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Types of Short Story Narratives


A short story author has to choose between telling her story using the voice of one of her characters or assuming a detached, omniscient perspective that gives her greater flexibility in describing the story's setting and characters. Each type of narrative has specific strengths and weaknesses, and the best type of narrative for a story depends on the dramatic effect the author is trying to achieve and her skill in using a particular type of narrative.

First Person

A first-person narrative is written from the point of view of one of the short story's characters, and while this character is usually the story's protagonist, a supporting character can also provide narration. A first person narrative gives readers the most penetrating look into the character's thoughts, feelings and motivations, giving the events that character undergoes greater dramatic weight. The trade-off is that the reader doesn't have any more insight into the story's other characters or events than what the narrator knows. First person narration doesn't lend itself as easily to descriptive prose as readily as a third person narrative, either. A character's descriptions of people, settings or emotions can easily sound forced and awkward if the writer tries to sound self-consciously literary, because a typical person's internal monologue isn't inherently dramatic or profound.

Second Person

A writer uses a second-person narrative to write her short story as if the reader were the story's central character, so a typical sentence might read, "You put on your coat and trudge into the downpour." Authors rarely use second person narrative, because even if the writer is exceptionally skillful, the second person form can feel very forced and unnatural to the reader.

Third Person

Third person narration is the most commonly used narrative in short stories, featuring an omniscient, detached voice. A writer can use this perspective to reveal characters' thoughts and motivations with more freedom than he has with a first person narration, giving the reader a comprehensive overview of all the events happening within the story. Limited third person narration focuses primarily on a single character's experiences, though the writer doesn't speak with the voice of that character and still retains the freedom to give the reader information that the character wouldn't have. A writer using a limited third person narrative may also shift between characters over the course of the story, focusing on different characters in different time periods or geographic locations as the story progresses.