Changing your Point of View: How you write, and thoughts on 1st, 3rd, past and present tense

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Change comes whether we want it to or not. Sometimes change happens so slowly you don’t know it’s happening. Sometimes you’re not paying attention and the old way you’ve taken for granted is suddenly gone.

This happened to me, though I think I was more in denial this was happening than embracing the change. Maybe I was hoping it would go away, or maybe I was hoping the old way would hang in there. The latter may still have a chance, but the former isn’t going to happen.

What am I talking about? The way fiction is being written. Not even by indies, as this change has been happening with the traditionally published books in the past couple of years as well.

To explain, let me go back.

Like all writers, I grew up reading. Nancy Drew, The Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley High. Slowly, I graduated to Sweet Dreams romances, VC Andrews and Harlequin Desires and Temptations.

And looking back, I realize there is one thing all those books have in common–they were written in third person past tense.

It stands to reason then, that when I began writing my own stories, I too, wrote in third person past since I grew up reading it. Never would I think this way would become outdated, but I’m afraid that it has.

Now books today are written in first person present, and that doesn’t seem like that’s going to change any time soon. Take a look at any new book, especially a romance in Kindle Unlimited, and you’ll see what I mean. I liken this to how Mike Campbell loses all is money in the The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway:

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.
“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

It seems as if first person snuck up on us, and then suddenly it was everywhere.

And as a writer who writes in third person past, this is troubling because this isn’t about catching a trend or even writing to market, it’s about adapting to change as not to be left behind.

It used to be first person, be it past or present, served one purpose–the sole reason why the writer chose to use first person when writing their novel: to tell the story of “I.”

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Who was the “I?” A girl with magical powers? A young boy out to seek his fortune? The author chose that way as a device to tell that ONE person’s story through their eyes. Middle grade and YA were (are) written in that fashion so the young readers could more easily envision themselves in that role.

I can’t remember the first person book I ever read–and I must have read some; they weren’t non-existent as I was growing up, but they obviously didn’t make an impact on me. And when I was a young adult, and now a “real” adult myself, I don’t read much YA.

And maybe this is the point.

I’m outdated. At forty-four years old, I’m writing in a way that is being used less and less, except by the authors who have been writing for as long as I’ve been reading. Nora Roberts, Brenda Novak, Robin Carr.

When you read and enjoy first person books, that is what you’ll probably write. Books like the Hunger Games, Twilight, 50 Shades of Gray took the lead of a style of writing that is prominent now. You may be shaking your head, but think to when those books were written and how popular they were. The first book in the Hunger Games Trilogy was published in 2008. Twilight, 2005. Divergent, 2011.

I’m an old lady.

When thrillers and romances are now being written in first person (and present, too) where do you fit in if you like to write in 3rd person past tense, or even 3rd person omniscient?

I write contemporary romance, and when others who write in my genre use first person, it confuses me. There is no “I” in contemporary romance, there are two characters. His and hers. Or his and his. Or hers and hers. Depending on what you write. There is no single “I” on a journey to a happily ever after. Writing a two-sided romance using first person, to me, defeats the purpose of using first person.

Is this an old way of thinking?

Some of the greats still use 3rd person past, Nora Roberts holds true. So does Susan Mallery. Brenda Novak still does, and Robyn Carr as I mentioned above. The Harlequin lines, though they are going through some rearranging at the moment, still seem to publish 3rd person past romances, at least their little pocket romances like their Intrigue and Desire lines.

And to really confuse me, authors are starting to use a mix of points-of-view, and what’s even more mind-numbing is that it’s becoming popular, like The Mister by EL James. Maxim tells his story in first person present, but Alessia shares her story in third person present. I would love to ask Erica why she wrote it this way.

It seems like these days authors use POV as an artistic tool. Does it work, does it not? I have no idea. They say anything that takes your reader out of the story is bad. But what is bad is subjective.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn tells two stories. One story is present day and written in first person past, the other story took place while the female main character was a child and it’s told in third person past. She obviously choose this as a stylistic choice. Does being with the “I” character makes us feel more intimate with her? I don’t feel it would have changed the story much had she written the present day timeline in third person past. But with the popularity of her books, no one seems to mind what tense she chooses.

Have I had any complaints when it comes to my third person books? No, not that I’m aware, but nor would I know how many sales I’m either gaining or losing because of my choice.

So what is a writer to do? Keep writing in a style you like and are good at? Practice a different POV? I’ve tried writing first person present, and I liked writing it as much as I like reading it, and that’s to say, none.

And I will always believe writing a romance in first person POV when the author intends to show both sides of a relationship doesn’t make sense, and you can pry my opinion out of my cold, bloody fist.

