Margot: Thanks so much, Michele, for hosting me. It’s an honour to be here. One of the things that sets crime fiction apart from other genres is that there’s a mystery – a crime, really – to solve. Very often, that crime is murder. Crime fiction fans want to get caught up in the mystery and want that sense of suspense that comes with uncovering clues and finding out the truth. One way that mystery authors add that kind of suspense to their stories is in the way they use point of view. There are several ways to build suspense through point of view; any one of them can be successful depending on the author’s writing style and the plot. The key seems to be to use point of view to add interest and tension without confusing the reader or keeping too much from the reader.
The Sleuth’s Point of View
It can be very effective to tell a story from the sleuth’s point of view. As the sleuth discovers clues, so does the reader. If the sleuth happens to be in danger, the reader follows along, and that process can truly engage the reader. Several novels and series use this point of view quite skillfully.
One way to do that is to use the first person, with the sleuth as narrator. That’s what Janet Evanovich does in her Stephanie Plum series. Plum is a bounty hunter who learns the trade as she goes along. As she gets into and out of danger, we find clues as she finds them, we follow along as she goes in search of her quarry, and we put the pieces of the puzzle together as she does.
P.D. Martin uses the same strategy in her Sophie Anderson series. Anderson is a profiler for the FBI. Her specialty is “getting into the heads” of serial killers. She’s aided by psychic visions that allow her to see and feel what the murder sees and feels. In novels such as Body Count, The Killing Hands and Kiss of Death, Anderson uses those visions and dreams to help her solve her cases. In this series, using the sleuth’s point of view is especially effective because they allow readers to experience the same visions and dreams that Sophie Anderson does.
Sometimes, the sleuth’s point of view is told in third person, and that can work very well, too. For instance, Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti series uses that point of view approach. So do many of Tony Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee novels. There are many other examples of this point of view strategy and it works quite effectively. This strategy lets the reader learn what the sleuth learns, when the sleuth learns it, but also allows the reader to see, if you will, what else is going on. That third-person way of giving the sleuth’s point of view also gives the author an easy opportunity to describe the sleuth.
When stories are told from the sleuth’s point of view, the reader can put him or herself into the sleuth’s shoes, as it were, and get caught up in the investigation by “being the sleuth.”
The “Sidekick” or Secondary Character’s Point of View
Some crime fiction is told from a “sidekick’s” point of view. Two of the most famous examples of this approach are Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries and the Agatha Christie mysteries that feature Hercule Poirot and Captian Hastings.
Another real advantage of this approach to point of view is that it lets the author tell the reader a great deal about the sleuth. For instance, in most of Agatha Christie’s stories that include Captain Hastings (and in some that include other “sidekicks”), the secondary character makes mention of Poirot’s fastidiousness, his sartorial splendor and what seems his egoism. We get quite an interesting perspective on Poirot when a story’s told from another point of view, since Poirot himself would not be likely to discuss his – er – less than perfect qualities…
Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories are, by and large, told from Watson’s point of view with a similar effect. We can be amazed, as Watson is, by Holmes’ deductive skills. We also get a clearer picture of the kind of man Holmes is, since Watson describes not just his appearance, but also his habits, his use of drugs, his behaviour and so on.
The Killer’s Point of View
Some crime fiction novels are told from the murderer’s point of view. This can be extremely suspenseful as we learn what goes on in the killer’s mind. That’s what Jim Thompson does in The Killer Inside Me, in which West Texas Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford investigates a savage beating and then a murder. As he gets involved in the investigations, we learn of a “sickness” that Ford has had since his youth. It makes for a truly suspenseful story.
There’s an Agatha Christie novel, too, that’s told from the point of view of the killer. I’m not going to mention which one – no spoilers : ). However, it does make for a fascinating way to look at a crime.
Multiple Points of View
Lots of crime fiction is written from multiple points of view. That’s a little trickier than staying with one point of view, because if it’s not done well, it can be confusing. It’s important to clarify for the reader whose point of view is being shared at any given time.
That said, though, there are advantages to shifts in point of view. The reader can get a broader picture of a character, a place, an event, etc., if there are multiple perspectives. It’s easier to really get to know the characters, too, if we see the events of the story from a variety of points of view. Also, shifts in point of view allow the reader to learn things that the sleuth doesn’t know yet, and watch how the sleuth finds those things out.
Martin Edwards’ Lake District series also features shifts in point of view. For instance, in The Serpent Pool, DCI Hannah Scarlett and her Cold Case Review team re-open the six-year old drowning death of Bethany Friend. In the course of the novel, we see the events from several points of view. Some of the story is told from Scarlett’s point of view. Other parts of the story are told from the point of view of Oxford historian Daniel Kind, who helps Scarlett solve the murder and two others that occur. Other parts of the story are told from the point of view of Scarlett’s lover, Marc Amos. Still others are told from other characters’ points of view. Edwards makes those shifts easily and elegantly by “setting the stage” so the reader knows which point of view is being shared at any given time.
I use multiple points of view in my Joel Williams series, too. Williams is a former police officer-turned-criminology professor. As he gets involved in mysteries, some of the stories I write are told from his point of view. Parts are told from other characters’ points of view, including the victim and the murderer. I think it gives readers an interesting perspective on the whole case, and allows the careful reader to pick up the clues ; ).
To purchase one of Margot's books, such as her latest, B-Very Flat, click on the links here and above.
For those who came seeking the answer to Thursday's Blogfest entry, I will post it on Saturday. I already had this great guest blogger lined up, so I couldn't intrude on her time with Guess That Character Blogfest Part II. Check it out on Saturday, right here!
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