How to Select the Ideal Point of View for your Cozy Mystery

Think about your “keeper shelf” of mystery books.

What point of view do you enjoy reading most?

Point of view is the “eye” through which you tell your story. The same story can be very different when seen through another character’s eyes.

This is why selecting your point of view at the start can save you a lot of time and energy later if you discover that your initial approach doesn’t work for this particular writing project.

First Person Point of View

What does this look like in practice?

Read back through the opening chapters of your favourite cozy mysteries with your author’s hat on and analyse how that author hooked you into the story through their use of point of view.

For example. Nancy Warren instantly makes the reader feel sympathy and empathy for our young sleuth Lucy Swift by using first person point a view in the opening scenes of her popular paranormal/crafts cozy mystery, The Vampire Knitting Club.

In the same way, Adele Abbott uses a fun, light-hearted first person voice to introduce her paranormal sleuth in Witch is When It All Began

Advantages of using the First-Person Point of View

Many cozy mystery authors use first-person point of view to instantly engage the reader with the mindset of the main character in the story, who is usually the sleuth.

The goal of the opening scenes of any novel is to lock the sympathy and empathy of the reader with the main character and their life goals, dreams, and ordinary world.  By going straight into their head and their emotions and thoughts, you are helping readers to instantly relate to this person and the life they are leading when the story begins.

The pace and rhythm of the narrative tends to be faster using first-person point of view since all of the action is going on in real time. Everything that happens is expressed deftly and directly through the eyes and thoughts of the sleuth.

What they do, how they react to the Inciting Incident and the decisions and dilemmas they face are completely biased, since they will be filtered through the emotional reactions and thought processes of this character.

The tone of first-person cozies does tend to be more conversational and approachable than third person mysteries.

Some authors like to write character notes and ideas in first person as part of the character development process, but then go on to write the novel in third person.

Disadvantages of using the First-Person Point of View.

The truth is, there are many readers who love cozy mysteries, but cannot stand to read novels told in first person. It just does not work with them and they will always use the “Look Inside” option to read the sample pages before buying.  This is entirely personal preference, but you should be aware of it.

You have to be comfortable with using me and I in every sentence and working out the entire story from the actions, reactions, thoughts, and decisions taken by the point of view character.

Not all sleuths are attractive characters, and you have to like being inside their heads for 50,000 words and above. This is especially true if you are planning to write a series of books with the same sleuth, set in the same story world.

If your sleuth is the kind of person who will go alone down dark alleys at night armed only with an uncharged mobile phone and a lipstick looking for a missing kitten, then they could annoy the reader instead of engaging with them and their journey.

The individual idiosyncrasies and backstory of this character will have to be revealed through dialogue and in their interactions with other characters, especially the sidekicks, family and friends who will form part of the murder investigation team.

So, if you can combine the immediacy of being straight into the thoughts of the sleuth, with a compelling murder mystery, then first person could be a great choice.

Third-Person Point of View

Types of Third Person Point of View

Close Third Person. Also known as Limited Third Person.

Here we are describing the story through the eyes of one person, or a small number of characters.

What does this look like in practice?

Worked Example. Dead Pairs with Red by Sophie Brent

Erin Kelly had an aversion to sky-blue Porsches, even before Olga Petrova side-swiped her battered old Volkswagen Golf, smashing the wing mirror, and causing the two cases of Californian Merlot in the back to rattle like a glass recycler.

Okay, so perhaps it wasn’t Olga’s fault that her cheating heartbreaker of an ex-boyfriend once owned a Porsche in exactly the same shade of blue, but sheesh! At least Adam was so terrified of putting a scratch on his baby that he would never have even tried to squeeze her into a narrow hotel car parking bay.

Erin should have known that things were going too well today. Half an hour earlier, she was actually on track to making it back from her delivery run in time for her own birthday party.

Omniscient Third Person

This is when the author acts as an all-seeing and all-knowing narrator and is able to describe the thoughts and actions and decisions taken by every character in the story and does so in narrative style.

It also allows the author to introduce aspects of the story that could not be described by the characters themselves.

This can be a very useful technique and was a standard device in historical novels, although present tense omniscient third person can also be used.

Example text of Present Tense Omniscient Third Person. (A made-up example)

She opens the front door using the key kept under the planter on the porch and steps inside the cold bungalow.

There is no answer when she calls her uncle’s name and as she pushes open the kitchen door, Kathy knows instantly that something is wrong.

She enters the room and turns off the radio that is set to a loud rock music station.

Her uncle Pat hates rock music.

Worked Example of Omniscient Third Person.

The opening from Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

He had successfully avoided meeting his landlady on the staircase.

His garret was under the roof of a high, five-storied house and was more like a cupboard than a room.

The landlady who provided him with garret, dinners, and attendance, lived on the floor below, and every time he went out, he was obliged to pass her kitchen, the door of which invariably stood open. And each time he passed, the young man had a sick, frightened feeling, which made him scowl and feel ashamed.

 He was hopelessly in debt to his landlady and was afraid of meeting her.

Advantages of Third Person Point of View

Multiple Points of View

If you have two main characters in your book, such as the sleuth and, for example, the private investigator or police officer who is helping her, then it can be very useful to have scenes where each of these two characters views the murder investigation from their unique perspective.

Some crime writers allow the murderer to have their own point of view so that the reader is one step ahead of the sleuth during the investigation.

Personally, I would not have more than two points of view in a cozy mystery, unless it is a full-length novel, and each voice is very distinctive. In this case, I would label each chapter with the name of the character who is speaking so the reader is not confused by the break in style and voice.

Key Tip. If you are using third person point of view, stay with one point of view per scene.

There is nothing more distracting and confusing that reading a scene and suddenly finding that you have “head hopped” into the viewpoint of another character. You can switch to the viewpoint of the other person inside the same chapter by adding a scene break, but only if it is absolutely essential and does not confuse the reader.

Disadvantages of Third Person Point of View

The third person omniscient present tense narration can keep at reader at arm’s length from the main characters. This is particularly important in the main turning point scenes when the energy and dramatic and emotional tension of the scene can be lost.

The detailed emotional connection to the characters and their internal thoughts is reserved for dialogue and actions/reactions which reveal their internal processes.

It also means that there tends to be long passages of background narration about the characters and lots of head hopping which could be difficult to track at times.

Combining Different Points of View in the same Book.

Worked Example. In The Thursday Murder Club, Richard Osman tells the story through the personal journal and multiple viewpoints of the main characters.

He uses the viewpoints of our sleuth Joyce in the first person when she is writing in her journal, local police constable Donna in third person, and Ian Ventham in the third person present tense omniscient.

This is a very useful technique since it makes it clear to the reader who is speaking in that particular chapter, since they each have a separate voice.

Each chapter is also given the name of the character.

The golden rule is this – work with the point of view that you feel comfortable with and find easiest to write. It must fit your personal style and writing voice, or the entire book will feel forced and unauthentic.

Plus. Rewriting an entire novel from a different point of view is a lot of work!


the ultimate guide to writing cozy mysteriesThis post is an extract from my latest Fast-Track Guide: How to Write a Cozy Mystery.