Do you believe in the Law of Attraction? I do! I gave up teaching last year to focus on my writing. Focus is the key to succes I am told. A year later I discovered a book I wrote with little expectation of big sales has attract the anthropology departments of universities around the world, including China. How much more can a writer ask for? Writing for money is a lost cause, even the greatest of writers have to rely on movie or television series contracts to make a killing. Writing for one’s self is a good place to start, but writing to share with no financial motivation has its own rewards.
I find the most difficult form of writing is disclosing oneself to others. I am by nature an introvert. I also find writing about one’s self rather narcissistic. I have learned that focussing on the self simply makes a person neurotic. It is better to be writing about others. Writing for others is much more rewarding.
I have a problem. I am currently writing an historical novel, it is kind of an esoteric family history ( a family I have never known) but I don’t want it to be a poor version of the Dan Brown mystery model. Nor do I want it to be somebody’s confessional (although confessional literatures do better than anything else in the mainstream markets).
The work started out as a straight forward depiction of individuals, but clearly none would wish to be identified, so I turned it into a novel. Now I am thinking does my work lose much of its purpose as a novel? I don’t think so. If one looks a literary history in the works of Lawrence, Dickens, Austen, Hemmingway and many more we see more than just stories, what we see is an epoch in history we can learn from. That said, a novel requires an excellent command of dialogue and being an introvert, I tend to make dialogue analytical and complex, it is just what introverts do; we are complex people. There is another option, the epistolary novel. I turned to Wiki for guidence.
“There are two theories on the genesis of the epistolary novel. The first claims that the genre originated from novels with inserted letters, in which the portion containing the third person narrative in between the letters was gradually reduced. The other theory claims that the epistolary novel arose from miscellanies of letters and poetry: some of the letters were tied together into a (mostly amorous) plot. Both claims have some validity. The first truly epistolary novel, the Spanish “Prison of Love” (Cárcel de amor) (c.1485) by Diego de San Pedro, belongs to a tradition of novels in which a large number of inserted letters already dominated the narrative. Other well-known examples of early epistolary novels are closely related to the tradition of letter-books and miscellanies of letters. Within the successive editions of Edmé Boursault’s Letters of Respect, Gratitude and Love (Lettres de respect, d’obligation et d’amour) (1669), a group of letters written to a girl named Babet were expanded and became more and more distinct from the other letters, until it formed a small epistolary novel entitled Letters to Babet (Lettres à Babet). The immensely famous Letters of a Portuguese Nun (Lettres portugaises) (1669) generally attributed to Gabriel-Joseph de La Vergne, comte de Guilleragues, though a small minority still regard Marianna Alcoforado as the author, is claimed to be intended to be part of a miscellany of Guilleragues prose and poetry. The founder of the epistolary novel in English is said by many to be James Howell (1594–1666) with “Familiar Letters” (1645–50), who writes of prison, foreign adventure, and the love of women”.
Below is a list of epistolary novels. I was very touched by Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, which leaves me thinking that the epistolary novel is the methodology I will employ. Like The Color Purple, my work tells a sad story with a happy ending.
List of epistolary novels.
- John Cleland’s early erotic novel Fanny Hill (1748) is written as a series of letters from the titular character to an unnamed recipient.
- The Coquette; or, The History of Eliza Wharton (1797) by Hannah Webster Foster is a series of letters between several characters.
- Sophia Briscoe used the form in both her novels: Miss Melmoth… (1771) and The Fine Lady… (1772).
- Marianne Ehrmann wrote the epistolary novel Amalie and Minna around 1787.
- Fyodor Dostoevsky used the epistolary format for his first novel, Poor Folk (1846), as a series of letters between two friends, struggling to cope with their impoverished circumstances and life in pre-revolution Russia.
- The Moonstone (1868) by Wilkie Collins uses a collection of various documents to construct a detective novel in English. In the second piece, a character explains that he is writing his portion because another had observed to him that the events surrounding the disappearance of the eponymous diamond might reflect poorly on the family, if misunderstood, and therefore he was collecting the true story. This is an unusual element, as most epistolary novels present the documents without questions about how they were gathered. He also used the form previously in The Woman in White (1859).
- Spanish foreign minister Juan Valera’s Pepita Jimenez (1874) is writing in three sections, with the first and third being a series of letters, while the middle part is a narration by an unknown observer.
- Bram Stoker‘s Dracula (1897) uses not only letters and diaries, but also dictation cylinders and newspaper accounts.
- Jean Webster‘s Daddy-Long-Legs (1912).
- Dorothy L. Sayers and Robert Eustace‘s The Documents in the Case (1930).
- Haki Stërmilli‘s novel If I Were a Boy (1936) is written in the form of diary entries which documents the life of the main protagonist.
- Kathrine Taylor‘s Address Unknown (1938) was an anti-Nazi novel in which the final letter is returned as “Address Unknown”, indicating the disappearance of the German character.
- Virginia Woolf used the epistolary form for her feminist essay Three Guineas (1938).
- C. S. Lewis used the epistolary form for The Screwtape Letters (1942), and considered writing a companion novel from an angel‘s point of view—though he never did so. It is less generally realized that his Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (1964) was a similar exercise, exploring theological questions through correspondence addressed to a fictional recipient, “Malcolm”, though this work may be considered a “novel” only loosely in that developments in Malcolm’s personal life gradually come to light and impact the discussion.
- Thornton Wilder‘s fifth novel Ides of March (1948) consists of letters and documents illuminating the last days of the Roman Republic.
- Theodore Sturgeon‘s short novel, Some of Your Blood (1961), consists of letters and case-notes relating to the psychiatric treatment of a non-supernatural vampire.
