Which narrative point of view (POV) makes the most impact in crime fiction novels? As a crime fiction author, this is something you have probably thought about a lot before planning/writing your stories. Narrative POV has to be considered carefully as it is one of the best ways you can craft/control your story and effectively determine the reader experience.
For example, certain POVs are great for concealing information from the reader (until you are ready for it to be revealed) whereas other POVs could effectively mislead the reader (and result in an amazing twist). So, let’s have a look at the pros and cons to determine which POV makes the most impact in crime fiction!
1st Person – Singular POV
1st person singular POV is one character narrating the entire story. The character uses ‘I’ and either past or present tense.
Pros: The main pro with 1st person singular POV is that the reader feels as though they ARE the character. They are inside their head, experiencing everything they experience. Whether or not the character is a reliable narrator, it creates depth for the reader. It is immersive. Readers get to know the character really well, which means they feel like they understand them, they empathise with them, and they may become emotionally attached to them.
This POV is especially impactful for mystery novels as it allows the reader to solve the murder or mystery along with the character, especially if the character is a detective or amateur sleuth. There is less need for context as the reader trusts that all will become clear as the character progresses through the story.
Cons: The main con with 1st person singular POV is that it is harder to time jump without explanation. This POV calls for continuity. Although a pro is that readers become immersed in the character, this could also be considered a con as one POV limits the reader’s knowledge. The reader can only know what the character knows as everything that happens is filtered through the character.
Examples of crime fiction books with 1st person singular POV throughout:
- The Accident by C.L. Taylor
- The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
1st Person – Dual or Multiple POVs
1st person dual or multiple character narration uses different character POVs throughout the story. The characters refer to themselves using ‘I’ and tell the reader what is happening in either past or present tense.
Pros: This is a popular option for crime fiction novels. Having dual or multiple 1st person POVs makes it easier to include mini cliffhangers at the end of scenes/chapters, and therefore create suspense. Switching characters can result in keeping a reader’s attention for longer and increasing the pace of the story (especially if the chapters are short) as readers are drip-fed information. This means they could work out an upcoming twist or reveal from clues given, which results in a rewarding reader experience!
Another pro of dual or multiple POVs is that characters don’t necessarily have to be bound by a linear timeline and can time jump between chapters because the narrative is split.
Cons: The major con with dual or multiple POVs is that too many may become confusing. Two or three is a good amount to create depth yet prevent confusion. All POVs should be clarified with names/scene breaks. Additionally, the more narrators there are, the greater the risk of readers liking one (or some) characters more than others. This in turn could lead to readers skimming or skipping chapters, or even abandoning the book completely.
Examples of crime fiction books with 1st person dual or multiple narration:
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
- The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
3rd Person – Singular POV
3rd person singular character POV is when the main character is referred to by their name(s) and pronouns. The story is written in either past or present tense. This POV can either be limited (the reader only knows what the character knows) or omniscient (the reader knows more than the character).
Pros: I find 3rd person singular POV quite rare in crime fiction novels. However, this POV often gives the reader more details about the character and the story (especially if omniscient rather than limited). It also makes it easier to time jump as the story doesn’t have to follow a linear timeline/timeframe the same way that 1st person singular POV might.
Cons: 3rd person singular POV sometimes creates more distance between the character and the reader. Rather than being immersed in the character’s thoughts and actions, the reader may feel as though they are merely observing the character from afar. However, some readers prefer this and actively avoid crime fiction novels written in 1st person POV!
Example of a crime fiction book with 3rd person singular narration:
- Last Act by Christopher Pike
3rd Person – Dual or Multiple POVs
3rd person dual or multiple POV is when all the characters are referred to by their names and pronouns. The story is written in either past or present tense.
Pros: This is also a common choice for crime fiction authors as it allows the writer to manipulate the story effectively. As with 1st person dual or multiple POVs, writing in 3rd person allows the author to create cliffhangers. Switching characters and scenes and timelines often keeps the reader’s attention and increases pace, creating the desperate need to read on effect!
Cons: Too many POVs can become confusing if the characters (and their voices) aren’t distinguishable enough. Or if there aren’t dedicated scenes or chapters for different characters. Combining POVs, especially within chapters, increases the possibility of the writer head hopping between characters. (Head hopping is when the reader is privy to more than one character’s thoughts and/or feelings at a time. It’s jarring and overwhelming and creates a negative reader experience.)
As with 1st person dual or multiple POVs, the more narrators there are, the shallower the reader attachment may be to one or more of the characters depending on how well developed they are. Including multiple narrators creates the risk of readers liking one (or some) more than others simply because they get to know some more than others. Therefore, it is worth considering limiting the number of POVs. Personally, I think more than six POVs are too many!
Examples of crime fiction books with 3rd person dual or multiple narration:
- End of Her by Shari Lapena
- The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell
- Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister
Mixed POV narration is a combination of any of the above dual or multiple POVs. (Sometimes 2nd person POV too where the writer is talking directly to the reader/another character.) Including several POVs effectively offers different perspectives throughout a crime based story, which can create tension and suspense (if done well!).
Pros: A crime fiction author may choose to write the main character in 1st person POV (and either present or past tense) but write other characters or flashbacks in 3rd person POV (and either present or past tense). This ensures all narrative viewpoints are separate and easily distinguishable. This is important as it eliminates any potential reader confusion. Mixing POVs also allows for some information to be withheld or deliberately unclear, or timeframes to be vague. As mentioned previously, these techniques often make twists or big reveals more impactful.
Cons: Readers may struggle to keep track of the story if mixed POVs are not done well. All the characters need to hold their own as narrators readers want to know more/care about.
Examples of crime fiction books with mixed POVs:
- Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
- Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney
- The Couple at No.9 by Claire Douglas
If you’re not sure which POV(s) would work best for your crime fiction novel, experiment before you start! Let me know in the comments which POV you think makes the most impact in crime fiction novels, and why!
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