POV Switching in Romance
POV (point of view) is one of the most critical writing decisions. Which characters’ perspective do you want to show? In a romance, there are usually two choices: showing the reader both main characters’ thoughts, or just one of them. Here are a few pros and cons of both approaches:
(Not that kind of switch. Or maybe it is, this is romance.) Note that I don’t recommend switching POV paragraph by paragraph, because that can confuse a reader. Switching by scene or even chapter is cleaner.
Pro: The reader knows all. The reader can see anything that A and B are keeping secret from each other. Such as:
- Pining. Let’s say both A and B have crushes on each other, which they are keeping secret, but the reader can see all the delicious pining. (This leads to my favorite Ao3 tag: It’s requited, they’re just stupid.)
- Why not? The reader can clearly see A & B’s own reasons why they aren’t pursuing a romance. If A and B were talking to each other (in a romance? what?), their attractions would become obvious, but for now, only the reader knows A is actually royalty and betrothed to someone they’ve never even met. In fact, the reader might even know that B is that person, even if A and B don’t.
- Weird reactions. The reader sees A daydreaming of holding B’s hand. Later, in B’s POV, their hands brush together and A immediately blushes bright red. B doesn’t know why, but the reader does. This means you can show the reader A’s pining even though we’re not in A’s POV right now. (You can make this spicier: A’s got a thing for B’s [whichever body part] and is incredibly flustered when they unexpectedly get a view of it.)
Con: Kissing (etc). If the reader is used to seeing both POV’s, they are going to want to see physical and other milestones from both POV’s, but of course, you can only show one at a time. Possible solutions:
- Reminiscing. if the first kiss (etc) is from A’s POV, then B can think about it the next time we hear from them, so the reader can see what was going through their head at the time.
- Double your pleasure. You can only have one first kiss (etc), but you can describe the next encounter from the other person’s POV. This may mean you need to include extra (etc) scenes, but readers tend to appreciate that anyway.
- Split the difference. You can switch POV’s in the middle of the scene (sparingly). Often the switch is done over a chapter break. Usually this is accompanied by a little bit of reminiscing on the other person’s part, to catch the reader up on what they’ve been feeling up to this point.
In this case, you pick one character and show the whole story in their POV alone.
Pro: The sudden reveal. A stunning scene that is so delicious for a reader. Here’s how it works:
- The guesswork. Let’s say the story is written from A’s POV. This means both the reader and A are in the dark about B’s feelings toward A. There are hints: B blushes when they touch, gets flustered seeing A in fancy clothes, reacts strangely when somebody asks if A and B are dating. (The spicier version: B rapidly excuses themselves when A shows [whichever body part].)
- The misinterpretation. You need to set A up for misreading all of B’s signs. Blushing? Allergic reaction. Flusterations at fancy clothes? B must think this dress is too daring. Running away at the sight of [body part]? B must think A is unattractive. The reader shouldn’t misunderstand quite so badly, but A must be convinced that B is not interested at all. (It does help that A doesn’t know they’re a character in a romance, while the reader most certainly does.) More on this step below.
- The reveal.
Matthias spoke bravely. “Brian, you have your own rooms. I am sure you will be comfortable there.”
Brian glanced at him, looking amused as he very deliberately set his circlet down on Matthias’s dresser. “I’m not going anywhere,” Brian said, “you ridiculous, aggravating, beautiful man.”
Matthias gave him a look of shock. “Excuse me?”
Brian stepped closer, slowly advancing on Matthias, who couldn’t think of anything else to do but just as slowly back up. “You have utterly broken me, Matthias, do you know that?” Brian’s expression was completely serious. “With your pale eyelashes and your broad hands, your damned orders, and goading me into arguments I’m not allowed to have. I don’t know if I could have lasted another day of you looking at me like I was the most wonderful thing in the universe but at the same time responsible for all your heartbreak.” Brian looked pained. “Which I am. I confess that now, and I am sorry. But it’s your fault, really.”
From my story Dearly Beloved, which you can read on my website.
Whether it’s a love confession, a desperate kiss, or B unexpectedly kissing back when A initiates a kiss, the trick of the Sudden Reveal is to have A blindsided by getting exactly what they’ve been wanting: yes, I love you, you have NO idea how much. It can be a very satisfying moment for a reader.
