1. inkyliddlefingers
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    inkyliddlefingers Member

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    The epistolary format as a plot device

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by inkyliddlefingers, May 13, 2013.

    Does anyone use it? Is it considered old hat? Would you read a book written in epistolary style?

    I am thinking of using it for my next children's novel, purely becasue I am aiming it at reluctant readers and I think dividing it into short letters would be helpful for kids who don't like/aren't used to reading larger chunks like whole chapters.

    What do you all think?
     
  2. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it's fine. The Gurnesey Potato Peel Pie Society (or something like that -- I've probably mangled the name) is a relatively recent book that has sold very well that's in epistolary format. I know that for younger kids, some of the Detective LaRue books are written in that format as well. I'm not familiar with the YA or MG markets, so I don't know whether there are any successful epistolary books for that age.

    I'm not sure, however, that the reason for doing it that way should be to get kids who don't like "whole chapters." You could write a book with short chapters. But if the format works well for the story you want to tell, then go for it.
     
  3. LordKyleOfEarth
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    LordKyleOfEarth Contributing Member Contributor

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  4. Xatron
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    The title is a short story in itself.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I don't care much for the epistolary format in general. By its nature, the reader tends to be buffered from the emotional context of events, because the narrator is reflecting on events at a time he or she can sit down and write.

    Note that it isn't necessarily emotionally sterile. But it's harder to connect the reader emotionally to the events in epistolary narration.
     
  6. sierraromeobravo
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    sierraromeobravo Member

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    Not a huge fan of it but it has it's applications. I've read a couple of books that use it and it can add distance from the reader. What I do like about it is I feel it makes the reader have to fill in the gaps a little more. I kind of like that.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...i don't...

    ...i've no idea if it is or not... or by whom, if it is...

    ...i find most books using that method tiresome and a boring read... but there are some brilliant exceptions that i've enjoyed over the years...

    ...go ahead and give it a try... you won't know if you can make it work till you do...

    ...that said, i have to agree with this, by liz:

     
  8. inkyliddlefingers
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    inkyliddlefingers Member

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    That is a really interesting point you make, and one I hadn't really thought of.

    Perhaps using a journal as a vehicle may be easier to inject emotion into the story than a letter. Journals can be full of angst and other emotions. My daughter's teenage ones certainly were!
     
  9. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    I don't think I've ever read anything written as in the form of letters and I agree that letters tend to sound a bit more sterile. There are a lot of factors to this, though. The style can make them very interesting. Who the letters are addressing and why the letters are being sent factor in as well. The subject, obviously, is important. I'm sure there are many other things my tired brain can't come up with right now...

    As has already been said, though, a journal instead of a collection of letters is a lot more common (at least to me). There's a very good zombie book out there that started as a blogged journal. Unfortunately, I have no idea what it's called and I've never read it. I know there's a part where the main character's at an abandoned airport and that's about it. lol I am so helpful... There's some great tension that journal entries can present, though. Readers wonder why days of entries are missing or have minimal information. Readers know they're seeing all the events and people through the subjective lens of the writer and are thus constantly kept on their toes about what's being skewed and what's being honest. Of course, the same can be said of letters, but journals are a lot more intimate. They're meant to be the repositories of information no one else is meant to read (well, generally).
     
  10. CheckeredFoxglove
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    CheckeredFoxglove Member

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    The distancing effect of epistolary format should be mitigated by doing letters instead of, say, news articles. The problems I had with World War Z (couldn't get past page 4) and Dracula (same problem) were that they were incredibly dry, but that was because World War Z starts with a science report to the government, and Dracula starts with... something boring, I think it was a news article? Don't remember. But letters don't have that problem. Letters are as deep and emotionally resonant as diaries, but they don't restrict you to a single POV character.

    On the other hand, I'm not sure this is the best way to get reluctant readers into it. They're short, yes, but they require a little more mental effort from the reader to fill in the elisions that make epistolary writing different from diaries. At least, all the best letters-back-and-forth stories I've seen used that format to force you to infer certain relationship qualities, instead of telling them outright. It's a great format, but it can be harder to read if you're not already good at inference.
     
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  11. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    I think I made a dreadful assumption when the term "letters" was getting thrown around. The only letters (other than personal correspondence, which I didn't factor in for some crazy reason) I've read were from Thomas Jefferson, which I read in one of my literature classes. They were formal, fairly sterile, and a headache to read. My bad, really.

    Great point. I hadn't even considered that element of letters. And while I considered that something of a strength for journal entries, I hadn't considered it could be a detriment. I guess I lost sight of the OP's purpose of considering this in the first place. Again, my bad. :D Thanks for the grounding, CheckeredFoxglove.
     
  12. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    For those of you that are vocabulary challenged like myself, I'll save you the Google step (which I'm betting I'm not the only one who looked it up ;)) :

    An epistolary novel
    Beyond that, I have no opinion one way or the other.
     
  13. adampjr
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    adampjr Member

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    I've been experimenting with having excerpts of a letter spread out throughout the whole story, most of which is written in normal 3rd person limited POV. I'll get a trustworthy friend to look at it soon. I'm personally a big fan of epistolaries.
     
  14. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    Well then. Curses upon Google for telling me it was just letters. (insert shaking fist) I probably just didn't look hard enough...
     

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