Writing Advice

How to Write an Epistolary Story

At our last meeting Stephen read a story which was written in an epistolary style. For those who don’t know what epistolary style is here is the definition from Far Off Places who are presently ask for submissions in the style:

An epistolary novel is a novel written as a series of documents. The usual form is letters, although diary entries, newspaper clippings and other documents are sometimes used. Recently, electronic “documents” such as recordings and radio, blogs, and e-mails have also come into use.

If you fancy trying to write a story in an epistolary style then you’ll love this writing advice post!

How Do You Know You Should Write A Story In An Epistolary Style?

Before you start writing a story in any kind of style you should ask yourself whether the style suits your story. On the Daily Fig, their blogger Emily presents a series of questions that need answering before you start writing. The questions from How to Write An Epistolary Novel, her questions are:

  • Are the documents organic to the story?
  • Why is your character writing?
  • Are the letters/journals/tweets public or private?

If the answers to the above questions are yes then epistolary maybe for you.

How to Write an Epistolary Story

Let’s start with eight basic steps on How to Write an Epistolary Narrative from WikiHow. They are:

  1. Read epistolary novels, of course, before you try to write one yourself
  2. Include all the basic structural features of an actual letter – address, date, salutation, closing, etc
  3. Include all the basic structural features of a story – orientation, complication, resolution – and the textual features of a narrative
  4. Open the letter
  5. Continue the narrative in past tense, as it is a story of something that (from the character’s point of view) has already happened
  6. Reveal aspects of the character’s ideology (beliefs, attitudes and values)
  7. Develop relationships with other characters through experience they shared
  8. Close the letter

As normal head over to WikiHow to check the details behind each other.

A Different Point of View

As with everything in life someone else will have a different view. While Tracy Marchini agrees with a lot of what WikiHow there are a couple of differences in her article Six Tips for Writing an Epistolary Novel. Her points, including disagreements are:

  1. It’s not necessary to start every entry with “Dear xx.”
  2. Remember that your main character is writing to one specific person.
  3. Don’t forget that these are letters, not diary entries.
  4. Time gaps are important.
  5. Remember that each letter has to adhere to a narrative arc.
  6. Don’t write a bad epistolary novel if you could be writing an excellent novel.

What makes Tracy Marchini‘s article so good is that she uses Jerry Spinelli’s novel Love, Stargirl to illustrate each point, which is very helpful. It is always great to see a real example to illustrate the advice.

An Exercise to Start

To finish we are suggesting you try out the writing exercise from Emily’s article from the Daily Fig. She suggested taking a scene from one of your favourite books and rewrite it as a chapter in an epistolary novel. Why not post it below in the comments or bring it along to our next meeting. We’d love to read them.

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