1. Head
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    Head New Member

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    Telling a story through diary entries

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Head, Oct 7, 2013.

    Hi,

    I am wanting to tell all or part of a story through excerpts from a diary.

    Can anyone recommend any contemporary stuff like this ? Fiction or non fiction (or non contemporary).

    I'm planning to write the story narratively first, then adapt it to diary entries.

    I'd also like to know if anyone who keeps a regular diary has any interesting idiosyncrasies they'd care to share.
     
  2. Jetik X
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    Jetik X New Member

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    How contemporary? Dracula comes to mind, as does Frankenstein. Check here for more modern forms:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistolary_novel
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i personally find this fiction form more annoying than an enjoyable read... you can do amazon and google searches for examples...

    the prime example of course, is anne frank's diary...
     
  4. TessaT
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    TessaT Contributing Member

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    I have to agree, that I normally find it quite annoying. I think one that did it rather well was The Passage by Justin Cronin. The complete story wasn't in the form of a journal, but it did include pages of the journal for intimate details. I think it comes down to the fact that a journal is normally more 'telling' than it is 'showing', and as writers we're supposed to show rather than tell. As a reader, I prefer discovering something rather than simply being told about it.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It's a variation of epistolary narration, conveying a story in a sequence of correspondence. This style is largely out of fashion, because of the emotional distance between the reader and the events.

    Shelley's Frankenstein is written in epistolary style.
     
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  6. Duchess-Yukine-Suoh
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    Duchess-Yukine-Suoh Girl #21 Contributor

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    I like A Woman of Independent Means. Not that contemperory, but it's still a good book if you don't mind death.
     
  7. Head
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    Head New Member

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    Thanks for the suggestions everyone (including Wikipedia), I shall fire up my Kindle.

    Out of interest my premise was one character reading a deceased character's diary, and relating to it.
     
  8. Gilborn
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    Gilborn Member

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    The two best novels that come to mind are 1984by George Orwell, or We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. We is much shorter if you want something you can read in a day or two to get the feel for it.
     
  9. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    @Head - Hey I just read this little short story and it made me think of this thread:

    The Collected Notes of Gary, 3C, to the Unnamed Tenants of 4C (June 9-Oct 6, 2003)

    Anyways, everyone says it won't work until someone comes along and makes it work. I bet when the Blair Witch Project people asked if they could make a motion picture with a video camera, everyone probably laughed.

    Cheers.
     
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  10. Lucas
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    Lucas Member

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    I recommend The Color Purple by Alice Walker (published in 1982). It's a pretty quick read & I personally love this novel. The 1985 movie The Color Purple featuring Oprah Winfrey was based on this novel
     
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  11. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    Depends on the length. For example, I read a short story the other day, I'm guessing roughly 5,000 words long, all done in diary entries. It worked for me because it was short enough; it's one of the reasons I didn't like Dracula or Frankenstein. But using diary entries to tell parts of the story is okay, I think - I'm using it in one of my novels, and as I said, I generally hate diary entries in novels.
     
  12. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Have a look at 'Gone Girl' by Gillian Flynn. Excellent book.
    I wrote one novella as diary entries, my homage to Bram Stoker's ' Dracula' (although mine was a completely different genre) and it was great fun writing in 1st person POV.
     
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  13. DeathandGrim
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    DeathandGrim Contributing Member

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    It'd be an interesting way to get inside of one of the characters heads, but it could fracture the pacing a bit each time you do it.
     
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  14. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    The problem with diary entries is that they are, inherently, a summation—a history of some events. And, their report format is inherently fact-based and author-centric, which is another way of saying dispassionate. Not good when you take into account that fiction is emotion, not fact-based. The Diary of Anne Frank works best when the reader knows the outer situation she's trapped in and can mentally fill in the blanks, so to speak, to generate the necessary emotional context. She's up-beat but we know that horror is coming, and react to that.

    The problem you'll face is that your reader is looking for entertainment, so they want emotion-based prose that will give reason to worry about their new friend. Readers feed on tension and worry, after all. We want to feel real danger and excitement without the inconvenience of the wounds and suffering.

