Epistolary novels: A few thoughts

For those who don’t know, epistolary novels are novels written like letters or journal/diary entries. I myself have only read a few books like this. Dracula, Anne Franks Diary, The Screwtape Letters, and This is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn to mention a handful. I’ve had mixed feelings on these types of novels because they are so unique in the way they are written. We don’t get a flow of every day to day detail (usually), there are people and places mentioned that may never be fully described, and a lot of it is telling instead of showing. It’s a first person sort of view that is supposed to come off as more intimate and emotional because you only get ‘entries’ which are like snapshots of the characters story.

These types of novels seem like they would be difficult to write, if they use a defined timeline when would they be dated? Would you use a full date, or maybe just a day and month? How much information should go into each letter or journal entry, and how many of them are going to be left open ended like many real life ones are? Will we get to know the character well enough through these snippets to actually care about them and their story? This is especially interesting for stories that use the letter style with responses from the recipient. Now you have two main characters who talk in letter form only. For me it is a love/hate. I really liked The Pillow Book, but I wasn’t into The Wallflower as much. Maybe I just need to read more to see if I really like them, though it is going to take a bit of searching. They don’t exactly have a section labeled that in the library or bookstore. I guess that is what Goodreads is for!

What is your opinion? Have you ever attempted to write an epistolary novel? What is your take on them if you’ve gotten your hands on a few?

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