't always work, however; it all depends on the characters and the way you have been presenting them up to that scene.

LOL, sorry I misunderstood so entirely, Tocotin, I dunno quite where my head was that day. This makes total sense. Though trying to imagine just what that second option might look like (I knew you were doing something complicated and literary!) is making things very interesting in my brain. But yeah, I do think writing important scenes from both could be a good exercise. Did I ever tell you, in my previous book, I had Benjamin's POV in for awhile? I wrote a whole spiritual-turning-point scene when he was lying on the mountainside with his broken ankle & thought he was going to die. It survives only as that dialogue in the attic where he basically tells Julien he's going to man up now. :) But I do think it improved that dialogue... and his whole arc really.

Omni. Now there's a thought. My gut reaction is "Look, omni sounds like an amazing thing to try & learn but later, when I get out of this genre which probably can't handle that kind of thing"... but I'll think about it!?!

I would like to discuss this POV thing with you more. I'll hope to have something from Luc's POV up in Historical SYW for December, I think. I'll ask you more about it then if I (hopefully!) see you there.
 

SwallowFeather

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Some new thoughts. If anybody's still interested!

So I've taken some stabs at writing my love-interest's POV, and at deciding where to put it, and what I've found is interesting. I think there's a reason I asked initially whether a love-interest's POV wasn't kind of spoilery, and maybe it's got more to do with my specific story than with romance in general, but…

It really messes with the sense of mystery!

When she first meets him, he is mysterious. Now I personally find this attractive in a man (especially a fictional one where you don't have to worry he's Schrödinger's Something-or-Other) and I don't really think I'm alone. When she first meets him in Chapter 2 they go through a whole dramatic scene together before a single question can be answered:

Who is this young man on the train who seems so casual about traveling in a time when young men his apparent age could be picked up by the police & sent to Germany for factory-labor… why does he know exactly what to do the instant gunshots ring out, and did he know that was going to happen? Why did he help the Resistance fugitive who fled to our train, and is it really true he'd never met the man before? What's in the suitcase he guards so carefully? Who's he working for? What's his name?

Boy, if I put his POV in before Chapter 3 (when they're finally in hiding and can talk)--or even in Chapter 3, because suddenly switching to his POV to answer the questions would be weird!--if I show him getting on the train worrying about his mission and I tell you what's in the suitcase and for who (b/c I won't be pulling that trick of just not having him think about it)… it's really going to ruin that. So, his POV in Chapter 4. There goes 50-50.

And then what happens in Chapter 4 is, he almost gets arrested & she chooses to carry his suitcase & mission onward without him. She doesn't know if he's arrested or not—she only sees him pursued. So now if I have his POV in Chapter 5… or 6 or 7… the reader knows what really happened, who hid him from the police, & knows from the start of that sequence that he'll be making it home—and soon. So all her worries about what might be happening to him, we don't worry with her, we're in the know...

Maybe this just isn't the kind of romance with more than one POV. Not saying it wouldn't be useful, even revelatory in Act III. But you can't suddenly introduce a POV in Act III. Or even Act II.

Darn. I mean, I guess. I have mixed feelings.
 

SwallowFeather

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So like there's definitely romances out there with only one POV. Twilight, which isn't genre romance, but is certainly a love story, is a story where the way it's told works well because it's told from one character's pov, and if you got the other character's pov, the mystery would be revealed. So if you feel your story is one of those romances that works better from a single POV rather than two POVs, you could certainly go that way.

Good thought, thank you. And good example. Much as Twilight isn't my jam (yeah we've all heard it all on that score so nuff said), mystery is something it does very effectively, and you're right--it would've been spoiled by 2 POVs.
 

SwallowFeather

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So, interesting news, I asked the managing editor at my Christian publisher for input on whether I should include the male love-interest's POV or not, when I sent in my book proposal. He just wrote back and turns out his preferred choice is no! Unless I get "boxed into a corner," presumably meaning plot-wise, like I can't tell an important scene without it or whatever.

Nice to know! Glad I asked! He didn't really say if it was a genre thing. The only Christian romance I've read so far in my current spree had both, but it's clearly a bit nontraditional in that it includes the POV of the guy the lady will clearly not end up with... I sure can pick 'em, I never get the typical example. I tried Georgette Heyer and what did I read? The Spanish Bride. Give it a try if you like history--it was worth a read for sure--but definitely one of the oddest romances you'll ever see. Well, we'll see if it appears to be a genre thing or not...

I sure am glad what the editor wants lines up with what I've ended up leaning toward. Got lucky there. But ironically the next scene I plan to write will--even still--be from the guy's POV. I just need to get to know him better, that's really my next step just now, even if I end up transposing the scene later...
 

