What Your Reader Sees
Point of view (POV) is narration’s position in relation to the story. The reader experiences the story the way the narration is told. From a limited view to a broad expanse, each type of point of view creates a tone and provides more or less information. Choosing a point of view for your story sets a tone. And once you make your choice, that’s it.
Basically, the reader “sees” the story through the eyes of the narrator. Choosing how you narrate the story from a point of view determines how much information your reader knows. That is why point of view is sometimes called “narrative mode.”
Fiction writers can choose from four different points of view. Let’s look at those and discover how they perform in mystery novels.
First Person Point of View
This story is written with the pronoun “I.” The character is in the story relating his or her experiences directly. This POV is limited and biased. The reader experiences and knows only what the narrator reveals.
Think early noir, “A dame walked into my office…”
If your sleuth is opinionated, first-person POV is a strong choice. Your sleuth can express his or her opinions about people, places, and things in their voice. Be careful with this POV to keep the story moving. Don’t overload with opinions.
Second Person Point of View
Write this story with the pronoun “you.” You, the reader, are in the story.
This POV offers immediacy as it pulls the reader into the story. The reader experiences what happens in the story as the main character. The story feels personal.
This point of view will stretch your writing skills. It is rare in fiction. Second person POV is difficult to maintain. If you are new to novel writing, this is a tough place to start. Read Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City for a successful example.
Third Person Limited Point of View
Write the story with “he/she” pronouns. The narrator has a limited view of characters and action in the same way the first person POV does. The narrator reports the actions and thoughts of a single character.
The point of view is limited, so the story is told from one point of view. The focus character cannot know what is going on inside another character’s head. The motivations are hidden.
Writer’s may alternate between third person point of view in scenes or chapters, but only one point of view per scene.
Third Person Omniscient Point of View
The all-powerful narrator has access to the thoughts and experiences of all the characters. The reader has access to any he or she in the story.
From the hero to the walk-on newsboy, the reader has access to any character. Take care with this point of view to keep the story on track. Inside too many heads can confuse the reader. Make sure each scene moves the story forward.
Choose a Point of View To Deepen Your Mystery
The right point of view compels your reader to want to discover more. A reader will empathize with a first person narrator because they are inside that character’s head. Third person limited point of view gives you, the writer, more flexibility to get inside more than one character’s head. Many writers alternate between the sleuth and the antagonist villain.
Second person POV is difficult to sustain. “You” will be the reader as sleuth.
Because a mystery keeps secrets until the end, third person omniscient may give away too much before the final revelation.
If your story is character driven, first person POV gives you the ability to express your sleuth’s opinions as she strives to solve the mystery. Third person limited POV works well for a mystery that focuses on solving the puzzle with occasional glimpses into the sleuth’s head.
If you are still debating which point of view to use. Try writing the first five pages in each point of view. You’ll discover which “voice” resonates with your personal writing style and comfort.
Once you choose, remain with that point of view for the story. Beginning writers may switch in the middle. The experiment is the choice, the choice is your commitment. It’s a commitment to the reader to let them know how they will experience the entire story.
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