First of all, for crime and police drama readers, we’re not talking about Privately Owned Vehicle as POV is known in those genres and the law enforcement world.
The POV we’re discussing is Point of View, or, basically, through which character’s eyes we are seeing the story unfold. Now, that doesn’t mean we’re always in the same character’s head. The POV can switch from character to character, though most of the time a writer limits the storytelling to one or two characters.
Crime drama and suspense/thriller authors frequently utilize a first person POV (I did this, I did that) for the hero/heroine, and a third person POV (he did this, he did that) for the antagonist/bad guy. That way, we the readers are riding shotgun with the detective or whoever as he works to stop the bad guy, and yet we are privy to the criminal’s motives and actions, thereby adding an air of intrigue in that we have information the hero doesn’t. And, quite frankly, that technique adds considerably to the book’s length. Bet you never thought about that aspect. Crime authors will also inject POV into a character about to be murdered so we readers become connected to the victim (how she volunteers at the humane society, cares for her little brother after their parents died in a plane crash, ties a blue ribbon in her hair because her fiancé’s favorite color is blue, drinks her morning coffee from her grandmother’s favorite cup, etc) and root that much harder for the bad guy to get his in the end.
But, what about romance?
The easy answer is it doesn’t matter, yet, for some, it will matter.
Readers accustomed to third person POV – Jack and Jill, he did that, she did this – aren’t always comfortable with “Hi, I’m Joanie, and I think Clay, the bagger at the grocery store, is hot, and I wonder if he likes me.” “Clay looked at the blonde asking for triple bags and wondered if the drapes matched the carpet.” That said, most readers will come along for the ride if the author does what we should be doing every time we sit down to write a story – write the best damn story we can.
However, romance authors like to infuse information because it’s critical we readers fall in love with the two characters destined to be together. We need to know as many details about them as possible, without drowning in those details of course. So, first person POV, if not done well, can come off a bit like an Alcoholics Anonymous dating site:
“Hi, I’m Joanie, a five-four blonde, well brunette in my high school picture but don’t tell Clay that LOL, and I enjoy kittens, walks in the park, and unicorns.”
Joanie clomped into the bathroom and shoved aside the porcelain unicorn her mother had given her the day of the plane crash. Her kitten Lucky followed along like he did every morning. “Damn it,” she cursed at the brunette roots under her glistening blonde hair.
Yeah, I know. The examples are extreme, but hopefully I made my point that we authors need to know what we’re doing before we start to write the story, and not experiment on the readers. Readers aren’t lab rats.
If a romance author wants to try a different writing style, that’s great. By all means, go for it. Just make sure you research the new style. In other words, read romance books utilizing the style, then, practice, practice, practice, before beginning that next story. If an author doesn’t do that, it is almost a guarantee the author will question what he or she is doing and switch back to what the author knows best, or start asking other authors what he or she should do. Generally, when that happens, a great story is doomed to the “I’ll get back to it another day” pile, and won’t ever see the light of day.
Back to the original question of how many POVs should be used in a story. Well, as many as necessary to tell the story. It’s as simple and complicated as that. While we readers may want to know what Joanie and Clay are thinking as Joanie proceeds through the checkout line, it probably isn’t necessary that we know (or care) that the cashier is wishing she hadn’t dropped her panties in the tanning both. Unless…. Unless a portion of the story is unfolding through the cashier’s eyes as she tries to bring Joanie and Clay together. In that case, the cashier is an integral cog in the tale. Otherwise, her thoughts are irrelevant data we readers have to sort through.
If an author is writing about two couples, then a minimum of four POVs might be appropriate. However, be careful. We readers can only absorb so much information before we begin to confuse details. Was it Joanie who had the kitten named Lucky, and Jeanie has the dog named Plucky? Did Clay break his arm falling from a tree and not when he was run over by Trey delivering newspapers?
And just why did the cashier want her vejayjay tanned?