Monday, January 21, 2019

Lessons on Epistolary Writing

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Hey, Night Writers. I've been wanting to write an epistolary style novel for a while now. This is a style of writing where the story is written out as a series of documents or in various forms of communication. Finally, the right story has come along for me to apply this and I thought I'd share some of the key lessons I've learned.

1. Choose Forms of Communication. Once you know what story you want to tell, start to consider the different forms of communication that will best convey it. Think about the time period your story is set in. You don't need to limit yourself to letters and diaries. There are newspapers, telegrams, invitations, emails, texts, shipping logs and manifests, police and doctor reports, and the list goes on. If it is set in the future, imagine of all the ways we could communicate then. The possibilities are endless. However, each entry has to have a purpose and move the story forward. Too many types and the reader may become confused unless clearly connected.

2. Create a Timeline. Once you decide what types of documents you want to add, you needed a timeline for them to be compiled in. Letters, for example, need time to be received, read, and responded to. Having a timeline will help with pacing and tension, as well, showing you what details need to be revealed and when.
Tip: If you are including any true historical events/dates, start there and work your way back and/or forward along the timeline.

3. Write Distinct Character Voices. Consider who the narrator is. Is one person writing? Two people communicating back and forth? Or a compilation of many forms of documents. In each case, the character's voice should be distinctive. Even if there is only one narrator, their voice should be appropriate for the form of document you are writing and for their intended audience. What one writes in their diary is very different from what they might write in a letter to their mother or text to their lover.

4. Tell not Show.  This form of writing gives a feeling of realism because it is conversational. And we don't normally speak like a novel, we eliminate things like body language and mood setting when we are telling another or writing down an event. The challenge here is to not give details that a character wouldn't naturally give. To do so pulls back the curtain and reveals the author, breaking the illusion of reality.

5. Read. Here are a few examples of epistolary style novels. You can find many more at 100 Must-Read Epistolary Novels. The best lesson is to read as much as you can.
  • Classic - Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • Contemporary - Carrie by Stephen King
  • Futuristic - Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Have you written an epistolary style story? Do you have any other tips for writing in this style? Have you read epistolary style novel? What did you like or not like about them? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Stay beautifully haunted, Night Writers,
🖤 Shadow.

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