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I am currently writing a YA detective mystery. It involves a group of detectives who work to keep their city safe, but there is an organization that has infiltrated every level of the government. They are wreaking havoc throughout the city.

I want to include characters from this organization and sort of get into their plans from the minor antagonist’s side. For example, one character betrays the organization to help out the agents because they want out.

How would I write that in 3rd person POV? Would I start off a new chapter in a new setting to follow this character? I feel writing this viewpoint in 1st person would be hard, especially since I’m trying to keep at least some of their motives a secret until near the end.

I guess I would have to reveal more about this character anyway?

How would it work? In a movie it seems easy to show what the villains are doing, but in a book it feels more difficult.

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You don't explicitly say in what person you intend to narrate the scenes told from the detectives' view, but your comment that writing (the antagonists) in first person would be hard seems to imply that you would like to write the detectives in first person and switch to third person for the villains.

Of course you can write different characters all in third or all in first person, and of course you can use both first and third person in a novel. The less banal question then is, what effect will such a switch from third to first person have?

When you narrate all viewpoints from the same person, either third or first, the impression is that all those characters are given equal weight. The effect is that of an ensemble cast of multiple protagonists all of whom are portrayed with the same level of detail and intimacy. This effect is most pronounced in first person narration, hence, probably, your hunch to switch to third person for less central characters.

In every narrative viewpoint, all other characters that the viewpoint character encounters are told in third person. Here is an example told from Marcy's point of view: "As I came home, my neighbor, Mr. Williams, greeted me. He told me he had a parcel for me." Here, the neighbor, who is a side character for the viewpoint character, Marcy, is narrated in third person. If the next chapter is told from the viewpoint of the neighbor and it switches to first person, the neighbor becomes a protagonist of equal importance to the viewpoint character of the preceding chapter, Marcy: "I gave the parcel to Marcy. She looked excited and I wondered what she had ordered. Was it the new toaster that she and her husband had been fighting about?" If, on the other hand, Mr. Williams' chapter is narrated in third person, the effect is that Mr. Williams remains in third person and therefore remains more of a side character: "Mr. Williams gave the parcel to Marcy. He wondered what might be in it and decided to spy on her later that night, to find out." Such a switch in grammatical person also allows you to change how much you get into a character's head. In the brief examples I showed the perceptions and thoughts of Mr. Williams directly in the first person narrative but kept more of a distance and only summarized (i.e. told) his thoughts in the third persion variant.

From these reflections it seems to me that it would be quite fitting if you narrated the viewpoints of your protagonists, the detectives, in first person and switched to third person for less important side characters whose viewpoints are told from more distance and who get much less "screen time".

A switch to third persion would also allow you to keep their intentions secret quite naturally, because you wouldn't get into their heads as you would in first persion narration, where, consequently, you would have to disclose more about them than in third persion and where keeping a character's intention from the readers often feels artificial and like a cheap trick.


Commonly a switch to a different viewpoint character is done with a chapter break, if it is longer (a page or more). If you switch to a side character's viewpoint only briefly (less than half a page), you might do it as a scene set off from the main viewpoint by a blank line before and after it, but chapters can be as short as you want and there is nothing odd about a chapter of only one sentence, so even brief switches can be their own chapter.

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I think this approach can create strong stories because it the readers knowledge of events that the protagonists’ don’t possess. That can help create suspense and tension.

The simplest solution is write some of the chapters from a villain’s POV because viewpoint and setting and time changes are very normal at chapter boundaries.

Or you can change your POV at scene boundaries. It is more difficult to make this POV shift feel seamless. But, under some circumstances, like the two POV characters in interacting with one another, then shifting at scene boundaries makes a lot of sense since it preserves action and momentum. For instance, if a POV detective is interrogating a POV villain, shifting POVs lets you share what each side knows about the other, fears the other knows about them, and so on.

The hardest method is to use an omniscient POV. In an omniscient POV you share all of the important characters thoughts. Omniscient POV is a very challenging technique to use effectively. If you don’t share all of the important character’s thoughts then it can feel like a cheat to the reader when some important plot point surfaces that was known earlier by those characters but wasn’t revealed.

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