Hi Wendy, thanks so much for inviting me over again to your blog. Today I want to talk about writing in Epistolary style. What is epistolary writing? As a nonfiction/memoir writer I’ve been exploring this form of writing for a book I’ve been drafting about grief. I am seriously considering presenting the book in this form.
Epistolary writing is a style that addresses the reader through a diary format (think Bridget Jones’ Diary) or in journal or letter format. In this era of digital life, epistolary writing can also include email and blog post entries, police reports, newspaper articles and transcripts. This style involves the writer speaking directly to another person, expressing the bond in a particular relationship through the content being written, which gives the reader an intimate peek into the writer’s private self and thoughts regarding the person she is writing to, and an inside scoop into that relationship between the writer and the character being spoken to. Journal and diary entries are more contemplative writings, but there is also the method of writing strictly in dialogue. Epistolary writing is in essence writing dialogue from one’s self. It is important that the writer let the reader know to whom they are writing to. Epistolary stories can involve one or more characters the writing conversation is being directed toward.
Often, in this form of writing, the focus is more on evoking emotion, more so than a dialogue driven story. Epistolary writing is also classified as a sort of confessional-like writing, also known as monophonic point of view, letters to one specific character. It is referred as ‘dialogic’ if two people are writing letters, or, ‘polyphonic’ with three or more characters writing and receiving the letters. It is ultimately, a first-person point of view that allows the reader to get inside the writer’s thoughts. It’s a correspondence between characters or to a character. This form is a different take from third person POV where the usual plots and characters are the driving force of the storyline. Instead, the reader gets to understand the character’s interactions through what is implied by the writer.
The word -Epistolary, is derived from the noun – Epistle, which is the Greek word meaning ‘letter’. This is an actual literary genre that pertains to letters written for delivering story through personal messages from the writer to her subject(s). This format can be used as context for a relationship, friendship or even a business relationship between the writer and receiver.
Because this method of writing is a person telling, it can be written in multiple tenses. For example, the writer might go back in time with an entry and bring it up to present to invite in some tension. In most stories in other points of view writing, they are written in the classic, ‘show more, tell less’. This could be challenging to write in epistolary form because there is no narrator building a scene. But description that paints a picture to the reader can still be done. The more ‘real’ a story feels to the reader, the more they will engage in the emotion. Epistolary stories can be written in both fiction or nonfiction.
In summation, epistolary writing should be authentic, engaging to draw the reader into the emotion of the story, and it should not include any explanations or backstory.
One famous known book written in epistolary form is:
The Diary of Anne Frank, where the young Anne wrote in her diary, Dear Kitty, through her hiding during most of WWII, and ultimately, her capture in the Holocaust.
Just a few more to mention of many more contemporary novels:
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, where his story is told through letters in this coming-of-age story.
Permission by SD Chrostowska, told in a one-way correspondence consisting of anonymous emails sent from the author to a famous (ghost writer) visual artist.
The Beatrice Letter (part of the Unfortunate Events series) by Lemony Snicket, written in notes and letters.
The Screwtape Letters, a satire, originally written in 1942 by C.S. Lewis written in letters by the demon Screwtape who writes letters to his novice demon nephew Wormwood, a government worker residing in hell, directing his nephew on how to best tempt humans to be led astray.
The Color Purple, Pulitzer Prize Winner by Alice Walker, writes to her sister and Dear God diary entries by the protagonist, Celie.
Most recently, The Martian, written by Andy Weir. His character Mark Watney logs in journal form about being stranded on Mars. (Played by Matt Damon in the movie version.)
In my own book on grief, I’m planning on writing as the widow I’ve become, writing to my beloved husband who has recently passed on.
I hope you enjoyed learning about this not so common form of writing style.
Debby Gies is a Canadian non-fiction/memoir author who writes under the pen name of DG Kaye. She is born, raised, and resides in Toronto, Canada. DG Kaye writes about her life experiences, matters of the heart, and women’s issues, hoping to empower others.
She loves to tell stories that have lessons in them and hopes to empower others by sharing her own experiences. She writes raw and honest, hoping that others can relate and find that we always have a choice to move from a negative space to a positive. We need only the courage to take the leap.
christoff-fischer best non-fiction award – Have Bags, Will Travel
Gold Star Award cover art-words we carry from thebookdesigner.com