Suspense and POV


Last week there was a minor kerfluffle where someone got rejected from a publisher and part of the reason was because she used  the villian’s POV.  To this author, it seemed right, correct, and I think she’ll defend this perspective forever.  But…

To me, adding the villian’s POV is the easy way out, the lazy way of getting the “why” out there.  This is a situation/technique that can easily be avoided by utilizing proper writing technique and story structure.

I must admit that when reading, I get extremely annoyed when the villian’s POV is in a story. We don’t need to know his motivations until the end of the story… UNLESS it’s just his thoughts of the person he’s stalking at that moment and nothing to do with they “why” of it all.  It’s the “why” of it all that keeps the suspense going strong!  And if you’re writing a romantic suspense or just a straight suspense, this is going to kill your whodoneit and ultimately your story.

The villian’s  POV could be avoided by simply adding one or two sentences here and there as the victim(s)/target(s) begin to discover the motives of their victimizer.  You don’t want to give too much away too soon.  PACE YOURSELF.  Revealing too much too soon is what I’ve come to know as “purging” and “purging” is very, very bad.  Give away too much too soon and the reader will quickly figure out the whodoneit and the story will ultimately be over for them. To me, if I can figure out the whodoneit early on, the story loses it’s appeal.  One exception is Blue Smoke by Nora Roberts… but La Nora is the queen and she could make a grocery receipt look interesting.  But in reality, there is only one Nora.  And honestly, what is the point in reading on if you already know all the dynamics of the suspense? There is none.

The book that landed me my agent, the lovely Laura Bradford, is a contemporary romantic suspense.  I learned that when writing suspense, pacing is critical.  My suspense started out subtle, almost as if it were just a coincidence that something happened, then built from there, gradually getting more intense and obvious that there was a whodoneit.

A writer needs to build the suspense gradually before getting to the climactic point and revealing all at the very end of the story.  If you don’t follow this technique, in most cases the story will fall flat, leaving your readers disappointed and sometimes very pissed off.

I am by no means an expert, but this is what I’ve come to learn from reading and then by writing.  You do not need the villian’s POV.  In my opinion, if you feel you have to have it in there, the only acceptable way to do it is to be vague about it.  Maybe have the villian watching the victim.  He can have thoughts of him/her but never, ever reveal the motivations until the climactic end.

Agree?  Disagree?  Thoughts?


11 Responses to “Suspense and POV”

  1. Lauren Says:

    I think that author is an utter tool to be so ridiculously unprofessional in public.

    I don’t think the editor said don’t write the villain’s POV, she said, “what you did and how you did it didn’t work” Which is different and if that author had simply cooled off a bit she could have read the rejection and understood that.

    BUT, I don’t agree that the villain’s POV isn’t ever necessary. I don’t think it’s necessary in every story, but IMO, sometimes it can add a wonderful layer to a story. To open with it? I don’t know, you’d have to be an incredibly powerful author. But Allison Brennan uses villain POV in her novels and it totally works. Anne Stuart does as well and I love it.

    There are different ways to build suspense and different ways to tell a story, a skilled author with the right story can do it and make you love it.

  2. Kate Scott Says:

    I agree with this somewhat. I personally have only found a couple books where this has been pulled off, and those were Julie Garwood historicals. She wasn’t giving us everything, who it was, but gave clues directly from the villain’s thoughts.

    It worked for me, but hasn’t in other books.

  3. Jen Says:

    Well, I personally hated “Blue Smoke” but I don’t think Nora pulled of the villian’s POV well at all.
    It’s a rule of thumb to only have H/h POV (which I didn’t follow, btw, in “Heart Of The Storm” but I love Pogie.) but it CAN be broken if done well.
    What I have a problem with is being specific and negative about a rejection. Sure, maybe that editor is on crack, but I would NOT say it in public. Just my opinion.
    I think anything can be done in a novel, provided it’s done well. And if it doesn’t work for that editor, sub it somewhere else and be done with it.

