Posted by: nancycurteman | December 6, 2010

Tips on Changing Point of view in Mystery Novels

Killer IdeasIn a mystery novel, point of view (POV) can be handled in a variety of ways. A writer may choose to tell the story from the perspective of one character only—using first, second or third person. Or, the author could elect to tell the story from the viewpoint of two, three or even more characters using a variation of third-person point of view. Often, mystery writers use more than one viewpoint because it makes for a more interesting storyline. There is heightened conflict when the reader gains knowledge about the thought processes and behaviors of not just of the sleuth, but of the criminal as well.

A change of point of view may take place at the start of a new chapter, a new scene or even in the same scene. Most mystery writers prefer to use the new chapter method. However, there are occasions when they change POV in a new scene. In this case, they separate the scenes with a bit of white space to avoid confusing the reader.

Wherever you choose to place your change of POV, be certain to identify the point of view character as soon as possible, usually early in the first paragraph.

Limit the number of changes of viewpoint characters. I suggest you stick to three or fewer unless you are convinced one or two additional perspectives will dramatically enhance the conflict in your mystery novel. Take care to avoid what editors call “head-hopping,” a technique they consider a serious defect in most mystery novels.

 

 

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Responses

  1. I am dealing with this problem in more than one story – wanting to tell the story from more than one point of view. Thanks for the pointers.

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  2. […] In a mystery novel, point of view (POV) can be handled in a variety of ways. A writer may choose to tell the story from the perspective of one character only—using first, second or third person. Or, the author could elect to tell the story from the viewpoint of two, three or even more characters using a variation of third-person point of view. Often, mystery writers use more than one viewpoint because it makes for a more interesting storyline. Th … Read More […]

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  3. Good points, NC

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  4. Thank you for this helpful information.

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  5. Another great post. I love Mary Higgins Clark’s books, especially because she has so many POV in her books. I find the more you write and become engrossed in everything to do with writing, you notice more things when you are reading. Recently I have reread some Mary Higgins Clark books and I noticed she changes POV at the start of every chapter, but at the end during the climax, she changes POV in the scene breaks or paragraphs.
    I think changing POVs can be used in any genre but it is such an interesting tool to use in mystery novels.
    Look forward to more!
    Emily Harper

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    • Hi Emily,
      I’m also a great fan of Mary Higgins Clark. She is indeed the “queen of mystery.”
      She uses a variety of POV’s the heighten reader interest. I also think she increases the number of POV changes as she nears the climax because she wants to increase the tension leading to the final crisis.
      I checked out your site. It is an excellent resource for writers. I’ve linked to it in my blogroll.

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  6. Recently started the Wheel of Time’s latest tome, normally I don’t mind multiple points of view but this time it’s driving me nuts. He switches characters always between chapters and often within scenes, which wouldn’t be a problem but there are so many characters that I’m 200 pages in and have maybe only had three chapters be a continuation of a POV from an earlier chapter. Makes it feel like I’m reading five different books all crushed together.

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    • Too many characters and changes of POV will confuse readers. I sometimes have to keep a list of characters until I get part way through a multi-character novel.

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