Tip Tuesday Round Up: The epistolary question4 min read
A weekly round up of writing and inspiration
“If real letters pique our interest, can they be used to create a compelling novel? Part of the answer is found in the format itself. Letters provide intimate insights, remove author intrusion, advance plot, and develop characters.”
Writer Unboxed takes a look at the history of the epistolary novel and asks whether it still has a place amongst today’s literature.
“Beyond the simple voyeurism of scripted cutscenes or the pontificating of talking heads, epistolary storytelling allows the player to feel involved in the unraveling of the exposition, and to experience it from within the world rather than as an outside observer. An epistolary mechanic brings with it the same immersive appeal of the “found footage” film, working to ensure that interactivity is carried through the entire experience.”
Whilst it may be losing fashion in fiction, the epistolary narrative continues to invite great success in video games. Game designer Ian McCarrant explores the epistolary technique in recent video game titles such as Rapture and Gone Home and attempts to pin down the reason for their success.
“With each variation of the “letter” comes a new set of implicit usage guidelines (e.g., we write very differently in an email to a friend than in, say, a formal resignation letter or a note-to-self reminder), which we the readers, as cultural participants ourselves, understand and completely relate to and which knowledge the author exploits for the sake of intricately and practically revealing character.”
This guide from Read it Forward on the seven variations of the epistolary novel explores the difference between what might be evoked in fiction through a series of personal letters, compared to other uses of the form, such as more formal emails and documents.
“Letters are radical devices because of their intimacy. In an age of cynicism and cynicism’s cousin sarcasm, letters – personal, intentional – are wrought out of a posture of authenticity. Epistles, especially when they take the form of one human being sharing their life with another, require a genuineness that many of our common literary forms (namely, the listicle) don’t demand.”
This article from Partisan Magazine last year talks beautifully about the enduring appeal of letters, despite their fall in popularity within fiction, and recommends where to look to find the best examples.
“A friend of mine, who is a publicist, said you should put it on Instagram. And it immediately really worked. And I think it’s a testament to what words and images together can do and what added dimension that is.”
To finish, a recent success story in the world of epistolary fiction: NPR interviews author Rachel Hulin on her new instagram-derived novel – a glimpse into the future of fiction?
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