Tuesday, June 22, 2010

It all depends upon your point of view

So, I'm looking at an old manuscript that I might edit and submit. It's historical romance, Regency, a bit more traditional in style and setting than Sergeant's Lady or my work-in-progress.

I've entered it in two writing contests--the Golden Heart (which provides only numerical scores, no feedback), where it got mediocre scores, and an RWA chapter's contest where one judge thought it was perfect as-is, another thought it was flawed but had potential, and a third found it boring. Judges #2 and #3 agreed on one thing, that I'd made a mistake by opening the novel in my villain's point of view.

The villain of the piece, you see, is a sort of false hero. The heroine begins the novel thinking that she's in love with him, and that a more ideal man could not exist. Over the course of the book she has to learn that she's wrong and come to appreciate the hero instead. So I deliberately made the villain a sort of parody of a certain type of romance hero, the coldly misogynistic type that I never actually write because I can't suspend my own disbelief that the love of a good woman is enough to fix that.

Anyway, apparently my villain is just enough like a hero that opening in his POV leads the reader to think that he is, but is also sufficiently easy to hate that no one WANTS him to be. So at least for those two contest judges, I'd be better off opening in the heroine's POV, both for clarity and to draw readers in by introducing them to a character whose mind isn't such an offputting place to visit.

I kinda suspect they're right...but I love that opening scene! There's a certain clarity in writing a character so straightforward in his selfishness and contempt for all those he deems to be lesser beings, and I get to foreshadow all kinds of important plot points that neither the heroine nor the hero have any inkling of until well past the halfway point of the manuscript. Also, unlike in a contest, if the book sells most readers will know he isn't the hero, because they'll have read the back cover copy.

So. What do you think of opening a romance with a villain POV? No go, or could it work?


  1. I've seen it done in suspense books, but I agree that it might not work well in a romance. I think readers like a sympathetic character they can identify with right off the bat.

    I have to rewrite my first chapter and I've been putting it off for two days. Ugh. Must. Write. It. Now.

  2. I think it could work, but I also understand the critique--especially if some may fall into the trap of believing the villain may be the hero. Is there a way around it? Can you include something from the true hero's POV? Something that indicates the faux hero isn't all he might seem on the surface? Just a thought. I like books that are more than you think at first glance, and I'd like to read this story. Best of luck, Susanna!

  3. We meet the hero in the very next scene...but I can see wanting to lead with a sympathetic and appealing character.

    I think I'll see if the scene works in the heroine's POV, or maybe see if it changes things too much to start with the hero's first scene. Of course, I'd lose my opening line, and I'm very fond of it.

  4. As a reader, I prefer to start in the hero's or heroine's POV. And I do think a lot of readers have that expectation now, which could lead to confusion, like you said.

    This sounds like my kind of story, BTW. I'll take a good man over a bad boy any day, and I like to see heroines do the same.

  5. Always the challenge, coming up with a way to make a story fresh without shocking reader expectations TOO much.

  6. I love mystery books that start in the POV of the villain or victim. It emotionally engages me in the mystery. However, I wonder how that would play in getting someone engaged in a romance. Not sure. Unless, the reader is clearly afraid for the heroine. That the reader has an emotional reaction for the safety and/ or happiness of the heroine and the hope for the right hero to "save her" -- for lack of a better term.

  7. I've done that in romantic suspense, but never in straight romance -- probably because I don't write it. I've also done it in the victim's POV. That's fun to write.

  8. I've been where you are--wanting to hang onto a favorite first line. When I started experimenting, I create new favorite first lines. And you can always put the old favorites in a "deleted scenes" file on your website later, once you've published. :-)

  9. Oops, sorry for the typos. "When" should've been "Then."