One alternative to the traditional novel structure of scenes and chapters is diary form. In such a story, diary entries are tied together into a tale. This also is known as an epistolary novel; note that diary form, though, also can be used in short stories.
Popular in the 1700s, the form still is used today. “Go Ask Alice” by Anonymous, “Bridget Jones's Diary” by Helen Fielding, and “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes are examples of a diary form novel from modern times.
There are several advantages to using diary form. The main one is creating a strong connection between the story’s narrator and the reader. That’s because the reader gains intimate knowledge about the narrator/diarist. The form also is useful when you want the story to focus on a portrayal of everyday life. This occurs because the story emphasizes the daily goings-on of a character to make its message or entertain with its plot. Further, diary entries can be as short as a single paragraph, sentence or word, which gives you the opportunity to be more creative. Such a short chapter would look out of place in a traditional novel. Finally, diary form is one of the few ways that the narrator actually can be dead. After all, the reader could be looking at a diary that the narrator wrote when alive.
If choosing to use a diary form, follow these few guidelines:
• Tell the story in first-person from the narrator/diarist’s viewpoint – You absolutely cannot break this point of view, as there’s no way the narrator/diarist can get inside other people’s heads like an omniscient narrator could.
• Move the plot forward at all times – The narrator/diarist needs to recount events, not just her thoughts on them, though the latter is how most people actually write their diaries. Instead, the story essentially a series of flashbacks as each entry is the narrator/diarist’s recollections of events that happened to them earlier in the day rather than long paragraphs of exposition about their inner turmoil.
• Skip the days when nothing of significance happens – Just as a traditional novel skips those events in the characters’ lives that don’t move the plot forward, so you would do the same in a diary form. The narrator also should refrain from referring these non-presented entries.
• Avoid creating a self-absorbed character – This easily can happen in a book full of “I’s” and “me’s”. The challenge is to keep such pronouns and expository thoughts about events at a minimum.
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