    But history is immutable. The POV is that of the historian recording the events, and that POV character has no uncertainty in their situation. Nor do the characters being reported on. We're not made to wonder what to do, were we in the protagonist's shoes, because our view is the external camera view, not that of the person muddling through the events in real-time. So if your diary entries read like a detailed history, they won't hook the reader, emotionally. It will inform, but won't entertain.

    Can it be done. Can you write in diary format filled with emotional content, and sell? Sure, but the techniques you use need to be those of writing a story in an expositional style. And we're no more trained in them than we are in the other styles unique to the profession of fiction for the printed word.

    My personal suggestion, as it so often is, is to look to the pros for the best way to handle your problem. If you better understand the structure and needs of scenes and stories, and how to keep a reader turning pages, doing it gets a whole lot easier. Take a look at Jack Bickham's Scene and Structure at your local free library. He not only answers your question, he answers a bunch more that you might not think to ask.
     
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  15. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    It's probably not quite what you're looking for, but the Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a popular contemporary children's series. Our ten year old loves it.
     
  16. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Bridget Jones's Diary - was a best seller and was turned into a movie (or two). So yes it can work!

    When the novel first came out I was given one as a present, but I couldn't get passed the first few pages, I was bored by the daily calorie counting etc. I know a couple of self-centred people like that, but I guess that is what made it so popular.

    I loved The Diary of Samuel Pepys. That gives an insight into the daily life of Pepys in the 1600's.

    Give it a go and see how you get on. Good luck!
     
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  17. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @JayG: I have to disagree. Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' is very emotionally involving, you forget it was written in letter form. Also 'Gone Girl'. And let's not even mention ' The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole' my favourite childhood book. I dare say there's a skill in it, and when done right, it stands shoulder to shoulder with the best of 3 rd person POV
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2013
  18. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Monday night stayed in
    Tuesday night stayed in
    Wednesday night stayed in
    Thursday night...well you get the drift...
     
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  19. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    And? Remember, I said, "Can you write in diary format filled with emotional content, and sell? Sure, but the techniques you use need to be those of writing a story in an expositional style. And we're no more trained in them than we are in the other styles unique to the profession of fiction for the printed word."

    Try to write it as a diary entry without a thorough understanding of the techniques of fiction told all in exposition and the result will have all the excitement of a plot outline, expanded. The 99.9+% rejection rate isn't because the plots of the submitted stories aren't good. It's because the one recieving the query wasn't motivated to turn to page two. And making the reader want to do that is a matter of skill and knowledge of the compositional skills of writing fiction for the printed word, something not touched on or mentioned during the years we spend learning to read and write.
     
  20. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    On the non-fiction side, there was a spate of sports diaries in the 1960s and '70s, including Jim Brosnan's The Long Season (1960) and Pennant Race (1963), Jerry Kramer's Instant Replay (1967), Jim Bouton's Ball Four, Bill Freehan's Behind The Mask, and Dave DeBusschere's The Open Man (1970) and Brad Park's Play The Man (1972). Bouton's book is probably the best known of all these, but each gave a behind-the-scenes look at a sport and the people who play it.

    There are limits to the format. There are benefits to the format. If the format serves your needs, then go for it.

    As far as a letter-form novel goes, my personal favorite is Taylor Caldwell's Dialogues With The Devil. It began with a letter from Satan to God. Caldwell indirectly claimed it was divinely inspired.
     
  21. jannert
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    In my opinion, storytelling doesn't get better than this. I mean, a diary—series of letters—written by somebody who is borderline illiterate? If this had been posited on this forum as a potential novel project, I can just about envision the response.

    Just goes to show, you can do anything as long as you do it well. Forget taboos. If it's what you want, do it.
     
  22. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Diary by someone borderline illiterate? This reminds me of Daniel Keyes' great story "Flowers for Algernon." There's another piece where the diary form works beautifully.
     
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  23. Roxie
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    Roxie Active Member

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    The suggestions you have already received are pretty impressive from The Color Purple to 1984 to Dracula and Frankenstein you have diary / letter writing in various forms. Another great one that comes to mind is Go Ask Alice. Best of luck in your own project!
     

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