Reflections on a Piece in E-mails

I came across a piece I did last year that is written in the form of emails between a brother and sister. It was my response to an assignment for Recent Innovative Fiction, a writing class I took during my last semester at Bennington College. It was fun to write, and very very experimental in nature. The plot is built on a rather strange premise and developed only as much as I needed to write a few pages. I don’t intend to ever finish it, and it’s not exactly fit to post online, but I want to talk about it briefly, as it is out of the ordinary and, despite its roughness, I am proud of it.

Many interesting considerations go into writing a piece like this. A skeleton of a plot is necessary to begin writing, but the main consideration was form. We concentrated a lot on form in RIF. It’s not enough to simply write a story in an interesting form – if you don’t take advantage of the form you decide to use, you’re missing an opportunity. So I asked myself: what can I do to play with email form? Of course I decided to create a parody of those ridiculous chain letters people send each other. In terms of language, I mostly stuck to the type of language people typically use in email. It makes the more poetic sentences really stand out. And what else? I could have given the characters interesting emails, but I never got around to assigning them email addresses.

The one thing I came up with that would have made this piece very interesting, if it were finished and published, was to get creative with the time stamps. You have to read them carefully in order to spot it. One character’s emails always originate from the same time on the same day, while the other’s are sent at random times, often weeks later than their last. The conversation progresses as if they were talking in real time, but the information they share about their lives indicates that he is stuck in time, while she’s speeding forward. They also relate strange occurrences in their lives, which is meant to be connected to the weird time paradox they seem to be stuck in. I suppose that makes it a sci-fi/fantasy type story. As I wrote I imagined that most people would interpret the weirdness as indications of end-times.

I think that this story could turn out well, but if I do return to it to write more, create a complete piece, it won’t be for a long time. I’d love to hear that people are intrigued by the idea.

5 thoughts on “Reflections on a Piece in E-mails

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and offering a challenge to all who might take a stab at such a feat. Actually, we all do it in real life. We say what we say and hope it will be understood in the spirit we intended. Blessings to you, Deva.

  2. This is an interesting idea. Emails lack some communication advantages: The language is dialog only. The conversationalists are unseen by one another, depriving either the benefit of deciphering the expression on the other’s face or hearing voice inflection; hence, the possible misunderstandings of attitudes. A telephone conversation allows the conversationalists to hear the other’s tone of voice. As a medium to tell a story, having only dialog to work with, I would think one would have to write very carefully and skillfully to make the story communicate what the author intends. Did you have to struggle with this or am I totally wrong? I have never tried it.

    • Well, as I said, I was mostly playing with the form and was not working with much of a plot. If it had been a bigger or more serious project I would say you’re absolutely right.

      The argument for the difficulty of only having dialogue reminds me of dramatic literature. Often times there are only minimal stage directions, leaving most of the playwright’s intentions to be seen through the dialogue. And then, of course, when a play is performed the director’s input changes what the audience gets out of it.

      If you want to test out writing in email form, I’d say go for it! Particularly if you’re only intending to experiment with the form, it is fun.

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