The Correct POV

by Sascha Illyvich 

eye-care2Do you know which POV your story is told in?  Do you know the correct Point of View your story SHOULD be written from?  If you answer first or third person POV, you’re obviously being a smart ass.  Let’s rephrase the question, shall we?  

What character’s point of view should my story be told in? 

There, this defines the question better.  And the answer is simple.  The main character’s POV.  But what if you have two characters?  Presumably a Hero and a Heroine, since this is Romance I’m mainly covering, let’s stick with that assumption.  What if you have a villain?  Do we tell any of the story from that character’s perspective? 

Many writers assume that during major scene changes, the perspective should change.  They’re half correct.  A lot of writers suggest that we need to know about the villain if there is one, and that character should get a say too.  Again, they’re half right. 

The truth is, POV is simple.  Tell the story from the Point of View of the character that has the most to lose.  

What do I mean by that?  Let’s break it down.  In a typical romance novel, we have the hero and heroine and a plot that runs something like this: 

Hero meets Heroine (hey you’re hot)

Hero and Heroine end up in bed (light cigar/cigarette)

Argument separates the two (God he’s a jerk/she’s a bitch)

And in the end, something happens that is greater than both the Hero and Heroine’s issues that makes them examine their beliefs and realize they need the other.

Let’s figure this out (I need you/I love you)

HEA/Happily for Now 

Throw in a villain and that character’s appearance should be before or during the cigar in the above example.  Considering that much of today’s erotic romance is paranormal or urban fantasy, there is a bad guy waiting to kill off both Hero/Heroine. 

So what determines whose point of view the story is told from? This is also easy.  For the story to flow without head hopping, let’s use a simple rule of thumb (courtesy of Morgan Hawke

IF the story is under 20k, you simply need ONE character where the event happens to THEM and ONLY them.  

IF the story is under 40k, then we have an event that affects two characters.  

IF the story is under 100k, we have three characters who get a say, usually because the villain is the one doing shit to the world/universe—including the H/H.  

Now that we’ve narrowed that down and fixed the potential to head hop all over the place, thus eliminating characters that are central but not integral for POV purposes, we’re left with the one question:  

Who gets to talk? 

Readers get attached to characters they care about and have built relationships with, just as in reality.  Kill off a favorite character from your reader base and you’d better believe you’re going to hear about it!  Alter that character’s world somehow and again, you’ll get feedback.  But what if the hero and heroine both have something to lose?  Then what do you do? 

Refer back to length of the story.  Who has the greatest loss, and the greatest gain?  Write from THAT one character’s POV and ONLY change scenes if word length allows for it and only if that character’s journey makes us feel something universal.  

I recently read a story where head hopping occurred so much because the writer thought to write scenes like we see in TV.  Take Burn Notice for example:  We have Michael Westin, (The hero) Fiona (Heroine) and all the side characters, most notably the drunk former CIA op who we get to see frequently.  POV switches don’t really occur much because the story is narrated by Michael Westin, but when we do get those changes, Westin is still narrating. That works because people need to see a lot of visuals and TV/movies allow for those shifts to occur. The average attention span is not that long.  

But FICTION writing doesn’t.  You’ll end up with unsmooth transitions, annoying head hopping issues that make the reader THROW YOUR BOOK THE FUCK AWAY!  

In FICTION, you do two things.  You show the reader what YOU want them to see; otherwise they’ll see something else.  And you make the story smooth.  By sticking to word limit/reason for changes, you’ll eliminate guesswork in your plotting. 

Some writers can get away with multiple POV changes.  Sherrylin Kenyon for example can, she has a built in audience that somehow doesn’t care about the change from the H/H to Ash or Stryker.  So does Laurel K. Hamilton, but because she writes in First Person POV, she doesn’t have that ability.  But if she wrote in third person, she could afford to change because she’s ESTABLISHED.  Chances are, you’re not them. (And if you are, thanks for reading my article!) 

Christine Feehan does an excellent job of keeping the POV between her hero and heroine.  So does Richelle Mead. And Rebecca York.  Those authors are authors who don’t write what I do, but I learn from them because they’re where I hope to be someday.  

To reinforce the key points, I’ll leave with my two rules for simplification.

  1. Tell the story from the character’s POV that has the MOST to lose
  2. Use word length 20k = 1 character.  40k, 2 characters.  60k-100k+=3 and ONLY three. 

That should simplify things in your stories.  Happy writing! 

Sascha Illyvich

Listen to The UnNamed Romance Show Mondays at 1 PM PST and Thursdays at 3 PM PST on – hear from Sascha as he shares his work along with interviewing the hottest authors in today’s romance

About Deborah Riley-Magnus

Deborah Riley-Magnus is an author and an Author Success Coach. She has a twenty-seven year professional background in marketing, advertising, and public relations as a writer for print, television, and radio. She writes fiction and non-fiction. Since 2010, she had two novels released. In 2013 her nonfiction, Finding Author Success (Second Edition), and Cross Marketing Magic for Authors were released. Her newest book, Write Brain/Left Brain, focuses on bridging the gap between the creative writer and the marketing author. Deborah produces several pieces monthly for various websites and online publications. She writes an author industry blog and teaches online and live workshops as The Author Success Coach. She belongs to several writing and professional organizations. Deborah has lived on both the east and west coast of the United States and has traveled the country widely. She is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and recently returned after living in Los Angeles, California for several years. View all posts by Deborah Riley-Magnus

19 responses to “The Correct POV

  • yearzerowriters

    Interesting post. I liked your definition according to ‘who has the most to lose’ – straight away it allies the writer and such a character, that their fates are intertwined.

