Romance Novels and POV Switches

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I’ve been branching out to genres I’m not as familiar with. I am currently going through romance and have been listening to a romance novel by Nora Roberts on CD, to learn what romance novels are like and how they’re told. I can’t say I’m a fan yet. She does some things that look like novice mistakes, like opening with an entire chapter of interior-monologue-infodump about the main character’s life history, and always telling us what everyone is thinking as soon as they think it, never letting us wonder for a minute what a comment or gesture meant.

(Listening on CD is great, because it has a lot of descriptive passages that sound better read out loud, but that I wouldn’t have the patience for on the page. I’d be skipping ahead to see what happened instead of lingering over the brickwork in an arch.)

One of the things that drove me crazy was the POV switches. I’m not a big fan of telling the reader what everyone is thinking. You can’t really get inside a person’s head unless you share their suspense, and their suspense in romance novels is mostly about what the other character is thinking about them. I don’t like rapid POV switches, but I especially dislike inconsistently timed POV switches. Sometimes the story goes on for chapters in a single POV, then has multiple POV switches in a single chapter.

I eventually got to the scene where the hero and heroine get it on. I had to admire how she wrote it. It’s probably softcore by any standards, but it told you how they were both feeling (and what they were feeling, and how they were positioned) without any words or phrases like “shaft” or “tunnel of love”.

Also, it was full of POV switches. And it was right. And I suddenly (sorry, Elmore Leonard!) understood what all those POV switches were for:

In non-romance stories, POV switches usually happen when switching to a different scene, especially one that the first POV character isn’t present for. POV switches in the few romances I’ve read may happen within a single scene, with both characters still present.

The POV switch is a meta-textual interaction between the characters.

The novel is like a dialogue between the two main characters, and the length of time each one holds the POV before relinquishing it to the other is like the length of time that one person speaks before letting someone else talk. People who are closer have more give and take in their conversations, butting in on each other, telling stories jointly, even finishing each other’s sentences. So more rapid POV switches indicate the characters are closer together. (They may be fighting, but they’re more involved with each other.) And when they make love, we see through the eyes of one and then the other in rapid succession, their perceptions almost merging into each other, as they approach as near as humans can to being two minds sharing a single consciousness.

Or at least that’s how I interpreted what romance POV switches signified.

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