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But it’s obvious that what is coming out by younger romance writers that my viewpoint is not shared, and it’s not shared by their readers, either.

We need to adapt with change, though. When will my dislike turn into simple stubbornness? And when will that stubbornness keep me from reading books I may otherwise have enjoyed? I can’t be an old curmudgeon waving my cane hollering “3rd person past” at every writer I meet.

Point of view can bring on choices that you need to make besides just how you want to write your book. If there’s an “anything goes” with what’s between the covers, our blurbs and ads need to reflect that. Blurbs have always been written in third person present. Some unspoken, unwritten rule has ordained this since the beginning of time, and it didn’t matter if your books were written in first, third, or alien.

Now though, if your book is written in first person, blurbs are changing to reflect that. The first book I grabbed off Amazon that is self-published and in KU happens to be written in first person past and the blurb is also written in first person. Maybe a coincidence, maybe not. Is this how blurbs need to be written now? When did the rules change, and where do you read them in the updated Author Handbook?

What about ads? Ad copy isn’t the same as writing your book, though blurbs and ad copy are cousins, I guess. Ad copy is supposed to be snappy, hook your reader into buying the book. If you sell a book with snappy first person ad copy, but your book is written in third person, will that go over well with your reader?

I have no idea. You’ll hear it in reviews though, guaranteed. Or at the very least, wasted ad money for clicks that don’t turn into sales.

Looking at “how it always used to be done” may not help in these quickly changing publishing times. For another look at how to write blurbs and in what POV look at this blog post by Writer Unboxed. The author of the article mulled it over a lot more eloquently than I did. Marketing Copy: The First- Versus Third-Person Debate


I’ll keep writing in 3rd person past. It’s how I write best.

Write how you write at your best because after all, it doesn’t matter if you write in first, third, or alien, it comes down to giving your readers a good story.

But I caution you using POV as a stylistic choice to cover up lazy, or poor, writing. If you’re going to experiment, make sure you have plenty of betas on hand to tell you if it’s working or not.

You can do whatever you want to do with your book, but you still want people to read it too. Even aliens.

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That was some really bad Sunday night humor. And with that I am going to bed. I hope you all have a lovely week of writing ahead!


thank you for your patince

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Who Are You Writing For? Yourself or Your Readers? Be Honest.

There’s a lot of fear in a writer’s heart. Lots of it. Am I good/smart/brave/pretty/handsome/wistful/*insert adjective here* enough to be a writer? Am I writing books people want to read?

I see this all the time. The fear. The agony of publishing. The waiting on pins and needles for reviews to start coming in. If they do. Then we have to wonder, is a bad review better than no review? Bad reviews mean that someone read my book, right? Or *gulp* tried to.

I have to admit, I see this stuff and I go wwwwwhhhhhhyyyyyyy?

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There shouldn’t have to be this crippling anxiety when you write and publish a book. Not if you do it right. What do I mean by right? Well, I have some ideas.

The first and foremost is be honest who you’re writing for. Are you writing for yourself? Because if you are, then you have no justification to piss and moan when someone doesn’t read your book or want to read your book. Because after all, you wrote it for yourself so what do you care if no one else is reading it? So, be honest. I find that with a lot of indie myths floating around out there that this isn’t so easy. Some of my favorite indie myths? Indie myths

  1. Build it and they will come.
    This is the stupidest thing I ever heard. Your book is not a sports stadium. (And even sports stadiums are built with specifications. Could you image a stadium built with no bathrooms because the owner didn’t want to pay to put them in?) No one is going to find you unless you push your book out there. Even publishing houses make you do most if not all of the marketing for your book yourself. If you’re an indie, this means contacting book bloggers, paying for ads, hosting events on your FB author page. Setting up your own signings at bookstores. How does this fit in with writing for yourself? You can write what you want all day long, but if you’re writing what no one wants to read, why bother?
  2. Writing to market is a cop-out.
    I love this one the most. Do you know what writing to market even means? My friend Holly put it like this: Writing to market isn’t being a sell-out. Writing to market is writing what people like to read. That’s it. It’s not any harder than that. So what does that entail significantly? Knowing your genre. What tropes are used? What kind of characters are in that genre? It can even come down to how many pages does a book in that genre typically have? Know the genre. It’s why your reader picked up your book in the first place.
  3. Experimenting is okay/write what you love/it’s your book.
    I agree up to a point. You have to experiment to find your voice. You have to love what you’re writing because this is your hobby, this is your passion, and if you hate it, you might as well go to work instead and hate it there and get paid for it, too. And it is your book. Absolutely. The choice of genre and POV is in your hands. But you have to stay within the confines of the genre you choose. I don’t know how many more times I can say it. And if, for God’s sake, you have to experiment with a medieval Zombie sex plot, no one is saying you have to publish the *insert derogatory adjective here* thing.
  4. And the worst indie myth of all:
    I DO WHAT I WANT
  5. I’m an indie and I can do/write/publish what I want.
    This is hurtful for so many reasons. One, because what you do affects all of us. You know that saying “one rotten apple poisons the barrel?” It’s true. Indie publishing already has a bad enough reputation, do we need to add to it by publishing whatever crap you decide to write? You hurt me, and I hurt you. And if you think I’m full of crap, think again. Another reason this hurts is because you are hurting yourself on a personal level. One crap book and your reputation is on the line. Readers remember you. Don’t think they don’t. I have a list of readers I don’t like, both indie and trad-pubbed, and you know what? I don’t buy their books. Easy-peasy.

