Those of us who have a literary lifestyle think a lot about stuff like point of view. All five of them.
You might be thinking, Wait, what? There are five types of point of view? I thought there were three.
Honestly, it depends on whom you talk to. Some say there are three, some say four, some might even argue for six or seven. But I’m not here to argue. I’m here to tell you about THE MOST IMPORTANT DECISION you will make in regards to your story or novel. That is, which point of view will you choose?
I’ve listed the options here, in order of how often I believe they are used.
Third Person Limited: With third-person limited, we get a lot of insight into a specific character’s thoughts and motivations, yet the story is still told by an unseen narrator. Third person-limited gives a writer flexibility yet still allows for intimacy.
First Person: My personal favorite. In fact, for a long time, I hated to write in any POV other than first person. I like speaking directly to my reader, through the voice of my protagonist. It just feels so easy and comfortable, and I can “get to know” my main character in a way that writing in any other point of view won’t allow. But lately I’ve learned to break out of my first-person rut.
Third Person Omniscient: Personally, I would never use an all-knowing narrator. For me, it’s too difficult to focus. But some authors, like Jane Austen, achieve it beautifully. You might wonder, Wait. Isn’t Pride and Prejudice written in third-person-limited? Actually, no. While a lot of what we see and hear is filtered through Lizzie, not all of it is. Consider the first line: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Pride and Prejudice, while being a love story, is more importantly a commentary on society. Thus, the narration must have a universal tone.
Second Person: Ahh, the elusive second person. I used to tell my high school creative writing students that second-person is the hardest POV to do well, but when it is done well, it’s incredibly effective. Most authors don’t use second person, unless they’re writing a choose-your-own-adventure story. But I love second-person, at least for short pieces. I don’t think I’d want to read an entire novel where “you” are the protagonist, but one of my favorite short stories, “You Could Be Anyone”, from Melissa Bank’s Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing, uses second-person in a mind blowing way. At the end, “you” realize that the story could not have been told from any other perspective.
First Person Plural: In first-person-plural, no single narrator is identified. Instead, the narrator is a group that speaks as a unit. I put this one at the bottom of the list, because it is so rarely used. But Faulkner’s short story, “A Rose For Emily”, where the townspeople collectively reflect on an old woman’s death, is one example.
I’ve seen mentions online of 4th person and even 5th person POV. To me, 4th person seems very similar to first person plural, and 5th person sounds like it’s just writing consistently in the passive voice and/or using a lot of personification. Thus, I won’t go into detail about either of those.
Instead, I will tell you again what I firmly believe: Before writing any piece of fiction, your most important decision is about point of view.
Do you need an unreliable narrator, or are you writing a tale of self-discovery? Perhaps first person is best. Are you writing a mystery, where you must cast doubt on multiple characters, and you can’t get too close to any of them? Consider third-person-omniscient. Do you need flexibility with your story-telling, yet you want the reader to feel close to the protagonist? Go for third-person limited. Or, are you going for a super-intimate experience, where the reader “becomes” the protagonist? Take a chance, and use second-person. Or perhaps you want to rotate perspectives between chapters, or even between paragraphs, and you’ll use a combination of POVs. That method is becoming more and more standard.
But here’s the thing: whatever POV(s) you use, you should use with purpose. By the end, you should feel that the story could not be told successfully any other way. But what if you don’t? Then I suggest revising the piece by writing it from a different point of view, just to see what discoveries you make. (I’m in the process of doing that right now for my latest WIP.)
Thus, there is no “best” POV, but there will always be “the best” POV for your story or novel. As a writer, it’s your job to figure out what that POV is.
For more in-depth info on using POV to your best advantage, I recommend The Story Works Guide to Writing Point of View