One of my favorite parts of being a literary agent is getting to work closely with so many talented writers. The best part is being able to collaborate on their latest project together. It’s a privilege, really. I love seeing each individual’s writing process and watching each layer of their work unfold until the final product somehow miraculously declares itself finished. During this process a lot of interesting questions come up. Some questions have straight forward answers. But, it’s not all that easy. One of my authors recently asked me about point of view (POV) for her new series she is working on. This was one of those not so easy questions. Do particular genres have rules about POV? Is dual POV a ‘no-no’? Do POV rules change depending on gender? How about age, does that affect POV too? Are publisher’s looking for a certain POV? See? Not so easy.
At one point, the answer to these questions would probably have been ‘yes.’ Writing used to be more formulated and possessed rules that writer’s dare not break unless they wanted to send their career to an early grave. But now, authors are breaking every possible boundary and are doing so successfully. We aren’t so focused on the rules, but rather our story.
My initial response was ‘no,’ it doesn’t matter. But, out of curiosity I wanted to see what others had to say about it. I came across some general rules. Romance is often written in the third person because love involves more than one person and we want to be able to understand all characters equally. Young adult is written in the first person. You can only switch POV or ‘head hop’ after a scene is complete or a new chapter has arrived. Despite all these said to be ‘rules’ most people came to the same conclusion- it doesn’t matter. Every genre doesn’t have a correct POV, but every story does.
My favorite article I came across was by Alan Rinzler, an experienced book editor. He only has one rule when it comes to POV- does your manuscript work? At the end of the day our goal is to create something that is readable, that keeps readers wanting to come back for more. As long as you can make that happen- anything goes. Crazy and adventurous sells.
I wish I could give you a list of rules here that would solve all your problems and save you hours of brain-numbing torture flip flopping back and forth on your decision, hoping you are making the right one. But after all that’s what writing is all about, right? To help ease the pain, Rinzler provided three basic tips on POV. Maybe it will shed some light on one of your toughest decisions:
- Get to know your characters first. Know who your protagonist is and their particular strengths and weaknesses. Does it make sense to tell their story from the inside or the outside?
- Don’t give your story away. Whatever POV you choose, craft your story carefully. Don’t tell your readers anything, let them do the discovering for themselves.
- Go ahead, break the rules. Of course we all like a reliable narrator, but don’t feel like you need to give your readers one. The best stories end in the most unexpected ways.
Rinzler also gave some examples of how he has helped authors find the correct POV for their story so if you’re on the POV struggle bus, check it out.