So what does all this have to do with the fear I was talking about earlier? Well, I’m willing to guess and say, if you follow the rules (yep, I went there) and produce a good book, you may find that the idea of people reading your book won’t scare you as much as it did.

What are these blasphemous rules I speak of?

  1. Know the genre you’re writing in. When a publishing professional asks, If you were to put your book on a shelf in a bookstore, where would you put it? That’s a serious question. We all dream of being in a bookstore, and I don’t think that means being in the back room because the manager hasn’t got a fucking clue where to put your book. Follow the tropes and expectations of that genre.
  2. Get the thing edited. I don’t care by who. Just do it. You have a typo on the first page, and it can be something as simple as using a period in dialogue when it should have been a comma, you lost me. And probably about 100 other readers who were interested. They aren’t anymore.
    And if this is your first book and you have no idea what you’re doing? Get a developmental editor, too. Your plot needs to move, your characters need to grow. If you have trouble crafting a good plot (ie no plot holes) and your characters are flat out boring, don’t publish.
  3. Have a cover that matches your genre. Seems like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how many authors do what they want with no sense of what is going on in their genre. This could be because they don’t have a genre, and well, that sucks. No genre, no cover, no bookshelf space, no book. It takes two seconds to Google the hot 100 on Amazon in your genre. If your cover looks like a sweet romance, but you wrote erotica, you’ll piss off a lot of people. And you know that means? Bad reviews.
  4. Write a decent blurb.

If you do all these, and yeah, it takes work, time, and money, and you publish the best book you can, there is no reason why you should be scared people will read your book.

Let me tell you a little story.
A someone told me they were petrified people were going to find and read their book. This puzzled me, as they published the darn thing–they should want someone to read it. Naturally, I looked them up on Amazon. The cover was okay; it prepped me for a chick-lit plot with some naughty bits. Can’t beat comedy and sex. The blurb sucked, but well, writing them is hard, so I gave them a pass. Their author bio was written first person, a no-no, but well, I guess some people don’t know that. I used the look inside feature that Amazon has so graciously set up for us so we don’t waste money, and I found the book was a mess. Their cover didn’t match the serious tone of the book, the formatting was horrible, and it was evident from the first paragraph they didn’t have an editor. They’re scared people are going to find their book? They should be.

There are things you can do to control the quality of your book. Find an editor/critique partner/beta reader who will teach you things, not just blow smoke up your bum. Read craft books. Go to writing conferences and have your first pages critiqued. Read in your genre. For the love of God, choose a genre. It makes writing a lot easier, trust me. And after you hit publish, you did it. Own it.

And seriously. If you are writing for yourself, when you’re done, print it out and shove it under the bed. Maybe the monster under there can edit it for you.

Am I too harsh?

Tell me what you think!

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Point of View vs. Head Hopping

When I hosted my editing #smutchat on Twitter a few weeks ago, I was surprised to learn people were confused between POV and head hopping. I thought I would write a quick refresher on the topic. This will just be an overview because complete books have been written on the subject, and I’ll list my favorite resources at the end of the post.

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When you look up the definition of POV, this is what you’ll find. Essentially, when you talk about characters and writing, point of view is the character’s view and thoughts of the story. When you write in 1st person, you only have one point of view—that of the person who is “I.” Many writers like to write in this way because it’s easier to keep track of characters and plot. You don’t have to worry about who is doing what when because there are the thoughts and actions of only one character. The worry about head hopping is nonexistent because you only have the thoughts of the “I” character.

