Third Person POV Mystery

I’ve just closed the cover on a romance/mystery/family drama (not my usual choice, but I needed something light), and I’m left with a mystery of my own. The point of view utilized for telling the story was third person, no doubt, but as scenes changed (which happened every page or two), the specific point of view shifted. Some scenes were inside the head of a single character, while other scenes revealed the thoughts of two characters.

Of course, each POV accomplished what it was intended to:  limited third established an intimacy with the thoughts of a single character, while the dual/omniscient was more aloof. But this method left me feeling close, then disconnected, then close…and so on — ultimately fearful to commit to the storyline. I rather enjoy limited third POV when each scene is commanded by a different character’s thoughts, but as this proved, one head can be better than two.

I am under the impression that an entire novel should commit to one point of view (first, limited third, omniscient third, etc.), but I may be mistaken. Maybe this isn’t a matter of procedure, but rather of taste. Is this a common practice in contemporary (pop) lit? Or do you think the editor allowed this to slip through? I’m leaving the title of the book out of the post so that you might feel free to comment.



6 responses to “Third Person POV Mystery

  1. I’ve been trying something similar myself, I’d be interested to know what other people think about shifting limited third person between characters, within the same scene.

    • Like Roz mentions, I think we need to see it in order to make a determination (hint, hint). It could be great if something happens that affects each character differently, and if each of those reactions forwards the plot in some way. I would want to make each POV character shift obvious, deliberate, and distinctly separate from the others, so that the POV isn’t mistaken for belonging to that omniscient narrator in the sky.

      Would you “re-see” one happening from many viewpoints? Or continue through time with the shifts?

  2. I don’t think a novel necessarily has to have a consistent point of view throughout, or a consistent degree of closeness, but that’s because I’d never declare anything a rule without seeing the book in question. You may be perfectly right that in this case it didn’t work – the best reason of all for not doing it like that yourself.
    (Perhaps the least helpful comment you’ve ever had!)

    • You know how when you read some books, you say to yourself, “Wow, that was ingenious. I’ve never seen it done that way before,” and, “That’s gutsy, but it really worked”? I didn’t feel that way here. Instead, I felt like it was an oversight.

      This work went through a major publishing house with reputable editors, so I’m thinking there was some sort of methodology behind it. I’m simply at a loss for what that might be.

      Your comment is, indeed, helpful. You’re right in noting that if it bugged me, it’s not a path that I should pursue with my own writing. Thanks!

      What’s a rule anyway? Often, I guess it’s just something to break in the name of ingenuity.

      • “What’s a rule anyway? Often, I guess it’s just something to break in the name of ingenuity.”

        I like this comment better than the above blog entry!

        To answer your question, I don’t think I’d be comfortable with shifting viewpoints like that. I’m currently trying my first experiment with first person after a long stint of omniscient third, and I can’t imagine how much work incorporating the two would be. If it pays off, great, but personally I think it’d just be too clunky and clumsy if I tried. I’ll leave it to the professionals!

        In terms of already exsting literature, it’s a technique I haven’t come across before either.

  3. I, for one, definitely prefer a consistent point-of-view. No matter how ingenious the writer is, no matter how deftly that writer pulls off her or his narrative trick — and Jim Thompson is very clever in his murder mystery The Kill Off, though no book that I know of in all of literature is more clever than Pale Fire — it makes point-of-view the tail that wags the dog, and point-of-view is not primarily why I read.

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