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Writing in "Diary Form"? Reader Question

By December 9, 2009

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Earlier this fall, a writer going by rockerz5997 posted this question on the forum: "I'm trying to write a story in diary form, but I'm wondering if I should just switch it to first person because I'm worried about it being too difficult. Any tips?"

Lucy responded, "If I were you, I'd try writing it -- or some of it -- both ways and see how it goes. And more importantly, I guess, see how it reads. It might be easier to write in just normal first person, but it might also read better that way." Since no one else has offered advice, I thought I'd highlight the question here. Has anyone else written an epistolary novel, using diary entries? What were the problems with the form? What aspects worked well?

Comments
December 9, 2009 at 9:51 pm
(1) Scott Kreppein says:

Some of the first “novels” where written as collections of letters in the first person. Have fun with it, whatever feels right (or write, as the case may be). Try short stories first, if you haven’t written a novel. Most famous novelists found their voice writing short stories. As far as first person versus third person, neither is particularly difficult but neither is particularly easy. Do whichever you want, it’s your writing. You can definitely do it both ways. Writing something as-if a particular character is writing it will definitely give you a feel for that particular character.

December 10, 2009 at 10:45 am
(2) Steve Morschauser says:

It seems to me that before you can write a story in diary form for a character, you would first need to practice on the person you know best: you! Try keeping a diary for a month, learn what style works for you, what to include, what to leave out, and then transfer that formula to your story. Just an idea.

December 10, 2009 at 10:48 am
(3) Darkenwulf says:

It occurs that I have seen that mode used many times in short stories and we should not forget a very famous novel by Bram Stoker “Dracula.” The fun part of using the diary form is you can say a lot about the up and coming events and lay the groundwork. The reader has no idea you are doing it. What to watch out for is the diary form should never slow down the story and make it seem it meanders – everywhere – and goes – nowhere.

December 10, 2009 at 11:18 am
(4) fictionwriting says:

Thanks for writing. I hadn’t thought of that problem. It would be a challenge to keep the story moving and still have the letters seem like real letters. Your Dracula example reminded me of another problem with the form, though, at least when only letters and journal entries are used. At times in Dracula, it’s hard to believe that the characters took a break from all the action to sit down and write in their journals. Stoker has to keep justifying his characters’ impulses to get everything down.

December 10, 2009 at 10:58 am
(5) Chris Wills, Portsmouth, England says:

It’s worth reading Bridget Jones diary and the Diary of Adrian Mole if you can get them easy enough. I tried a novel in this way but I found it too restricting, I wanted someone elses point of view as well. So I switched to somebody finding a diary and reading it whilst returning to their own life. This works really well if there is distance between the two characters. By that I mean one of difference, country difference, era difference, etc., because then you can have diary character doing something then real characters doing similar thing with different outcome or same outcome but for different reasons, etc. The two characters’ stories can run in parallel with similar themes but maybe different outcomes. If you are getting stuck try it.

December 10, 2009 at 11:09 am
(6) fictionwriting says:

This is a great idea, to have characters in a very different time or place reading the diary. It made me think of A.S. Byatt’s Possession, which worked so well.

December 10, 2009 at 11:32 am
(7) Alyssa E says:

A novel written in diary form is best written from the first person. It has a drawback in that it’s hard to show many perspectives but it is a diary afterall.

You should check out the novel Journal According to John. I don’t remember the author’s name but the novel is written in the form of a journal. Good luck.

December 10, 2009 at 11:46 am
(8) Anne says:

Juliette Fay’s first novel Shelter Me (recent pub date) had large sections within many chapters written as journal entries. Then it would turn into a third-person narrative. Kind of a combo effect.

December 10, 2009 at 1:19 pm
(9) Caitlyn says:

Most novels I’ve read in diary form are told from first person pov. I think it would be interesting to read it from a different pov. I agree with writing both ways and seeing what fits.

December 10, 2009 at 4:50 pm
(10) Terry Sweem says:

You might try the original version of Frankenstein. It was written as a diary of sorts and may give you some ideas on how to proceed.

December 10, 2009 at 10:17 pm
(11) Barbara says:

I remeber really enjoying C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters”. It centered on the apprentice devil’s feelings about trying to obtain a Christian soul. I wrote a final term paper in a college English class that was in journal form. You need to decide if you want to only reveal the narrator. The other characters are shown only from the narrator’s point of view, rather than the omniscent third person view. If your diary or journal writer is a truly interesting and sympathetic character, this form works very well. I found that my term paper took a little more work because of this, but I received rave reviews from my professor.

December 11, 2009 at 8:30 am
(12) Erica says:

I love writing in this manner. I’ve actually just started a new novel that is written as a blog. Journal, diary, blog it’s all the same to me. It’s a lot of fun! If you don’t try it then you’ll never know if it will work for you. After all, writers write. Try writing it in diary form and in different POV and see which one feels right to you.
Good luck,
Erica

December 11, 2009 at 1:16 pm
(13) Sarah Allen says:

Fyodr Dostoevsky’s first novel, Poor People, was an epistolary novel. It was in letter, not diary format, but I think the general ideas is the same. I think this form does have its restrictions, but where I think its helpful is if you can feel as natural writing an epistolary novel as you would writing your own diary. Just the fact that your sitting down to write a “diary” entry takes away some of the pressure, in my mind. So be natural, and let if flow as easily as you do writing in your own diary, and you may churn out something awesome!

(my creative writing blog)

December 28, 2009 at 3:49 am
(14) emily says:

Personally, I would say if you think your story should be written in diary form, go for it. If you start wrting and realize that it doesn’t work you have the basis of the story to change and edit it into first person.

January 11, 2010 at 10:32 pm
(15) teenage_stereo_Tipe says:

Yes novel diarys are lovely things to read- check out the Chloe Miller seires if you will, they’re a great example of a properly written novel diary series!!

I’ve been writing novel diarys for a while now and yes sometimes they can be very hard to write!!! :) But persist and get alot of help from people around you, you’ll get there. ;)

October 15, 2010 at 11:04 am
(16) Carol Baldwin says:

FOund all these comments interesting. I’m writing in first POV and am going to include some diary entries. In doing that I can include dialogue as the character remembers what was said to her?

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