Hello everyone, and thank you, Maria Grazia, for hosting this stop of the blog tour for my new novella Thaw! As Thaw is an epistolary story, I thought I’d take the opportunity today to say a few words about writing a story through letters.
When I first started writing Thaw some ten years ago, it was meant to be a very short story. I had never written a story told entirely through letters before, and intended it as a quick experiment. But what started out as an experiment of 10 to 12 letters soon grew into something bigger—when I finished the original version of the story in 2011, it was three times longer than I had originally intended. And now, in its expanded, published form, Thaw has grown into a collection of altogether 51 letters, describing the early days of a forced marriage between Elizabeth and Darcy—and the events that led to it.
At the onset, I also thought I would have multiple narrators. But then, it started to feel too difficult to decide who exactly would get the opportunity to weigh in. You know how it goes. First you give Darcy a few pages, then suddenly Lady Catherine demands to have her say—and before you know it, you find yourself channeling your inner Mr. Collins. And so, in the end, I decided to let Elizabeth tell the entire story.
Writing an epistolary story from the point of view of a single character presented both challenges and opportunities. Challenges, because correspondence is a two-way street, and if you only get to read one half of it, there’s a risk that too much is left unsaid to form a full picture of the events. I found this a delicate balance to strike. How to give the reader enough information on the half of the correspondence we do not get to see, without it seeming forced? In my (probably a little biased) opinion, Elizabeth Bennet was the perfect narrator for this type of a story. The astute observer that (she thinks) she is, she could always be trusted to comment on the letters she had received and give her opinions on the events and people described in them.
On the other hand, the limited point of view also presented an opportunity—knowing only one person’s view to events leaves sometimes perfectly delicious room for the guesses and interpretation of the reader. Can we rely on the narrator to give us the truth of events? And which really is more interesting—knowing Darcy’s real motives and feelings or reading about Elizabeth’s assumptions of what they are? The growth of the main characters is an important part of the original novel. In epistolary form, the growth of the character also increases the reliability of the narrator. As Elizabeth learns to know Darcy, the tone of how she writes about him slowly shifts from prejudiced to a clearer understanding of his character.
Writing a story through letters also presents other kinds of limitations to what you can say. There’s only so much you can reasonably expect a Regency-era woman of Elizabeth Bennet’s age and social status to write in a letter to her sister or her aunt. Sometimes, these limitations are useful in that they help maintain a sort of restraint to the storytelling—at other times, you find yourself hoping that you might push the boundaries a bit more. Surely, Jane Bennet wouldn’t mind so very much if she received a letter with a bit of hot monkey sex thrown in the mix? But then, you hear Earth calling and realize it would break the illusion in a matter of seconds. Fortunately, there’s so much more to romance than said monkey business, and even within the conventions of Regency-era letter-writing, there’s plenty to be said (and read between the lines) about how it feels to find love where you least expected it.
Perhaps my favourite part about epistolary writing is that it’s a very specific form of first-person writing—by nature both intimate and public. The narrator is not just describing the events to the reader but also to the other characters in the story. As such, I think it opens up a unique angle to exploring the voice and the views of the main character—and the way they wish to present themselves to others. And of course, there’s always something of a guilty pleasure in getting to peek at other people’s correspondence over their shoulder!
So, that’s my two cents on writing epistolary fiction. What are your experiences when it comes to reading or writing stories through letters? What were the best parts of it—or the biggest drawbacks?
Let me know in the comments—I’d love to hear your thoughts! And if you want, you can look me up on Facebook (@AnniinaSjoblomAuthor).
About the book: THAW
It is a truth universally acknowledged that one false step can involve a lady in endless ruin. On a rainy November day in 1811, Miss Elizabeth Bennet finds herself wondering why no one ever bothered to tell her about this.
A few blithe steps on a morning walk, taken after a succession of rain, lead to unexpected events that irrevocably change the course of Elizabeth’s life, placing her fate in the hands of the haughty and conceited Mr. Darcy – the last man in the world she had ever thought to marry.
As long winter days slowly pass, she writes letters to her loved ones, trying to come to terms with her new role as a wife and the Mistress of Pemberley. But can she ever learn to love her husband? Will he overcome his arrogant notions of rank and circumstance?
And most importantly – will the shades of Pemberley ever recover from being thus polluted?
About the Author
Anniina Sjöblom lives in the beautiful but cold Finland and works in university administration. She has an MA in History and enjoys a long-standing love affair with the works of Jane Austen.
Her previous works include titles such as Thirteen Days, Fix You and When He Comes Back, published in various online Austenesque forums under the pen name boogima. The new novella Thaw, expanded from the original version of the story first published online in 2011, is her first commercially published work.
When not writing, Anniina spends her time hanging out with friends, binge-watching TV dramas and re-reading her favourite books while the stack of new ones still waiting to be read piles higher on her nightstand. She can ride a unicycle, and once, after losing an unfortunate bet, ate a bowl of ice cream with green dish soap as dressing. She does not recommend attempting it to anyone.
Quills & Quartos Publishing is giving away one ebook of THAW per blog tour stop. All you need to do to enter the giveaway is comment on this blog post, and Quills & Quartos will randomly choose winners for the entire blog tour on January 22. So, make sure you join in the conversation!