The 21st Century Epistolary, and the Importance of Correspondence

My weekly schedule has recently shifted around a bit, and it actually makes posting the Thursday blog a bit easier, as I now spend my Thursday mornings in a lovely coffee shop with a riverside view.  It’s good writing inspiration: both a change of venue in general, as well as being in a public space.  The idea that people are watching me helps keep me on task.  Is that strange?

I had been thinking of late about the Epistolary Novel, and it’s place in modern fiction, especially in terms of genre fiction.  It’s a form I’ve always been intrigued by, because of what it allows the writer to do: establish multiple, concrete points of view, in a format that allows the characters to spell out events exactly how they felt about them.  It lets the writer establish a concrete timeline of not only when events occur, but when characters get a chance to reflect upon them.  The writings are, specifically, those reflections.  And since events are shown deeply in character point-of-views, the story is presented in facets.  It’s up to the reader to figure out that greater whole from the facets.

Now, some might say that “letter writing” is a lost art, and thus you don’t see the Epistolary Novel in the modern age.  But I would argue that between email. blog posts, Facebook updates and our other forms of modern communication, the opportunity for crafting a modern Epistolary is ripe.  (Hell, the Community episode “Blankets and Pillows” did a great job, while satirizing the Ken Burns Civil War documentary, of showing just that.)

Many years ago, in the wild west days of the Internet, I had the idea of doing an “Electronic Epistolary”– essentially a story-via-website, where the reader could choose their own path on how to read something: journal entries by character, chronologically, or in whatever manner suited them.  However, at the time, I was not a writer of discipline, and it never came together.  I currently have some ideas for restarting that, at least as a worldbuilding exercise.

All of this made me think of how important of written correspondence, even in email form, is for the modern writer.  We tend to be a solitary lot, but at the same time, we need that stimulation of dialogue with each other.  Heck, check out this letter that Robert Heinlein wrote to Theodore Sturgeon when he needed help brainstorming a story.  And I know from personal experience that my long-standing email correspondence with my old friend Daniel Fawcett has been vital to my writing.

So, here’s my proposal: write to me. And I don’t mean, “Hey, how goes?”  Write to me about what you’re writing, your concerns, ask me questions about my writing.  Start a real conversation, and I’ll do my best to respond in kind. 

All right, back to the word mines.