  4. shilohwalker Says:

    Eh, I’d have to disagree.

    You’re making it sound like a hard and fast rule and there are very few hard and fast rules in romance.

    The only unbreakable rule, for me, is that the hero and heroine end up together. Doesn’t have to be white picket fences and orange blossoms, but I want to know they are together.

  5. Marissa Says:

    Shiloh– Not so much a hard and fast rule, just the way that I have found most effective thus far.

    And, yes, Jen, said author needs to keep things like that private. Bitch amongst your friends, in IMs and via email to one another… but only with those who you’d trust with your life… because otherwise? You just look like a twit.

  6. Sarah McCarty Says:

    Villain’s POV- In Romantic suspense as opposed to suspense where you don’t know whose coming out alive in the end and therefore have more angles on which to build the suspense, I don’t like the villain’s POV beyond fragments of thought to increase tension. The reason for this is in Romantic suspense, I know the hero and heroine are going to be alive and together at the end of the book, therefore, the suspense lies in the mystery of who is doing it and why. That mystery is completely ruined if the author tells me through his POV who the villain is and why he is doing it and renders the suspense aspect of the book null and void, and for me as a reader, pointless.

  7. Marianne LaCroix Says:

    Hmmm…I think it is okay to have a scene or two in the villain POV. It depends where it is in the book and how it is used.

    I’ve read Lisa Jackson and she does it in her suspense thrillers to add to the fear. But you don’t know WHO the killer is…not until the very end.

    Yeah, it depends on how it is used.

    Although for the record, I probably wouldn’t have gone public with a complaint about a rejection reasoning. What one pub doesn’t like will be another’s joy.

  8. Megan Hart Says:

    I don’t think there are any hard and fast DONOTDOOOOOIT rules in any writing, romance or other genre because as it’s been pointed out, if you do it WELL, it’s going to fly. Problem is, how do you know if you’re doing it well? I agree that in a romance the h/h should end up together (else it’s not a romance) but POV is a less cut and dried thing for me.

    I think the main thing to remember is that you’ll always be remembered for breaking the “rules” if you can pull it off and make someone love it. You’ll always be chastised for breaking the same “rules” if you screw it up. So the question is…do you feel lucky, punk? Do ya?

    I also don’t believe in any ONETWUWAY because we all do it so differently, so rules…well, they just don’t work in every instance. Every genre has it’s conventions, I’ll agree to that, though. Things that have been proven to work well. I think the villain’s POV in romance perhaps hasn’t been done well, so it’s not something a lot of people like, but I wouldn’t toss a book for using it.

    Oh…and just because a lot of famous starlets have flashed their nethers at the paparazzi doesn’t mean it’s cool to show off your private bits in public…authors should remember that, too. We all get rejected. All of us. Sometimes we even deserve it, as much as we’d like to think we don’t.


  9. Jen Says:

    A MINOR kerfluffle? Um, this has been picked up by Karen Scott. It isn’t so minor now.

    And Megan, I love your paparazzi example.

    It’s been an interesting discussion. And one that’s always good to cover in romance writing.

  10. Megan Hart Says:

    I guess I should add to that…romance is different than, say, horror or mystery or suspense where the villain’s POV is often used and can add a lot to the story. I’m not convinced you should never never use it in a romance, but it would have to be done right…question is, what is right? 😉

    It all comes down to: is it done so fabulously nobody cares if it’s different? Or is it working against the story? And sometimes that’s a matter of such individual opinion you can’t really say!


  11. Marie Says:

    You hit my blog today, I hit yours, Marissa! Interesting discussion and the kerfluffle was fascinating and sad at the same time. Huge no, no. It’s too bad because if she does succeed in attracting a publisher, you can bet they will Google her to see what she’s been up to and that rant could kill the deal.

    I’ve written one suspense and used the villian’s POV in three short scenes that all my readers say helped to ramp up the anxiety and the stakes for my H&H. Few have guessed who he is until he reveals himself. Worked well for me in this case, but I can see how it would detract in others.

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