Ever since I read A. P. Herbert’s Poem, “At the Theater (to the lady behind me)” I’ve been toying with the idea of writing an epistolary novel--a story written just in the form of letters. In Herbert's poem he starts out, “Dear Madam you have seen this play, I never saw it till today…” and he goes on to paint a picture of a very frustrated theater patron being disturbed by a woman who is narrating the play (you know how that feels). You can feel the anger, the frustration and the disdain for the woman and her friend.
This is not a new format for poetry. There are epistolary poems dating back to the 8th century, maybe even earlier. But I read A. P. Herbert’s poem when I was a child and it made such an impact on me that I have written several poems in exactly that format. You’d think writing the poems would quench my desire, but it hasn’t. It is still my dream to write a full length romance just using letters.
A few years ago I read James Patterson’s novel, “Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas” and that ignited the fire even more. This wasn’t written as letters, but a series of journal entries as a young mother explains to her infant son how she met and fell in love with his father. I loved that book … a masterfully crafted romance without one descriptive sexual encounter, yet so full of emotion.
Like I said I toyed with the idea many times, but never quite got around to penning it. Why? Maybe it’s the restriction of the format. The POV is of only the writer and is further restricted by the relationship with the one to whom the letter is written. Events that could impact those two people could only be written about from the perspective of the letter writer’s direct experience. If not crafted properly it could leave lots of holes in the narrative. Or maybe it’s my lack of confidence in my ability to write in a format that deviates from the writer as the omniscient narrator.
To improve and expand my writing skills in that area, I tried to do a little research on epistolary novels. I found a short list of epistolary novels on Wikipedia, but not much on the craft of writing them. If there is any of you who know of a resource that would help a person hone this specific skill, I’d like you to tell me about it.
Until I get the courage to leave the safety net of the omniscient narrator and write my love story as an epistolary novel, I will leave you with my epistolary poem written when I was a teenager.
To the Preacher
I watch you very close,
But you don’t know me, I suppose?
I listen to the words you say to me
And try to be what I ought to be.
You speak the words of truth, I know,
Because I search the bible to see if it’s so.
But there is only one little flaw:
What I heard, is not what I saw.
So often you speak of humility,
But I don’t know the meaning, you see,
For when I look upon your side
All I see is pomp and pride.
Jesus was a lowly man
Ate with sinners and publicans
But because my father is a drunken man
He is not welcomed to shake your hand.
All this and more I see,
Plus the church is filled with hypocrisy.
We need a broom to sweep the floor,
Starting from the pulpit, right to the door.
But all this shouldn’t surprise me when
The church is led by businessmen
Oh my humble spirit longs to see
Your destiny in eternity.
Signed: yours truly
P.S. I hope the broom sweeps out the sin!