Diaries and letters are personal, and reveal—sometimes unintentionally—a great deal about the characters and circumstances of their writers.
When you are asked to write either a letter as if by a fictional or historical character, you can use your imagination to display your knowledge and understanding of the subject, and incorporate social, historical, and cultural references to bring characters to life.
To do this successfully you need a clear understanding of:
- The source material
- The view physical circumstances of his or her life
- The physical circumstances of his or her life
- The relationships in which he or she is involved
You will also have to make decisions about:
- The most important themes in the text
- Your subject’s most important character qualities
- Selecting key episodes and events
- Whether to use the timescale of the original, or to re-order it for clarity
- What needs explanation for the modern reader
II. Diary Entries and Letters:
Diaries and letters are written for different purposes, and your choice of genre will affect the way you approach your task.
In either format, you should aim to:
- Write a convincing example of the chosen genre
- Show your grasp of background information
- Bring the character to life by giving a picture of their world and of the way they see it
In writing a dairy entry or a series of such entries, in addition to selecting content, and making the language used feel right both for the character and for the historical period, you must also try to show your awareness of the key features of the styles and purposes of diaries. This will make what you write more convincing.
- Are private and not intended for others to read. The writer is writing to and for himself or herself.
- Are quiet and reflective in tone, allowing you to show your character standing back from events and opinions, trying to make sense of them, analyzing their situation in relation to them
- Can take the form of a commentary on events or characters, revealing the subject’s reactions and opinions
- May contain descriptions, especially of people and places
- Are based on a timeline, so can be helpful if you are tracking a sequence of events
- May contain ordinary, everyday information—details of food, travel, and prices
- May contain a page of personal, medical, or financial information—a shortcut to characterization
- May contain reminders of important personal and
Diaries use distinctive language and style. They:
- Are written with economy, not necessarily always in full sentences. Space is limited
- May use abbreviations, and initials only for key characters
- May use non-standard punctuation
- May consist of short phrases and sentences
- May show features of the language of the period
- May be written in a “Voice” distinctive to the subject
One possible drawback to the use of the diary format is that it presupposes that the subject can read and write, and has time to keep a diary. Your readers may have to suspend their disbelief and accept the pretenses.
If you choose to write in the form of a letter or collection of letters, you have other decisions to make.
- Whether to show one or both sides of the correspondence
- What the appropriate tone is for the letters. This will be governed largely by the relationship between writer and recipient—will you begin your letters with “Dear”, or “Darling”, or “Dear Sir”?
- Will your letters follow present-day forms, or will you attempt to recreate historically accurate conventions?
Take advantage of these features of letters. They:
- Are not intended for wide publication, so can be revealing, especially if the recipient is trusted
- Often play a key part in establishing and maintaining relationships
- May comment, react, advise, censure, request, or order
- Are intended for another to read—and individual, or a whole family
- Maybe suppress as much as they reveal, depending on the recipient
- It May include all kinds of “Newsy” detail
- It is similar feature informational language, often quite close to speech
- May outline situations or ask for advice—useful if your subject has a problem
Think carefully about the imagined recipient of the letters-choose someone who can throw light on the subject’s situation.
Whether you choose the letter or the diary format, remember that each offers you a way into your subject’s private thoughts.