Here is the code to open the door to one of the best open secrets in writing literature: 0-451-62872-1. That’s the ISBN (old school version) of Points of View, a teaching anthology of short fiction edited by James Moffett and Kenneth McElheny. Most anthologies are canonical in a robust but sometimes boring way or embarrassingly thematic. But Points of View is an anthology that will literally help you find your voice.
A quick question to emerging (and even some established writers) about how many different points of view are possible in a story will usually result in the invocation of the writer’s holy trinity: I, You, They; or rather: First, Second and Third person.
But Moffat’s and McElheny’s book shows that those three navigating stars are actually part of an entire galaxy stretching from one end of a writer’s sky to the other. There are 44 stories in this anthology, each written from a slightly different POV, proving that I, You, and They don’t even begin to cover it.
The books real genius may not only be the subject matter but the layout. The story starts with Interior Monologue (The story is ‘A Telephone Call’ by Dorothy Parker) and then gradually changes to Letter Narration, Diary Narration, Memoir, and so on until finally we reach the objective narration of the Shirley Jackson story ‘The Lottery’ and Eudora Welty’s ‘Powerhouse’, the last story in the collection. And if you are thinking that there is no difference between Diary Narration and Memoir that is just the reason for this anthology.
Just reading the book cover to cover is a joy, with standouts everywhere: Alice Munro, Louise Erdrich, T.C. Boyle, Raymond Carver. But the real joy is using this anthology to decide how exactly to approach the telling of a story, as in how it is told. It opens a writer’s mind to all the possible shadings of narrative voice so that he or she can begin to understand what are the advantages and the consequences of any given point of view.
Listing now in mass market paperback, with a list price of $8.99. Or used it’s even cheaper. It is bar none the biggest, best bang for your writing book buck on the market today. Get you own because I’m not loaning you mine.