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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Third Person Omniscient and the Mystery Writer

I believe I first read it in Hallie Ephron's book (Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel)--the third person omniscient POV doesn't work well in mysteries. The proposed reason was that readers would feel manipulated. If we can get into everyone's head, why not the killer's?

Since then, I've been paying close attention to the POV in the mysteries I've been reading, and I've encountered first person--with either the sleuth or the sidekick narrating, and third person--with either one or multiple POV's. But the book I'm reading now is the first one I've encountered with a true third-person-omniscient POV. Does it work? Not for me.

Somewhat reminiscent of the head-hopping I've seen in fan fiction, I found the book dizzying and confusing. The scene transitions are abrupt, and I never knew whose head I was going to end up in next. I was also angered a bit when I found myself in the head of someone who was up to no good, but then was only given partial information. It brought the author into the story in a way I found upsetting.

Now, I'm not saying the book is terrible. It is humorous in places, and some of the characters are interesting. Many casual mystery readers won't give POV a thought. But the POV was an unfortunate choice. The killer is obviously the one major character whose head I've been denied entry. Kind of takes the fun out of a whodunnit, doesn't it?

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