Hey all you beautiful people from around the interwebs, today I have a guest post from fellow Absolute Write member Diane Carlisle. I've been lucky to converse with Diane over the last couple of days and come up with a topic for today's posting - epistolary writing!
Diane Carlisle is a software developer and the author of Are We There Yet?, a blog which focuses primarily on making progress, whether in her own life, her writing career or in the fast growing industry we know as technology.
She's here today to share her opinion on the topic of epistolary form. We ask her, does it work? And if so, where and when?
When asked to post as a guest on the topic of epistolary writing, first, I looked it up because I wanted to be sure that I understood the topic. Come to find out, I understand the topic very well; I just wasn’t familiar with the term. Shows how long I’ve been out of academia.
As an avid reader of everything from genre to literary and creative non-fiction titles, I bring my enthusiasm to this post. But, as a gaming veteran with over 20 years of experience, I also bring a bit of a twist to it as well.
Epistolary story-telling takes the reader on a journey into the world of the journalist via back-story. The journalist might present letters, diary entries, and a number of other evidentiary documents that will help unfold the story or produce what we might alternatively recognize as plot points in fiction.
There are two examples I’d like to share, one where this form works and another where it doesn’t. In all attempts to write with this technique in mind, whether you should or shouldn’t is up to you, but in all cases, be sure that you realize these stories have already occurred. The epistolary form is the technique used to resurface the story. That’s what gives it that nostalgic feel, if that’s what you’re going for; it gives us those slices of life with missing chunks.
In role-playing games, this works because books (documents) discovered during game-play give the player some back-story and introduce them to the wonderful world of [insert name of the fantastical game within which you find yourself]. Also, the discovery of scrolls, letters, and ancient prose help guide the player along their journey and at the same time enrich the game-play with a mystical ambiance, thereby increasing the effectiveness of immersion. This works and is very useful when implemented in small doses to further a story or to flesh out your world.
If you ever have a chance to play Myst, a game developed by Cyan, Inc. in 1993, you will see a similar technique which I enjoyed very much. Peppered throughout this game are blatant inserts of the epistolary form, whether video logs or written notes. Each phase of the unfolding story is met with inter-linking journal pages which leave clues as to what happened along the way. It is truly a magical experience.
What happens when this technique is used in complete novels? Personally, I don’t like it. It’s too passive and boring for my taste. But it can be done beautifully when done well. Bram Stoker’s Dracula, written in the epistolary form, is one if you enjoy horror fiction and the melodramatic feel of the spoken word in your head. To me, it sounds “somber” because I can’t think of any other word to use to describe how I feel when I start reading any words that remind me of, “Dear Diary.” See what I mean?
I also don’t expect to read dialogue if a work is truly to be a creation entirely in the epistolary form. Why would anyone write a dialogue scene in a letter? To me it doesn’t make sense and so the story is entirely misdirected.
So what about your reading or gaming experiences? Do you have any likes or dislikes toward this form of story-telling?I love Diane's take on this topic. Why? Not only did she show us what epistolary writing is and define it's parameters, she also gave us an example of where it worked and where it didn't, and brought in a new aspect - gaming- to show us a better example.
Thanks Diane for your fantastic input, I feel lucky to have you as a guest on my blog! Be sure to check out Diane's blog 'Are We There Yet?'.