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Whose Head Am I in Now?
Friday, February 19th, 2010

I promised I’d post some things I’ve learned along the way about writing for aspiring writers. Here’s my take on POV.

I own a gazillion books about the craft of writing. Every once in a while, I’ll run my fingers over the spines and say a little incantation hoping the knowledge will seep into me by osmosis, because I haven’t read them!

So, everything I’m saying here is strictly “POV according to Delilah.” This is all I know—what I’ve picked up from listening to other writers complaining about someone else’s poor use of POV. We writers love to tear each other to shreds, don’t we? In a constructive way!

What is my impression of Point of View?
Down and dirty—it’s whose head you’re in, whose body you’re crawling around inside to describe what that character is seeing, feeling, touching, tasting.

Let’s start with the terms I learned first in high school English. This is the easy part to distinguish.
1) First Person: If you are writing a book and you have a single POV and constantly refer to him or her as “I”, you’re using first person POV.
2) Third Person: This is more commonly used in romance fiction. If you want to see inside more than one person’s head, you really need to be using third. Here you are referring to your hero and heroine as “he” and “she”.
3) Omniscient: This is trickier. You’re using “he” and “she”, but you aren’t in any one character’s head. You might be seeing something your characters can’t see. Use this sparingly, if at all. It’s a disembodied voice, not rooted in the emotions and insights of any character.

Knowing how to recognize POV is one thing. Using it well is an art.
I write mostly in third person. I write romance and love to see inside both character’s heads to know how the romance is progressing according to their separate POVs.

How do I decide whose head I want to be in?
I evaluate what I want to accomplish in a particular scene. What lesson will be learned? Who has the most to lose from the outcome of the scene? Whoever will give me the most emotional impact is who I go with.

How do I know I’m using POV well?
I pretend I’m using binoculars when I enter a scene. Once I’ve chosen the head I want to walk around in, I look at the scene through his or her eyes. What is she feeling? What is she seeing? She can’t see an emotion occurring in the hero, but she can read his facial expressions or his body language to surmise what’s happening inside him.

Take a look at this sentence and see if you get it:
“Sarah glanced at Luke. He looked embarrassed.“

Sarah can’t see embarrassment—but she can see red cheeks, a gaze that can’t quite meet hers—and guess what’s going in inside Luke. Be sure to “show, not tell”.

How often should I change POV? What’s head hopping?
When writing shorter romances (series, novellas), you will likely only use two POVs—the hero’s and the heroine’s. You won’t have the page count for other character’s POV and subplots.

Before I start writing, I decide whose book this is. Sure, I have a hero and a heroine, and they both are falling in love, but one character has more to learn, more to sacrifice. That’s the person who owns that story. I will spend more time inside her or his head. I try to balance the POVs scene by scene the best I can, but my main character needs more pages.

If my hero chooses to hurt my heroine to keep her away from him for her safety, I’ll be in his head. He’s fighting his emotions to give her the stoney-faced set down to drive her away. There’s more happening inside him, than her. In the next scene, I will want to know what she thinks and feels about what just happened. UNLESS, I want his motivations hidden—in which case, we will see the set down occur in her POV.

You no doubt have heard the term “head-hopping.” The simple explanation is that you swap POVs. Some purists think you should only have a single POV per chapter or scene. I go with that advice, most of the time. If I do decide to leap to the other person’s head mid-scene, I do it cleanly and I don’t go back. Changing POV mid-scene can very effective in love scene or a scene with a lot of action.

Don’t give your animals a POV unless they’re sentient aliens who think like us—I can’t think of any time I’ve seen that used effectively. Do you know what an animal thinks? I blur that rule only when I write my shape shifters, because even in animal form they retain some spark of human sentience.

If you’re a writer and have your own thoughts on how to identify whose head you should be in or how to deepen POV, I’d love the hear your thoughts. ~DD

6 comments to “Whose Head Am I in Now?”

  1. Gale
    · February 19th, 2010 at 9:38 am · Link

    Someone once told me to write in first person to get the deep POV for that character and then change it to third. If I’m having trouble that’s what I do and it helps. Thanks for a great post!

  2. Brandy W
    · February 19th, 2010 at 9:53 am · Link

    I’ve heard the same thing Gale.

  3. Wesley Nichols
    · February 19th, 2010 at 11:44 am · Link

    In some of you stories, you explore the topic of cheating. When you write about this topic, do you go into how badly the person’s trust has been broken?

    One thing I have always believed is that when you catch your parterner cheating on you, your love for that person is damaged if not outright destroyed. How do you deal with this in a romance story?

  4. Delilah Devlin
    · February 19th, 2010 at 11:56 am · Link

    Gale and Brandy! I’ve done that before too. It works well. Gives you the feeling of looking through binoculars in a scene. You can’t stray out of that person’s head.

    Wesley! I very much like putting real, hard issues into stories. Cheating happens. In some Western cultures it’s even institutionalized and considered a way to keep marriages strong. Think of the French and their afternoon lovers. And look at our own society, where those wealthy enough to keep mistresses, do. Think their wives really don’t know? When it happens to ordinary people, those folks have hard choices to make. If they still have feelings, they have to learn to forgive or to let go.

    When I wrote Unforgiven, I wanted it real. I wanted the remorseful and revenge-seeking partners to come together again. They’d had a year to smolder. If there hadn’t been a strong connection in the first place, both of them could have moved on. Instead, they had to work it out. Find a way to get past the betrayal and learn to trust and hope for a better future.

  5. Rachel Lynne
    · February 19th, 2010 at 5:48 pm · Link

    I’ve learned so much through the crit group on pov. The ladies nailed me over and over again and it finally sank into my brain. I haven’t seen any remarks on it for a long time now but I never feel like I’ve arrived! Getting inside a character’s head is hard and depending on how much they differ from you, the writer, it can even be uncomfortable. I appreciate the post, nice refresher!

  6. Delilah Devlin
    · February 20th, 2010 at 11:53 am · Link

    Rachel! I’m glad the critique group is working for you!!

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