Epistolary Writing by DG Kaye

Epistolary Writing by DG Kaye
Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

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


55 thoughts on “Epistolary Writing by DG Kaye”

  1. Thanks, Debby. I always remember Dangerous Liaisons when I think of the epistolary form, and I am not sure if you’ve read We Need to Talk about Kevin, where the author manages to pull a great twist, although it isn’t the best-known style of writing for that. Thanks for such an insightful post and for all the tips about it, and I hope your project works very well. I know many people will benefit from it. And thanks, Wendy, for hosting Debby.

  2. Thank you so much for having me over Wendy. I’ll be sharing around social media, and I’ll be reblogging later in the week as well. ❤

  3. Sorry not to have seen this earlier Wendy and Debby.. I must have missed on social media during the upheaval this week.. still worth waiting for and a brilliant and useful summation of this interesting writing style.. thanks very much both for sharing and will add to the blogger daily this week.. ♥

    1. Thank you so much for discovering the post and your lovely comment Sal. I always appreciate your shares across the channels too. Hugs xox

  4. An interesting article and most useful. Bram Stoker used this method of writing for his book Dracula, and Stephen King often interjects newspaper articles into his stories. In particular, he used this technique in IT. I am using a mixture of letters and journal entries for my current WIP, but it is interspersed with action scenes so it is a partial usage. Thanks for hosting, Wendy.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and current WIP with us Robbie. Stephen King also wrote his first book Carrie in this style. ❤

  5. So interesting, Debby – and I imagine your skills would make you a master at this style. The books you mentioned have been so popular, and one of my all-time favourites was The Diary of Adrian Mole, which was hysterically funny. I can’t wait to read your new book when you finish. Toni x

    1. Thank you so much Toni for your lovely compliment and vote of confidence. And thanks for the mention of Diary of Adrian Mole, which I’d never heard of but will certainly investigate! ❤

  6. I enjoyed learning about this type of writing, this genre, Debby. I think it is the perfect form for your book on grief, especially since you’ve been talking to your husband so much – in writing and (I’m sure) in your head and in spirit. ❤

    1. Hi Liesbet. Thank you so much for your kind words. That’s exactly what I thought when I noticed that the over 30K words I’ve written through the journey, I was talking to him, so this style will fit perfectly. And a new challenge. Hugs ❤

  7. I’ve seen this type of writing but didn’t know what it was called. Thank you for sharing this and I look forward to reading it in your next book, Debby! Xo

  8. My favorite epistolary novel is Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher. It is a tour de force of characterization through letters and fall-off-your-chair-laughing funny.

  9. I’ve learned a lot about the style from this, Debby. There’s a beautiful book called 84, Charing Cross Road which consists of the letters two people wrote to each, mainly about the things they’d read. They made it into a film. I really enjoyed Meno-What and I agree with Jan that writing about your grief will be good for you and will provide valuable help for others too.x

    1. Hi Trish. Thanks so much for popping by here and leaving your good cheer. So funny, I never saw 84 Charing, but only recently had added to my Netflix watchlist. I will definitely watch it soon! Thanks. ❤

  10. Letters from Peking by Pearl S. Buck was the only other epistolary book I read besides The Diary of Anne Frank. To me, this style feels somewhat intimidating, but when it fits the story, it works perfectly. It just feels right. Best of luck, Debby. I cant wait to read what you write. Thanks for hosting, Wendy.

    1. Thanks so much Diana. I have a few of Buck’s books, now I have to check if I have that one. And of course I’ve read many a version of Anne Frank’s diary. ❤

  11. Well, arrived very late to the party here, Wendy and Debby. I really enjoy epistolary fiction and have read a few of these mentioned (The Colour Purple being my favourite) I’m sure writing in this style will bring some lovely memories to mind for you, Debby. xx

  12. Hi Wendy – great to read the rest of Debby’s post here … she engages when she writes – so I’m sure her Epistolary authorship will be an interesting read. Thank you for the book recommendations … and I must read The Colour Purple, which I have here a-waiting me! Cheers Hilary

  13. Thanks very much Debby–or should I say, OH NO! One MORE kind of a book I might publish! Then again, that’s a possibility–if only there’s a enough time left in my life of writing.
    But good for you! 🙂

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