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Writing in 3rd person is different. That is when you can write in the POV of several characters if you want. A popular example of this is Game of Thrones. Each chapter is written in the POV of a different character, and Game of Thrones has a lot of characters. Some writers do this with their 1st person characters—each “I” has their own chapter, and in this way, the author is allowed to move among characters. I think this is lazy, and be mad at me if you want, but ultimately, if you want the POV of more than one character, you might as well just write in 3rd person. It’s cleaner and reads better.

Anyway, I write romances. Most romances are written in 3rd person, and the point of view alternates between the hero and the heroine. (Some longer romance sub-genres like Chick Lit and Romantic Mysteries will add other POVs, say that of the best friend, or the villain.) Switching between the hero and heroine is fun because we like to know if the characters have different thoughts and feelings about a situation they are both involved in. Like a kiss: He’s swept away by the moment, but she’s grossed out because of his breath.

But switching points of view in this way also means changing scenes or chapters and making sure each character and their thoughts are confined to their specific scene or chapter.

Head hopping occurs when an author starts a scene or chapter with the POV of one character, but then the author slips in thoughts of different characters who are not the owner of the point of view.

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Let’s take a look at a clean POV scene:

Amy pushed her food around her plate. She didn’t understand why her boyfriend’s mother hated her so much. She could feel the woman glaring at her across the table. Her boyfriend, Zach, rubbed her back. She appreciated his support, but sometimes she wished he would just tell his mother to chill out. If the woman didn’t stop being so mean to her, Amy would stop eating Sunday dinner at their house. It wouldn’t make Zach very happy, but he would deserve it if he didn’t start sticking up for her.

This is a quick paragraph in Amy’s point of view. We only know her thoughts. She’s uncomfortable with the situation, she’s resentful Zach doesn’t defend her against his mother. There isn’t any head hopping because we don’t know what the other characters are thinking. If this is a romance between Zach and Amy, and we want to know Zach’s thoughts about dinner, we would need to make a scene or chapter break and begin the new scene or chapter in Zach’s point of view.

Zach wished Amy would be nicer to his mother. He was going to have to break up with her if things continued this way. He’d always thought Amy was a sweet girl, and he’d been happy when he asked her out and she said yes. But things went downhill the day he introduced her to his mother. They hadn’t clicked from day one, and it was Amy’s fault. She caused so many problems acting so pretentious. Disgusted with how dinner was going, he guzzled his beer hoping to take the edge off. Breaking up with her was the last thing he wanted to do, but he couldn’t marry a woman who didn’t get along with his mother.

This is why I like 3rd person POV so much. You can surprise your readers with character reveals. Were you surprised Zach was taking his mother’s side? Maybe you were because in Amy’s POV Zach patted Amy’s back and she took that for support when in actuality, Zach was thinking thoughts that were anything but.

This is a classic staple of romances—misunderstandings and conclusions being assumed up the tension and create conflict.

Let’s take a look at head hopping. Head hopping is when the author tries to cram thoughts of more than one character into a scene. You can still start the scene or chapter in the POV of one character, but then you start slipping in thoughts of your other characters. You aren’t necessarily changing POV, but you are revealing thoughts from characters who aren’t having their “turn.”

Amy pushed her food around her plate. She didn’t understand why her boyfriend’s mother hated her so much. She could feel the woman glaring at her across the table. Why is she so mousey? Lydia thought, stabbing at the pork roast she’d made for dinnerHer boyfriend, Zach, rubbed her back. You need to be nicer to my mother, Zach fumed to himself. If the woman didn’t stop being so mean to her, Amy would stop eating Sunday dinner at their house. It wouldn’t make Zach very happy, but he would deserve it if he didn’t start sticking up for her.

This is a short example of having three people’s thoughts in one paragraph. We still have Amy’s point of view—she can think to herself without the italics because the scene is hers, and we’re in her head. But then I added in the thoughts of Zach and his mother. I put those in italics because the scene does not belong to them but we are given a glimpse at what they are thinking.

The question during #smutchat was: how important is avoiding head hopping when you can still find it in today’s books?

There is still head hopping in today’s traditionally published books, even though us indies are told over and over again not to do it. Nora Roberts head hops, and I just abandoned a book that head hopped between the male and female main characters.

So is it important not to head hop?

Agents and editors will tell you not to do it. Readers will tell you they don’t like to read it because it’s jarring and takes them out of the moment.

In my opinion, head hopping is lazy and an author can learn to write well and avoid it.

As a reader what do you like?

As a writer?

Tell me what you think!

Other links:

A great post by Bryn Donovan can be found here.

Fight head hopping by learning how to write in deep POV. Take a look at Marcy Kennedy’s book here.

Also another book by Rayne Hall: here.

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