Fellow writers,

I am plotting a crime mystery novel. I have the story and gist in place. It should have the "whodunit" element. I want to use Third person multiple pov narrative(more than 6+ povs). I've seen it done (but not in mystery) by having the character name at the beginning of a chapter.

Now my dilemma, how do I get around keeping the killer/killers a suspense while using such an approach. Are there any other ways to incorporate the pov I want, without giving away the name of the character. It is okay if the reader knows its the killers pov (just not who he/she is).

Maybe by a clear depiction of the criminals dark opinion? Or by altogether avoiding character names before chapters, and letting the reader figure out who's pov it is(but I feel it would be confusing, with 6+ povs).

Any input, suggestions and experience with using 3rd person multiple povs is welcome.

  • I'm sure you'll get some good responses, but bottom line is it's fiction: you get to make the rules. You can always change after the first draft or once some beta readers get a hold of it.
    – Stu W
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 17:14
  • @stu w, Yes it is fiction, of course some rules can be bent and broke. But I don't want to end up confusing the reader, or be obvious with who the killer is. Ill work up a few scenes and post it along with the question.
    – Akash
    Commented Jan 31, 2016 at 4:45
  • Cool! Happy writing to you
    – Stu W
    Commented Jan 31, 2016 at 5:15
  • This would be an interesting writing exercise - you would have to limit who the killer meets or talks about in these chapters, since that would narrow down the list of suspects.
    – LeHill
    Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 21:38

3 Answers 3


You don't need character names in chapter headings, unless you are attempting multiple first person narratives.

Therefore your only problem is how to name the villain. Dan Brown does this n every novel. Just pick something descriptive, e.g. The Controller, The Military Man, The Survivor. Names like these allude to a role or a personal history which can be a secret even to their closest friends or colleagues. Thus in your final act you can reveal Brian the chicken farmer was secretly The Assassin the whole time.

Alternatively you can introduce your villain through the eyes of a minion or victim, and thenceforth name him as that person saw him, e.g. The Man in White, or The Limping Man.

Readers may tire of it however, but to maintain mystery, these pov chapters would likely be few and brief anyway.

  • So pov character names such as John, Jennifer, Jerald and the butcher... Would work? What if John is "the butcher", Is it ok for the same character to have 2 pov aliases? One when he is performing acts of "crime",and another when he appears to the reader as any other suspect.
    – Akash
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 10:28
  • Of course, if Dan Brown's sales are any measure. The reader will likely know that you are withholding the name for a reason, and will be actively trying to figure out who it is, but that's the point isn't it? It's the literary equivalent of the sinister gloved hands you see in old whodunnits.
    – mwo
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 10:52
  • 1
    GRRMartin is using all third-person and he has so many POV characters that he does have character names in chapter headings. Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 11:56
  • I have read his work, but since the whole element of suspense is crucial I don't want to give out the name of the viewpoint character. GRRM gives shocking character kills, but there "usually" is no suspense in who/what killed whom.
    – Akash
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 17:21

The POV for each scene should be made clear very quickly. But that's not hard if you mention their name in the narration when doing something.

As mentioned above, you can just use "the killer" or something like that for the killer. Use "they" instead of "he/she", or even switch to first person.

The other thing is that most people wouldn't title themselves a "killer" but instead consider themselves an instrument of justice, vengeance, purification, etc - focusing on their motivation not the act. Make sure the killer has a realistic reason for doing what he does, whether revenge or God telling him to, to protecting others, not just "he's evil/crazy so he kills people".

6+ is a lot of POV characters. You'll need to work hard to build empathy, unless several are less-used side characters. Good luck.

  • There are many scenes where the killer would be around other characters ,plotting his next murder or how he can misdirect others including the reader off his tail. So first person wouldn't work out, I can't differentiate the killer this way, at least not in such scenes. Maybe while the murder(s) happens it can be in first person, and when he/she is comfortably misleading others it can be in any of 3rd person pov's
    – Akash
    Commented Jan 31, 2016 at 4:17

Multiple pov is promising until it is not confusing for readers. You can simply include the killer's narrative whenever you want to spice things up. I would love to read such work until it is not frustrating. You can simply cross check your lines by thinking as a reader than a writer. As a character's voice is oblivious, you can twist the plot by shifting concentration on each and every character.Hope this helps you.

  • Why such a vague answer? How do I include the killer's narrative was my initial question. If you can be specific so that your idea's may reach me,it would help. Maybe I am comprehending your words in a different way. Your idea isn't reaching me :)
    – Akash
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 5:58
  • You can include the killer as a person's mind speaking to himself/herself when an incident occurs. You can use it only in few situations where the killer gives his views/motives piece by piece letting the reader to understand killer's intentions. Based upon that intention you can let reader's concentration to move to different character. Letting them to guess the killer. Let all characters to speak out and emphasize when killer speaks his mind when no one else is speaking.
    – ravi teja
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 6:22
  • Can you be more technical? Maybe you are asking to italicise the killer's thoughts when others (including the killer) are in the scene? The killer has a normal dialogue along with others but also a special interior monologue? Is this what you mean?
    – Akash
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 8:20
  • Yes, that's what I mean. He has both the normal dialogue and his killer self. But make sure that the frequency of killer's perspective to be low.
    – ravi teja
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 8:34

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