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Short story masterclass: The masters’ point of view

Handle narrative viewpoint in your fiction by learning from the best, with recommended reads from Helen M Walters

When we come to tell a short story, one of the first things we have to decide is exactly whose story it is. We need to know whose point of view we are telling the story from and how. We can learn a lot from classic short story writers about how to make the most of whichever technique we choose.

In this classic short story masterclass we’re going to look at two examples of the first person technique – one in which it is used to give an intimate glimpse of the viewpoint character and one in which it is used to reveal a lot about the life of another character. Then we are going to look at third person, telling the story from one point of view and also from multiple points of view.

The stories I have chosen are Cathedral by Raymond Carver, Mr Know All by Somerset Maugham, The Cop and The Anthem by O Henry and Prelude by Katherine Mansfield. As always, spoilers follow and you will benefit most if you read the stories yourself. Read them online at http://writ.rs/wmnov16 Choice of point of view makes a difference to both the feel of a story and the mechanics of how it is written. When choosing first person point of view the main advantage is that the reader feels very close to the main character. Telling the story using ‘I’ makes the reader feel that they are experiencing the story along with the character and is a good way of letting the reader into the character’s innermost thoughts.

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