How to Write an Epistolary Narrative


An epistolary narrative is a story told entirely through letters. Typically there are two characters sending letters to one another, though your story could also be written from only one perspective, using journal entries, or from multiple perspectives, using either letters or journal entries. For the sake of clarity, today we will be learning how to write a two-person letter exchange.

First, you need to create your two characters. Make up their names, personalities, and back stories. Then think about what their relationship is. Are they brother and sister? Teacher and pupil? Husband and wife? Think about what the conflict between the two characters might be. Is the sister upset that the brother has gone of to war, and is writing letters begging him to return home? Is the teacher impatient with the student’s progress, while the student is sick of the teacher’s arrogance? Or, more dramatically, has the husband realized that his wife is cheating on him and is he writing her to tell her that he has left her?

The ideal structure for a short epistolary narrative is as follows:

1. Write a letter from one character to the other which establishes the personality of that character, the relationship between the characters, and the current locations of both characters. Introduce the conflict.

2. Write a letter from the second character back to the first character, building on the conflict and establishing the personality of the second character.

3. Write a letter from the first character escalating the conflict to very high level, perhaps giving the character some sort of ultimatum. For instance: “If you don’t come home from Africa immediately, I will divorce you.”

4. Write a letter from the second character responding to this escalated conflict. Do they give into the other character’s ultimatum or refuse? Is the conflict resolved or simply ended with both characters angry at one another?

5. Write a final letter from the first character, either acknowledging that the conflict has been solved and winding up the story with a happy ending, or an emotional letter declaring that the conflict has not been resolved and stating their feelings towards the other character.

Once you have completed writing these letters, you will have learned about story structure and been introduced to a new form of writing! We look forward to your stories.

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