Roxxsmom

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It may be a subgenre thing, because including both povs is pretty normalized in the subgenres of romance that I've read. I tend to read romance with a pretty high heat level, though, and it may be that readers who like sexual detail enjoy experiencing it from both perspectives in M/F romances?

But it sounds like good news for you if you feel your story will work best just from the FMC's pov.
 

Earthling

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I've only written one single-POV romance and not only was it the first to sell but the easiest to write. Have fun with it!
 

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I love a duo POV when done right. I've just given up reading a contemporary romance where it was constantly back and forth within the same chapter. A lot of the time I had to re-read to find out who was talking. I have a fondness for alternating POVs for each chapter. It gives me a chance to get more engrossed with what's happening in the story.

In one of my MS that I'm currently working on. I have a duo POV, but the males perspective doesn't come until about 5 chapters in.

Also, I like the timeline to be constant. It peeves me off when I have to read the same chapter again but from a different view. That makes the book feel twice as long.
 

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I think a good general rule of thumb for deciding from whose pov to portray a scene is to determine who has the most at stake in a given scene. Other factors, like whose hiding what from whom (with consideration of what the reader needs to know at that moment in the story) can also factor in.

This is the best advice I have heard about trying to decide which POV to use. The other thing I have done is written the scene from both POV and then decided which version works best to move the plot and or character arc.
 

Sonya Heaney

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This is the best advice I have heard about trying to decide which POV to use.

That really is great advice. I need to follow it more often!

I love a duo POV when done right. I've just given up reading a contemporary romance where it was constantly back and forth within the same chapter.

Also, I like the timeline to be constant. It peeves me off when I have to read the same chapter again but from a different view. That makes the book feel twice as long.

Head-hopping is pretty much a big no-no these days, but it was more common a few decades ago (I think that's what you're talking about?). My publisher marks POV changes with *** - I rarely have an entire chapter from just one character's POV, but I have at least a thousand words (approximately - I'm not counting!) from the heroine's view before changing to the hero's. Are the books you're reading where the chapter is redone from another character's perspective traditionally/trade published? Because I've never come across that before.
 

Meemossis

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Are the books you're reading where the chapter is redone from another character's perspective traditionally/trade published? Because I've never come across that before.

It was literally;
Chapter 1
POV1, two paragraphs
POV2, three paragraphs
POV1, rest of chapter
Chapter 2
POV1, one chapter
Chapter 3
POV1, half chapter
POV2, rest of chapter
Chapter 4-5
POV1, whole chapter and then some.
POV3, a couple of paragraphs.

All of these were in first-person.
 

Rupert24

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As someone who read a lot of romance/drama stories i can tell you that having a POV from the love interest is always an excellent choice because this allows you to understand the shoes of that person before to make a decision. So yes i highly recommend you write some chapters but from the perspective of that love interest, her/his struggles, motivations, goals, fears, feelings, is totally a good insight.

Also, when you ask about what people is seeking in the romances.... ufffff i can tell you without hesitation....a good balance between the characters. I've read a lot of interactive histories when i really but i mean, really, really, really really, really, really, struggle about who the heck i want to choose because all the characters are so freaking good constructed, a solid voice and personality, good and well established values that IS REALLY A PAIN IN THE BUTT TRYING TO MAKE A DECISION >:'v even i want to stop read that story, close the app and doing anything else but not struggling tryiing to decide >.<
 

Sonya Heaney

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It was literally;
Chapter 1
POV1, two paragraphs
POV2, three paragraphs
POV1, rest of chapter
Chapter 2
POV1, one chapter
Chapter 3
POV1, half chapter
POV2, rest of chapter

Chapter 4-5
POV1, whole chapter and then some.
POV3, a couple of paragraphs.

All of these were in first-person.

Okay, I wouldn't last past the first page. And I think my editors would shoot me. It's very normal for a romance to have a POV shift two or three times a chapter, but there should be a substantial part from one point of view before it changes to the other. I mean, of course, people can write however they want. It's a creative job and rules are made to be broken, but head-hopping that extensive is probably not the best way to keep your readers sane.

The bit I put in bold is something I do with some of my chapters, so I have no trouble with that as long as there's a clear break in the shift (e.g. my publisher putting *** when it changes).

A scene could be from either point of view, and the choice of which one should come down to which character has the most at stake. Writing every scene from the perspective of every character in the room, their dog, and the pot plant in the corner is not the best idea.
 

janeofalltrades

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I'm struggling with this as well. I wrote with the intention of a 3rd person omniscient POV, but ended up focusing on things from the MMC or the FMC's perspective at different points in the story, and once or twice I had to show what was going on in a side character's head as well (it was important to the FMC's arc). I am sure my beta reader will flog me for it.
 

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