Saturday, August 14, 2010

Written Any Good Letters Lately?

I just finished reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. It's a marvelous book that beautifully blends the light and humorous with the dark and sobering. It's written in the form of letters being sent back and forth between the various characters in the novel. In this way, the author gives us various points of view and perspectives as we follow the story of Juliet, a writer from London who falls in love with the island of Guernsey and its inhabitants shortly after World War II.

Reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society made me want to write a novel made up of correspondence between characters. However, although it appears deceptively simple, the letter-writing format (like the diary format) can be difficult to execute well. I remember reading The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis way back in my youth and thinking I'd like to use that format for something. I ended up placing letters from a character periodically throughout a novel I was working on, but never actually finished that book.

Authors can have many different reasons for choosing the format their book takes. With my children's picture books, one key choice I have to make is whether to write the text in rhyme, blank-verse poetry, or prose. My first picture book, One Wolf Howls, basically wrote itself in rhyme. It flowed very naturally from the beginning.

My second picture book -- Big Cat, Little Kitty (Sylvan Dell Publishing, spring 2011) -- started out as blank-verse poetry. Editor Donna German liked it, but said she thought it might work better written in prose. I was willing to give that a try and quickly found out that she was right. The prose version evolved from the blank-verse stanzas I had written, and both Donna and I were very pleased with the result.

I am now working on a third picture book, and it *feels* like it needs to be in prose.

So -- fellow writers -- how and when do you decide what form your book will take? Have you tried writing a fictional diary or series of letters between characters? What other forms have you tried? Stream of consciousness perhaps?

What comes most naturally for you?