    I don’t know if it’s a genre thing, but I can’t quite agree with: “You show the reader what YOU want them to see; otherwise they’ll see something else.” Maybe if the genre is built on conventions which its audience expect to be met and observed then yes. But if the reader isn’t given free rein to jump off from my words into their own imagination, to make associations with their own experiences so that for them the book is a process of synthesis between my words and their own perspective, then I fear I have failed as a writer. I don’t want to be spoon feeding them everything. Reading is a creative act for them as well as me the writer.

  • Deborah Riley-Magnus


    Welcome. I’ve forwarded a note to author Sasha Illyvich that you’ve commented. AND, strange as it seems, I was just researching how to contact YOU for a Guest Blog here! yearszreowriters looks like a fascinating concept.


  • sulci

    Hi Debs, it was me, didn’t notice I was logged in as a Year Zeroer! The above view is purely my own. Go Phillies!

  • Brenna Lyons

    Ah…again, I’m breaking all of Morgan’s rules. She loves when I do that, since we’re such opposites in style of writing. Then again, she claims I’m a fearless writer, compared to most, so I guess that makes sense.

    I’ve written stories as short as 3500 words long with two fully-fleshed POV characters. My first book was a two-book serial novel of about 200K with 21 POV characters. I’ve also played POV games like: showing the villain’s POV without revealing the face of the villain, playing camera jump POV games (not to be confused with head hopping, since the reader is NEVER lost), and switching first and third in a workable scenario. If you know the rules, you can break them intelligently.

    On one hand, I agree that the character should be powerful…not necessarily the one with the most to lose, but the most powerful for that scene. My rules of thumb for choosing a POV character include:

    1. Is the character integral to the climax or resolution of the story? This isn’t a break all, but it helps justify it to editors.
    2. Are you confusing the readers with the shifts? NEVER do that.
    3. Is your character the only one present to witness the event or the only one left alive after the event? I don’t mind killing off characters during their POV, so the second half of that doesn’t always apply.
    4. Does your character carry an emotional punch for the reader? Look at Stephen King… He’ll introduce someone and give him a POV just to kill him. If you LIKED the character, you are horrified, sickened, angered… If you hated the character, you might feel justice was well but heavily served. Every choice should take what the reader will get out of it into account.
    5. It should be the strongest POV for what you want to convey. Sometimes, that means the person with the most information. Sometimes, it means a character with missing information…or hiding information from the reader…or MISinformation.

    I agree Kenyon does a great job with POV. Though Feehan usually does, a single book in her Carpathians series will never see my eyes again. Why? Fourteen POV shifts in the first few pages, between four heads. Ouch. I had a headache. I can only assume the editor she had for that book was different and messed her up, because I never saw that before or after from her.

    Yearzero, I can see the reader seeing something different than what you want them to see, but that’s a visualization problem, IMO. If the description on the page is not sufficient, the reader will fill in the blanks for themselves and perhaps come up with something unintended by the author. Remember, the reader can’t read the author’s mind. If the detail is in the author’s mind and not on the page, the readers will add their imaginations to the mix…maybe more than you want them to.


    • Deborah Riley-Magnus

      Welcome Brenna!

      Wow, as a writer REWRITING a novel this is all adding up to a massive amount of wonderful advice! Thanks so much!


      • Brenna Lyons

        If you want my full article on POV, I’d be glad to pass it along. If anything is useful, I’m glad.

        Good luck with the rewrite. That can be painful or liberating.


    • Sascha Illyvich

      haha Brenna, glad you showed up. I ADORE you btw!

      Need your phone number again.

      The thing about most to lose, that’s basically what you said in your clarification of what makes you choose POV character. that term, Most to Lose, could be deemed another term and it still comes out the same way: What character’s POV is the most powerful, as you’ve put it.

    • yearzerowriters

      Hi Brenna, you’d have to ask those who’ve read me if the detail remains only in my mind rather than coming across from the page. I set lots of linguistic gins, alliteration, puns, contrary readings of the same word, distortions of words etc. If the reader ‘gets’ half that’s fine, I don’t think it matters if they miss out on the other 50%. It’s layers and levels. If I do my job properly, then different readers WILL see different things and each and every one of those viewpoints is equally valid.

  • danigirl1977

    interesting…I don’t mind multiples…err…i meant multiple POV’s as long as I can understand what the hell is going on lol. If i start reading and it is first person then suddenly someone else is first person and I am like, what the hell? who is this? like when the phone rings and you answer and the person on the other end starts a conversation and you have no idea who the hell it is.
    Danielle, for CTR

  • sulci

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Write 1st person POV for whole novel and take the stress out of it all!

  • Hollie

    switching POV is probably the most irritating mistake an author can make, it can be dome and done well and i enjoy learning what other characters think and feel, but not when i have to guess who’s POV i’m reading

  • Deborah Riley-Magnus

    Welcome Hollie!

    I totally agree. What a boon to have experts like Sasha and others to explain the right way to do it!


  • Hollie

    thanks Deb sometimes i’m glad i’m a reviewer not an author

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