Writer’s Toolbox

Ask The Writer

Your most pressing and perplexing questions about writing answered here by Gotham teacher Brandi Reissenweber.


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I’ve seen novels written as diaries. Are there other ways to do this? Fiction written as emails? A story that’s a long rant to a store clerk?

This experimentation with form has a strong foundation. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a series of journal and diary entries, telegrams, letters, ship’s logs and newspaper cuttings.

Daniel Orozco’s short story “Orientation” unfolds—in its entirety—as a tour of the office on an employee’s first day. It starts out innocuous enough: “Those are the offices and these are the cubicles. That’s my cubicle there, and this is your cubicle.” But it quickly grows strange: “So unless you want to know exactly when and how you’ll die, never talk to Anika Bloom.”

Jennifer Egan’s “Great Rock and Roll Pauses” is a series of Power Point slides. David Mitchell wrote his short story “The Right Sort” as a series of more than two hundred and eighty tweets over the course of a week. Gary Shteyngart’s novel Super Sad True Love Story includes diary entries, emails, and text messages.

Tim O’Brien’s novel In the Lake of the Woods includes several “Evidence” chapters that have quotations and excerpts from interviews, biographies, magician’s handbooks, and court documents—all of which illuminate the main character’s state of mind and conflict in the fictive present.

Don’t confine yourself to a traditional narrative form. If you’re feeling the urge to roam outside of it, take the excursion. Just be sure to prepare for it. Take a look at those who have gone before you to see what you think works—and doesn’t—in creating a satisfying reading experience.