What Is Narrative Point of View?
When you choose the point of view (POV) for your mystery novel, you create the perspective of how the story is told. Point of view determines the narrator’s relationship to the story.
The way the narrator tells the story drives the reader’s connection to your novel. To make a decision on point of view, you need to understand the choices. Each point of view method has limitations and positive storytelling approaches.
First Person POV
The first person uses the pronouns I, me, and my. A single character describes his or her experiences. Because one individual is telling the story, the reader knows only the information shared by the narrator.
You’ll find first person POV common in noir and psychological crime. The reader discovery of the mystery puzzle is based on the narrator’s experience.
Second Person POV
The second person uses the pronouns you, your, and yours. The reader becomes the protagonist, drawing them closer to the story. This point of view is difficult to sustain. Most writers steer clear.
If you want to see how it’s done, Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney is a brilliant example.
Third Person Limited
The third person limited POV uses the pronouns she, he, her, and his. The narrator is outside of the story, relating a character’s experiences to the reader.
This viewpoint is popular in mysteries because the limited POV conveniently hides important clues.
Third Person Omniscient
The narration is told in the same he/she manner as limited, but the narrator relates the thoughts and experiences of all the characters. The narrator has a “God’s eye” view of everything in the story. In some novels, the narrator overtly addresses the reader; for example, “Dear Reader, little did Lord Montblanc know…”
This is a challenging point of view for mystery writers because the reader knows what is in the head of all the characters.
Why Narrative Point of View is Important
The point of view of how you tell the story directly affects how readers respond to your story. A big part of what makes a successful story is the way you tell the story to the reader.
Point of view determines how you bring the reader in. You decide what distance is acceptable, so the reader develops a level of trust in the narrator and becomes involved in the story.
A character is doing the talking in the story. You choose the right character and the narrative distance you want to achieve with your reader.
How to Choose the Right Point of View for Your Story
Sometimes you know exactly who will tell the story and how much distance you want to create. But other times you need to sort through criteria to decide what point of view to choose. You have three main point of view factors to consider.
- Establish distance. If you want to create a sense of intimacy a character without pulling the reader into the story, you might choose first person. If you want to set the narrator apart from the reader, while giving a wide view of the story, you might use third person omniscient.
- Information distribution. First person point of view allows you to limit the information the reader knows. The reader makes the same discoveries as the narrator. Limited third person focusing on your protagonist, also allows you to control how much information the reader receives.
- Narrator trust. Characters, like people, have biases. You need to decide how trustworthy you want your narrator to be. First person point of view sacrifices objectivity but allows the reader to develop a deep connection with the narrator. Third person limited allows you to develop a trust in your protagonist while still holding back. Telling the story in third person limited but using deep point of view allows the reader to know and empathize with your protagonist’s emotions.
If you are beginning your mystery writing experience, choosing first person or third person limited point of view helps you control the information while developing a connection with your protagonist sleuth.
Multiple Points of View
Some mystery writers use multiple points of view. For example, the villain tells their story in the first person, while the rest of the story is in the third person from the sleuth’s point of view. Others follow each of the suspects in first person or third person while telling the story from the sleuth’s third person perspective.
P.D. James and Anne Cleeves use multiple points of view to tell their mystery stories. This technique allows the reader to get to know each suspect and raises the tension of who actually is the culprit.
Your Choice, Your Voice
Your point of view decision comes early in the novel-writing process. Once you decide, you need to maintain that choice for the rest of the novel. Switching the narrator’s voice, for example, from the first person to the third person, will upset your reader. So weigh the factors that are important to you, and make a choice.
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