Con: Lack of POV means lack of pining. Pining is bread-and-butter for romance. But if you’re not going to see B’s POV, that misinterpretation step above is crucial. Specifically, you need to ensure that the reader sees B’s pining while A doesn’t, which can be a fine line to walk. Characters can only be so oblivious before it becomes ridiculous. Here are some possible ways to keep A in the dark without them just being a giant idiot:
- A knows better. Readers usually don’t like it when a simple misunderstanding is the only thing keeping characters apart. But there can be real, concrete reasons why A doesn’t believe the evidence of B’s interest that’s right in front of their face. Perhaps A has good cause to think B isn’t attracted to whatever gender identity A possesses. Maybe B is in what looks like a great relationship with someone else. Maybe A flat-out asked B and B lied. One of my favorites is A being so shy and inexperienced that they cannot accept the idea that their very hot friend with tons of would-be lovers could possibly have fallen in love with them. I used that one in Life of the Party, which you can read on my website.
- Actual Plot Reasons. Maybe if A and B had a chance to talk, it would all come out, but they’re too busy saving the world. Or maybe B would confess, except they’re trying to keep another secret, like the fact that they’re actually a space alien. Maybe B is supposed to marry somebody else and a confession would just complicate things. In Dearly Beloved, quoted above, Brian has Actual Plot Reasons for keeping his feelings secret from Matthias until the right moment.
- A doesn’t want to believe it. Maybe A sees the signs, but can’t handle the truth. Perhaps there’s no way A and B could ever be together (or so A thinks) because their soulmate marks don’t (appear to) match, or their families are feuding. Maybe A has sworn off love after a few bad relationships. Maybe A and B are best friends and A can’t bring themselves to risk that for a romance that might fail. There’s a little bit of misinterpretation here, topped by a whole lot of willful ignorance.
So how do you decide between single and switch?
Often the plot will guide you. Are A and B apart enough that the reader won’t be able to keep up with the plot if they don’t see both characters’ POV’s? Do you have Actual Plot Reasons for A to misinterpret, making the single POV easier? Do you have a spot in the story for a Sudden Reveal? In my experience, POV switching is more common in romance, and probably less tricky, but there are some very good reasons to write single POV as well.
Here are some of my examples (all free to read on my website) and the reasons behind my POV choices:
CW: all of these stories include explicit sex.
You Don’t Say When two fake psychic con men who secretly pine for each other are forced to work together to solve a disappearance, they discover that one of them is actually psychic. But which one? This is enemies to lovers, which is so much easier with switching POV.
My Hero An investigative reporter falls for her kickass female bodyguard, while trying to conceal the fact that she doesn’t need a bodyguard because she has super powers. This is also a little bit of enemies to lovers, but I switched POV here mostly because Helen has secret superpowers, and I wanted the reader to know that from the start, but also to be able to watch Gina figure it out.
Griffin A man falls in love with his childhood best friend, who happens to be a (really hot) shapeshifting monster. Here I really wanted to show Griffin’s POV as a shapeshifter. But he also has a lot of angst about Scott not being interested in him because he’s sometimes a great big monster, and it seemed cruel to make the reader wonder if Scott actually has a problem with it. I wanted to clearly show that he did not.
Dearly Beloved A powerful but lonely king believes his love for his beautiful, kind-hearted arranged fiancé will always be unrequited, but he still risks everything to protect him from those who want to derail the match. As noted above, I had a good plot-based reason for Brian to lie about his feelings, which gave me a great Sudden Reveal opportunity.
Bloom A shy older man with magical abilities becomes the muse of a beautiful young male artist. In this story, Chance has magical powers, and while that quickly becomes obvious, I didn’t want to immediately give away how they worked, so you only see Ty’s POV. Note that you can keep (small) secrets like this in a switching POV: you just avoid having the character thinking about the details of their secret. But single POV is the easier way to go here.
Tollense A history professor falls in love with his best friend, a 3000-year-old vampire. Same basic reason as Bloom: I needed to keep the secret of Kurt’s true nature and powers. And in this case, the secret is so integral to his character that I couldn’t have him just avoid thinking about it.
Life of the Party A gorgeous, charming 1930’s playboy offers to introduce his shy best friend to kissing… and more. As noted above, it’s logical for Walter, who is shy and inexperienced, to believe that an outgoing, handsome man like Stephen could not possibly fall instantly in love with him, although that’s exactly what happened. And Stephen is so obvious about it that the reader is well aware of his feelings. Plus there was a chance for a Sudden Reveal.
Looking for ideas? Get some weird writing prompts.