- Saul Bellow‘s novel Herzog (1964) is largely written in letter format. These are both real and imagined letters, written by the protagonist Moses E. Herzog to family members, friends, and celebrities.
- Up the Down Staircase is a novel written by Bel Kaufman, published in 1965, which spent 64 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list. In 1967 it was released as a movie starring Patrick Bedford, Sandy Dennis and Eileen Heckart.
- Shūsaku Endō‘s novel Silence (1966) is an example of the form of the epistolary novel, with half of the novel composed of letters from Rodrigues and the other half composed either in the third person or in letters from other persons.
- The Anderson Tapes (1969, 1970) by Lawrence Sanders is a novel told primarily in the form of transcripts of tape recordings.
- 84, Charing Cross Road (1970), though not a novel, is a true account by Helene Hanff written in epistolary form as an exchange of letters between the writer in New York City and a bookseller in London over the course of two decades.
- Stephen King‘s novel Carrie (1974) is written in an epistolary structure, through newspaper clippings, magazine articles, letters, and excerpts from books
- In John Barth‘s epistolary work, Letters (1979), the author interacts with characters from his other novels.
- Alice Walker employed the epistolary form in The Color Purple (1982). The 1985 film adaptation echoed the form by incorporating into the script some of the novel’s letters, which the actors spoke as monologues.
- The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ (1982) by Sue Townsend – comedy diary set in 1980s Britain.
- The Good War: An Oral History of World War II (1984) by Studs Terkel is a compilation of interviews with people who lived the events that went from the beginning of America’s involvement in World War II, Pearl Harbor, to the end.
- Michael Dibdin‘s A Rich Full Death (1986) is an epistolary crime novel set in 19th century Florence.
- John Updike‘s S. (1988) is an epistolary novel consisting of the heroine’s letters and transcribed audio recordings.
- Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer‘s Sorcery and Cecelia (1988) is an epistolary fantasy novel in a Regency setting, from the first-person perspectives of cousins Kate and Cecelia, who recount their adventures in magic and polite society. This work is unusual in modern fiction in being an epistolary novel written using the style of the letter game.
- Avi used this style of constructing a story in Nothing But the Truth (1991), where the plot is told using only documents, letters, and scripts.
- Bridget Jones’s Diary (1996) by Helen Fielding was written in the form of a personal diary
- Last Days of Summer (1998) by Steve Kluger was written in a series of letters, telegrams, therapy transcripts, newspaper clippings, and baseball box scores.
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower (1999) was written by Stephen Chbosky in the form of letters from an anonymous character to a secret role model of sorts.
- Richard B. Wright‘s Clara Callan (2001) uses letters and journal entries to weave the story of a middle-aged woman in the 1930s.
- The Boy Next Door (2002) by Meg Cabot is a romantic comedy novel dealt with entirely by emails sent among the characters.
- The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot is a series of ten novels written in the form of diary entries.
- Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography (2002) by Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler uses letters, documents, and other scripts to construct the plotline.
- Several of Gene Wolfe‘s novels are written in the forms of diaries, letters, or memoirs
- La silla del águila (The Eagle’s Throne) by Carlos Fuentes (2003) is a political satire written as a series of letters between persons in high levels of the Mexican government in 2020. The epistolary format is treated by the author as a consequence of necessity: The United States impedes all telecommunications in Mexico as a retaliatory measure, leaving letters and smoke signals as the only possible methods of communication, particularly ironic given one character’s observation that “Mexican politicians put nothing in writing.”
- We Need to Talk About Kevin (2003) is a monologic epistolary novel, written as a series of letters from Eva, Kevin’s mother, to her husband Franklin
- The 2004 novel Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell tells a story in several time periods in a nested format, with some sections told in epistolary style, including an interview, journal entries and a series of letters
- In the Ross O’Carroll-Kelly novels, out-of-context text messages, usually humorous, mark transitions between sections
- Griffin and Sabine by artist Nick Bantock is a love story written as a series of hand painted postcards and letters
- Where Rainbows End (alternately titled “Rosie Dunne” or “Love, Rosie” in the United States) (2004) by Cecelia Ahern is written in the form of letters, emails, instant messages, newspaper articles, etc.
- Uncommon Valour (2005) by John Stevens, the story of two naval officers in 1779, is primarily written in the form of diary and log extracts
- The Great Detective at the Crucible of Life (2005) by Thomas Kent Miller, comprises a variety of letters, parchments, and journal entries that bring to light an adventure by H. Rider Haggard‘s Allan Quatermain
- World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (2006) by Max Brooks is a series of interviews from various survivors of a zombie apocalypse
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2007) by Jeff Kinney is a series of fiction books written in the form a diary, including hand-written notes and cartoon drawings
- The White Tiger (2008) by Aravind Adiga, winner of the 40th Man Booker Prize in the year 2008. The novel is a series of letters, written by an Indian villager to the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2008) by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows is written as a series of letters and telegraphs sent and received by the protagonist
- A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010) by Jennifer Egan has parts which are epistolary in nature
- Super Sad True Love Story (2010) by Gary Shteyngart
- Why We Broke Up (2011) by Daniel Handler and illustrated by Maira Kalman
- The Martian by Andy Weir, written as a collection of video journal entries for each Martian day (sol) by the protagonist on Mars, and sometimes by main characters on Earth and on the space station Hermes.
- The Closeness That Separates Us (2013) by Katie Hall and Bogen Jones is almost exclusively written as an exchange of e-mails between the two forbidden lovers, Lena and Ed.