I have been doing research into books
that use letters, because I want to do something similar in my novel. It is
interesting to note that it works better in some stories than in others.
Recently, electronic “documents” such as recordings and radio, blogs, and e-mails have also come into use. The word epistolary is derived from Latin from the Greek word ἐπιστολή epistolē, meaning a letter (see epistle).
The epistolary form can add greater realism to a story, because it mimics the workings of real life.
It is thus able to demonstrate differing points of view without recourse to the
device of an omniscient
books use letters to tell the whole story, some use it as a device to depict a
secondary storyline or events that happened in the past. It can, of course also
be diary entries, post-it notes or text messages.
this from the examples I have recently read:
- Letters and diaries give us unique insights; they offer interior monologues of the
most intimate kind. Your character’s thoughts and viewpoint written by their
‘own hand’, as it were, and we all know the writing never lies. People put things into writing that they wouldn’t say to anyone
else. But, in a letter, your thoughts are especially
crafted and written for the benefit of the reader.
- Unless you are using multiple letter writers,
you are limited to only one viewpoint. If you are using multiple writers, you
have to be able to change your writing to create separate identities. In The
Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric, she uses different fonts, different
writing skills and vocabularies to separate the characters. In The Guernsey
Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, also
use multiple letter writers who all reveal bits of themselves and the story as
the telling progresses.
- It makes you tell. We don’t use action
and dialogue in letters or diaries. You can, but mostly we don’t write letters
and diary entries like that. Even though you can’t show, some writers can pull
off ‘the telling’, if they have an entertaining, engaging style. Consider the
old favourites like Adrian Mole, Bridget Jones and Spud.
- Using social media on the other hand, is
all about sharing personal information. It is almost the ultimate showing tool.
Consider Lauren Beukes’s use of social media in Broken Monsters. She uses text
messages and even call-logs to show the story. In Night Film by Marisha Pessl,
she even uses screenshots to show her story.
- SPOILER: Gillian Flynn used Amy’s fake
diary to frame Nick in Gone Girl. Everyone believes the written word. No one
would lie in his or her own diary, surely?
- In The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen
Chbosky and The Good Luck of Right Now by
Matthew Quick, a naïve narrator writes and confesses to an unknown or
unresponsive receiver. Events are told through not only the limited perspective
of a letter, but by a naïve narrator. This is hard to do, but obviously not
impossible as both of them certainly did it well.
- In her memoir Let’s Pretend This Never
Happened, Jenny Lawson even uses a series of Post-it Notes to tell a part of
her story. It is funny and ridiculous and over the top.
These are only a few examples of what
you can do with letters and text. Facebook updates, tweets, and even fridge
poetry, can help you. What is your favourite epistolary-ish novel?
by Mia Botha
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