As a reader, one of my favorite structures is epistolary writing – the friendly chat of a series of letters (or emails or texts) brings a certain coziness to a story, while preserving a definite curation of information. The writer is writing to a good friend (usually), but at the same time, WRITING (not talking – talking would be more spontaneous), and choosing details and trying to entertain.
Done well, it can be a great romp with a lot of meta. There are built-in layers, and the reader is invited to take part in discovering the bits that are left out because of the conceit that this is just between friends who share a history. (In practice, the good author or authors make sure the reader has the information to figure out just what is going on – the secrets require some work, but the burden upon the reader isn’t too onerous. Just enough pleasant exercise to make the sweetness of the unfolding story taste great.)
In addition, there’s a sense of spying. Yes, yes, we all know what happens to eavesdroppers – they hear no good. But, this is safe prying – we’re allowed the fantasy of being privy to the characters honest and innermost thoughts that were meant to be shared only between intimates. It’s a delicious feeling, really, and no guilt.
Wikipedia says that Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen may originally have been written in epistolary style in the first drafts; the book we know contains a great many letters that define character and make our protagonist take plot-driving actions. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistolary_novel
One of my favorite modern epistolary novels is Sorcery and Cecelia or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot: Being the Correspondence of Two Young Ladies of Quality Regarding Various Magical Scandals in London and the Country by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. The story started out as a “Letter Game” between the two authors, with Stevermer taking the part of Kate, and Wrede acting as Cecelia – then they wrote letters to each other in character and created the first draft of the story. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/SorceryAndCecelia
For some reason, a lot of erotic fiction is also written as letters. The infamous Fanny Hill, by John Cleland, is worth a read. It’s got that chatty feel of an epistolary novel, it’s got historical value, and the love scenes can be tender and silly and greedy and vain.
And of course, novels keep up with technology. Stories written in faxes, emails, texts and even emoji are popping up here and there.
Have you got any favorite novels that employ a good letter? A private missive between two characters made public before the panting public’s eyes? It really is a fun structure to play with, and I’ve always wanted to try an epistolary story.