BTT: Story Format

Booking through Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Rebecca of Just One More Page.  Here is today’s question:

How do you feel about books written in a differing format – whether this be journals or letters (epistolary), verse novels, or any other form? Is this something you enjoy? Or do you prefer straight forward chapter prose.

While most of the novels I read follow the traditional format, I am not at all opposed to reading outside the norm, so to speak.  I have never tried a verse novel, and I must confess that I would have to really beef-up my poetry appreciation skills to tempt that particular form, but there are several other styles that I do enjoy on an occasional basis.
  • Serial novels:  I have just started teaching A Tale of Two Cities for the 5th year in a row and one of the first elements that I point out to the students is the placement of installments.  I explain the serial format and then show them an actual copy of the Household Words publication (somehow my husband found one for sale on ebay and it is one of my most prized possessions).  It is a goal of mine to read at least one Dickens’ novels in this manner — that is, only read one installment per week (or month) and force myself to wait for the next one.  Fortunately there is a terrific website to allow me to do just that:  Mousehold Words.  They have several authors available to choose from, including Dickens and Wilkie Collins, and you can even choose the frequency of the delivery to your email account.
  • Alternative Points of View:  If this is done well, it is my most favorite writing style.  I have tried to teach my children that there is always two sides to every story.  I am fascinated by perspective and how the same facts can be viewed so differently.  This style of writing not only allows me to “get inside” the heads of various characters – it also forces me to piece together the facts for myself and draw my own conclusion, based upon the somewhat unreliable narration of the characters involved.
  • Epistolary stories:  I don’t think I would enjoy a steady diet of this style of writing, but it is quite enjoyable every once in a while.  The epistolary novel is told in letter format, and often the reader is made to feel like one of the characters in the story as it is often told in the 2nd person Point of View (you) — drawing the reader in.  My most favorite story written in this form is Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn.  Do you have a favorite epistolary story that I should add to my list?
  • Diaries:  To me, diaries offer the most intimate reading experience.  Characters are willing to share their deepest desires and secrets in a diary that they would not have the opportunity to share in any other format.  Sometimes, however, these secrets are almost too personal for me to fully comprehend, and as a result I can sometimes feel rather uncomfortable as the reader; like I am infringing on the character’s privacy.
I am sure there are other story formats that I have not even considered in this post.  Which styles do you prefer?  Please let me know so that I can expand my literary horizons and appreciation.


  • Amateur Reader

    If reading one Dickens novel on the original serial schedule is a good idea, then readng them all at once at serial pace should be an even better idea.

    Can you believe it, it has been over six months since I came up with this idea, and no one is doing it yet.

  • Caroline Starr Rose

    I've always loved this sort of thing. DADDY LONG LEGS (a collection of letters) was a childhood favorite as well as another book by the same author (Jean Webber??), DEAR ENEMY.

    REGARDING THE FOUNTAIN and TRIAL BY JOURNAL are great mid-grade reads with letters, journal entries, postcards, ads, you name it.

  • Sandy Nawrot

    I love the epistolary format. Something about reading letters (especially when they are old and they are discovered!) really draws me into the mind of the reader and the writer. I also really like books written in alternate points of view. Have you ever read Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliot Perlman? Perfect example of seeing things from seven different viewpoints.

  • Staci

    I love Epistolary stories very much. Next would be Diary format…I do like the intimacy of it. I just discovered serials with Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland serial..love it!

  • Anonymous

    I love epistolary books. Probably the Guernsey book was my favorite, but there is one I read every Christmas called The Christmas Letters by Lee Smith. Short, but sweet. I also liked one of Vicki Delany's mysteries entitled Scare the Light Away that had a diary interspersed in the narrative.

  • caite

    the key is, I think, the skill of the writer. a great writer can tell a great story in many formats. But I tend toward the straight prose. I am not very daring.

  • Jenners

    I don't care about the form as long as the writing or story is good! I just loved The Guernsey Potato Peel book and that was probably my first encounter with the epistalotory form.

  • Belle

    When I was younger I really enjoyed the diary/journal format, but I haven't read any recently that I really liked. I love epistolary stories, though, especially ones that include more modern correspondence methods like email, text (and maybe we'll be seeing one that includes Twitter snippets too!). I would really like to read a novel that is made up of correspondence as well as visual elements of a person's life, so that it's more like diving into a scrapbook, but I haven't come across a novel like that. I've read a few art books that are in this format and they are lovely, but it would be nice to find one that also tells a story! (And if anyone knows of one, I'd really appreciate the recommendation!)

    As for styles, I've never been able to really enjoy the second person format – I always find myself feeling like I'll be asked to "turn to page 95 if I choose A, page 98 if I choose B" 🙂

  • Lenore

    I like non-traditional, even experimental formats. One of my favorites of this type is David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, which is very strange, but still a cohesive narrative. Structure for structure's sake, like Italo Calvino's On A Winter's Night A Traveler, can also be interesting, but not as satisfying for the reader.

  • Creations by Laurel-Rain Snow

    I don't really enjoy formats that are really different…and when I picked up a book in the epistolary style, I thought I would hate it, but I had to read it…it was a review book.

    I was surprised by how quickly I fell into the mood of this style. That book was "The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel and Pie Society." I think I got the title right!

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