Not long ago, I did a post on point of view in crime fiction (first, second, and third person). At the time, I invited you to share your point-of-view preference, and I’m very grateful to those of you who did.
I thought it might be interesting to follow up on that little poll and take a closer look at point of view in crime fiction. Let’s start with the most important bit of data: your preferences. I asked you which point of view you like the best. Here’s what you told me.
As you can see, the majority (12 of the 22 participants – 55%) said that you don’t have a real preference. That finding didn’t really surprise me, since several of you told me in your comments that you care more about the quality of the story and characters than you do about whether the story is told from one or another point of view.
Of those of you who did express a preference, 6 of you (27%) preferred first person, and 4 (18%) preferred third person. There were no votes for second person. Again, that’s not surprising, as second person is a difficult point of view from which to tell a story, and it’s not really very common. What all of this means to me is that those of you who did have a preference were fairly evenly split between those who like first person better, and those who prefer third person.
This got me to thinking about the use of point of view in a larger sense. So I decided to take a look at how common first, second and third person are in the genre. I chose 290 books from among those I’ve read (which of course, severely limits the data!). I sorted the books into categories based on the point of view shared in the novels. Here’s what I found:
As you can see, the majority of crime novels in this data set (195, or 67%) are told in third person. The data doesn’t show clearly whether that’s because the authors find it easier to write that way, or publishers have a preference one way or the other. But it’s interesting to see that most of the books seem to be written that way.
That’s not to say that first person doesn’t play a role, though. There are 88 books (31%) in this data set written from the first person point of view. Interestingly, I’ve had some writers tell me they prefer that voice. And perhaps that’s the reason for that finding.
It’s also worth noting that there were six books in this data set (2%) that had a combination of points of view. For instance, one I have in mind includes some chapters written in the first person, and some in third. There aren’t many books that fall into that category, but it’s there. As for second person, I’ve only personally read one book written from that point of view, although I know there are more than that out there. Still, even accounting for this extremely restricted data set, it seems that second person isn’t a popular point of view for crime fiction stories.
As I looked at this data, I got to wondering whether the balance of first, second and third person has changed over time. So I decided to look more closely at that question. I sorted the books in my data set into categories based on year of publication (pre-1950; 1950-1980; 1980-2000; 2000-present). Here’s what I found:
In the era before 1950, it’s pretty clear that most books (26, or 72%) are written in third person. Between 1950 and 1980, that number drops to 22 books (roughly 69%). The percentage of books written in third person stays fairly stable in the period between 1980 and 2000 (40 books, or about 65%). The number of books written in the third person as a percentage of the total hasn’t changed very much in the most recent years, either (107, or about 67%). To me, this shows quite a stable trend towards writing in the third person, which I find interesting. It may simply be that readers are accustomed to it. Or it may be that publishers request it/prefer it because it’s more bankable.
At the same time, I think the data shows that there’s also a solid market for those who write in the first person. Plenty of books over time have been written from that point of view, too.
What do you think of all of this?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Foreigner’s Blue Morning, Blue Day.