Crime Mystery: First Person or Third Person?

I’m about halfway through writing a mystery novel in first person POV. I chose first person because it’s a character-driven story. My protagonist had a spectacular fall from grace and is working to rebuild his life and reputation. But I’m running into some challenges.

First, all the scenes have to involve the protagonist (or, to put it differently, all information is filtered through the protagonist).

Second, I’m not sure I can convincingly put protagonist in physical danger. After all, we know he doesn’t die in the fight in chapter 12, because the story continues after that.

Third, for some reason I find third person has more gravitas, which feels important for crime noir like my WIP. I’ve previously written a couple of third person POV short stories featuring the same character, and I like the way they feel.

So now I’m debating shifting POV for the novel. I’d appreciate any advice others may have.

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Death does not have to be the only stakes for a physical confrontation or physical danger. The protagonist might face being injured badly enough temporarily that it prevents them from protecting someone, rescuing them, or obtaining the MacGuffin at the planned and most accessible moment. Physical danger can still create setbacks with other stakes besides death.


I write mystery and I write in First all the time. I find the natural limits of that POV makes an excellent lens for the reader to view both character and plot. I think the character-driven story almost demands an intimate re-telling which doesn’t mean it can’t be done with some small distance. I suppose something like what Doyle did with Sherlock Holmes. The narrator is not the protagonist and there is some consideration given that Holmes could die. To parsing information. To a degree, all the information is going to be filtered by the main character in any POV. But going back to Holmes and Watson, the latter could withhold info thus expanding the depths of conflict. Or, Watson could become unreliable. In the current piece I’m writing, the protagonist is also the narrator, but they have their own Watson if you will, and there is considerable concern the MC will do something stupid and . . . maybe not die but become horribly incapacitated. Elmore Leonard used to put two(possible) main characters out there which gave the reader a lot to wonder about. I wish I could do a reasonable job of such, but alas, I’m no Leonard.


I am almost ready to release a new mystery series, written with another author, where the books I’ve written and I’m about to write, also have a protagonist who has had a spectacular fall from grace (great minds?). I have written them in the third person close with no other POVs. Some time ago, I talked to a bookstore owner who said her clients greatly preferred third person perspective and recommended that I use it, not first (which I had been writing in for a couple of stand-alones).

What I do, if I find my writing isn’t exactly how I’d envisioned for a scene, is to ‘write’ it in my head in first person, really ‘experience’ it. That trick often clarifies what I need to do to let the readers know what is going through my protagonist’s head. It’s a trick that works!


Thanks for the input. I prefer to read third person myself, so third person close could be a good option for my book. By the way, I’ve used that same trick for getting close to a scene when I’m writing in third person.


Thanks for responding. You make a good point about Doyle and the Holmes stories. As I think through this, I realized that pretty much all of the mystery authors I love write in third person close (Michael Connelly, Ian Rankin, and others). So I’m leaning towards making the change.


My mystery series (2nd in series out soon) is written in 1st person, with all its limitations. First time I’ve ever written in 1st person. Found I really like it.

My other fiction has been in 3rd, and I’ve taken (probably too much) liberal use of changes in POV between main characters. But never more than 1 POV per scene.


Welcome Pablo, and thank you for posting. It gets really interesting when folks are opening up in the group to participate in one another’s writing journey.

I know for myself, POV is always the hardest decision to make in an ocean of hard decisions, but getting that nailed down helps dissolve a multitude of other issues bound to arise. It is a pleasure to read and enjoy everyone’s creative solutions.

@strath This is very exciting news! Do you have a snippet from your series you would feel comfortable sharing here? (or anyone else feel good about sharing something pov-related in their writing here?)

We really like supporting one another’s works, being inspired and getting to see a bit of how you used 1st person pov would be a bonus. It’s good to see you here.


I’m not particularly uncomfortable sharing a snippet, but choosing one and taking the time to do so is problematic. And, where and how does one do that here? I’m real new to this site.



Completely understandable and there is zero pressure.

Whenever you’re ready we’ll be here for you.

It can be done as a reply here which might be the best way because it’ll be in line with the thread.

If you want a fresh one it’s a lot like creating a post and Facebook when you sign on there should be an option for you to write a post.

If you don’t see it, please mention that here and I’ll try to walk you through.

I hate to think of anyone not sharing because of user friendly technicalities. If you’re not seeing it you’re probably not the only one.

I’d love to remedy that STAT.

First person characters can die. If you honestly believe that’s true, what a remarkable impact you’ll have with your readership.

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@Strath, I like to just copy from my source document and paste here in the forum reply box. I like to put my snippets in a blockquote so readers can easily see the delineation between my actual post content and my snippet.

Speaking of, @DeAnna, I did a piece a couple years ago from a kitten’s POV. It’s in 1st present, so it might be relevant. It won the fanfic contest I wrote it for. :star2: Thought maybe it would be nice to share a little of it here.

“Nicelady?” I paw at my cage door. “Nicelady?”

She comes over.

“What is it, Mimi? Is your leg okay, sweetie?” She taps my nose through the grate.

“Where is Mama, Nicelady?”

She opens my cage and gives me a pink pill. “Yuck, Nicelady! It tastes bad! I don’t want it!”

“No, no. It’s okay. This will help with that leg.” Nicelady holds my mouth and blows on my nose.

I swallow.

Nicelady strokes my cheek. “Sorry, little girl.” She holds me close for a while. She is warm and I purr. “Okay, you have to stay in here for now.” She tucks me in my cage. “Someone will come and take you home soon.”

I lick her finger.

"Aw. You’re such a sweet baby.