He said, she said, I said, you said... pick your point of view. Many writers know all about first person, second person, third person limited and any number of other obscure point of view writing techniques. But point of view writing is much more than just knowing which pronoun to use and when. Truly skilled point of view writing is the cornerstone skill that holds the entire craft of fiction writing together at the seams. And when it comes to the thriller genre it could be said that thriller writing IS point of view writing.
Thrillers come from a storytelling style that does not deliver some of the elements of story that so many readers hunger for. Character introspection, internal conflict, and even the all important love affair. To be sure many thrillers will contain these elements to a lesser degree, but certainly not enough to hang a story on. Thrillers instead live and die by one, all consuming element--conflict.
By conflict I am referring to the struggle the hero is engaged in with the villain in order for the hero to gain what he needs and prevent the villain from getting what he wants. This struggle, if told correctly, will create within the reader a tension that just must be resolved in order for balance to be restored to the reader's emotional state. This is why thrillers are known as page-turners, or that readers just can't put them down. The reader is desperately trying to establish harmony again emotionally and will not be able to until the author resolves the story conflict, thus removing the source of tension.
But what does the choice between using the pronouns I, he, she or you have to do with creating conflict and tension? You're right, absolutely nothing. Pronoun choice, though, is not what is meant by point of view writing.
Think of a filter applied to a stream of information. A loose filter with large openings would allow significant quantities of information through, whereas a fine filter with tight openings would restrict flow to only particular information. That filter is the hero's point of view. Whether first person or third doesn't matter. What matters is the tightness of the filter. The tighter the better.
In fact, let's take this analogy one step further and have the filter represent the hero's five senses. The information of the story should only come through to the reader through the hero's five senses. If he can't see it, hear it, smell it, touch it, or taste it then the reader shouldn't know about it. Although, I'd like to break this rule just slightly and add two more senses. The hero's emotions and mental awareness would obviously need to be included, BUT again their emotional state and understanding can only come as a result of their other five senses.
Why is such a disciplined use of point of view so important for thrillers? It comes back to tension, the life blood of thrillers. Generally tension is created in a story, assuming a proper conflict has been established, simply by doling out information at the right time to the reader. Usually the reader learns the new information at the same time as the hero.
Let me give an example. Courage Between is a novella I wrote about an event that occurred to me personally. Without spoiling the plot, the story is about one night in the woods where my sons and I were stalked and attacked by a creature we couldn't see. As I experienced the event I could only gain information through my five senses, thus I did not know the true nature of the story's antagonist. That lack of knowledge created a great deal of tension for me. Trust me.
Now then, when I went to write the story of that long August night I could have been very loose with the filter, allowing the reader to know much more, providing them all of the knowledge I had as the author. Or I could only allow the reader to learn new information as I had done as a character experiencing the events. But if I had shared with the reader all that I knew as the author, the reader would not have experienced the anxiety I had while in the moment. As a story and a thriller Courage Between would have fallen apart. The only chance the story has at holding the attention of the reader is to be very stingy about what information to provide and when.
This is what I mean about point of view writing. Writing with a strict discipline to information as it passes through the filter of the hero. It's not a skill that is easy to master, for we all have a tendency to tell too much too soon. But once you get it, the craft of storytelling becomes much richer and a true pleasure. You begin to feel like an amusement park designer who has constructed the most hair-raising roller coaster or haunted house ride anyone has ever seen who stands at the turn style collecting tickets from customers on opening day.
Whether you write thrillers or simply read them, point of view should matter to you. To create the best experience for your readers, or to insure the best experience for yourself as a reader, skilled point of view writing is a must. After all, which would you or your reader rather be, a spectator on the ground watching the cars going around the roller coaster track, up and down, banking left and right; or sitting in the first car with your hair ripped back from your face by the wind, your stomach dropping into your feet as you gain the highest peak in the track only to become weightless as the harness bites into your shoulders and hear a voice that sounds alot like your own screaming in your ears.
The ride is the same either way. The only difference is choosing the thrilling point of view.