The Narrator’s Point of View

The best mystery novels, whether told by a first person or a third person, can read and feel very different from one another indeed. It all depends on the perspective of the narrator… his or her point of view. Many authors have wrestled with how to convey their books, and whom they should incorporate to […]



The best mystery novels, whether told by a first person or a third person, can read and feel very different from one another indeed. It all depends on the perspective of the narrator… his or her point of view.

Many authors have wrestled with how to convey their books, and whom they should incorporate to relate their story. Although there are other choices, it often comes down to using first or third person narrators’ points of view. Choosing between the two makes for a weighty decision for the author.

In this brief article the perspective of the first and third narrator will be discussed.

If the narrator is one of the main characters, first person, the author is challenged by the fact that this character must be present in all scenes, have plausible access and knowledge to the information and descriptions that he or she imparts, and must often relate what others have told him/her, not what he/ she experienced themselves.The first person narrator in the best crime novels that I’ve read is always in the present, even when relating something that happened long ago.

There is also the element that the first person narrator doesn’t know what another character’s motivations are unless that person tells them. The narrator works more from his / her own perceptions, misperceptions, and hearsay when it comes to knowing and understanding others’ actions. Therefore,( and it is the fascinating aspect of first person narration in a top mystery book that I like most), we the reader are brought inside the narrator’s head and are made to guess, judge, and discern right along with him/her why other characters do what they do, and what their actions may lead them to do.. Readers can become very engaged in knowing intimately what the narrator is going through… I find my perspective of choice is that of the first person when it comes to reading the short story genre.

On the other hand, the third person perspective is by far the method most often used to convey good mystery books. The narrator writes of others lives, not of his/her self,( they, them, she, him etc..) and is able to present a perfect perspective in every scene in the book, because the perspective is that of the proverbial fly on the wall. The best seat in the house.

The writers are free to allow their narrator to relate, comment and experience what all the other characters’ motivations are. They are all knowing.. Whether the narrator is sharing the protagonist’s complicated, dark past, or relating what thoughts and feelings drive each and every character in the novel, the third person narrator has unlimited access, full knowledge and a bit of righteousness perhaps. This makes it much easier for the writer to set up scenes and have characters interact with one another.

The added bonus to the third person point of view is that, if written well, the narrator’s expertise and mastery as to what all the characters know and what motivates them to do the things they do, is seldom questioned by the reader. It’s a given in the best crime fiction, or in any other form of fiction for that matter, that the narrator knows what he/she is talking about… even though the third person narrator is an observer, never in the action him/herself.

There have been great mystery books written that have incorporated both points of narrative view, but the writer must be very careful in utilizing this change in perspective not to lose continuity, plausibility, and the reader as well.

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