Epistolary Short Stories: Fictional Letters and Diary Entries

These short stories are made up of letters, journals, or diary entries, at least in part. There could be a correspondence or it might be one-sided.

The letters might be mailed or unmailed.

Children of the Sea | Edwidge Danticat

A young Haitian man is on a boat headed for Florida. He was part of a group that protested the dictator. His lover has remained in Haiti with her family. They are surrounded by violence and terrible conditions. They write letters (that can’t be mailed) about their experiences.

Read “Children of the Sea”

The Human Chair | Edogawa Rampo

Oshiko is a popular writer. Every day she receives letters from admirers and amateur writers looking for feedback. She takes the time to read them all. She starts reading a  manuscript, but it begins with “Dear Madam”—perhaps it’s a letter instead. A man, a chair-maker, says he has to confess a terrible crime. He’s been in hiding for months, but a change in his thinking impels him to reveal his secret.

Read “The Human Chair”

Africa Kills Her Sun | Ken Saro-Wiwa

Bana writes a letter to Zole, a girlfriend from his youth. He’ll be executed tomorrow morning. Rather than bemoan his fate, he thinks those who have to keep living are the real condemned ones. He and his two accomplices have pleaded guilty to armed robbery and demanded death. They took the power of judgment away from the corrupt authorities.

Read “Africa Kills Her Sun”

Marjorie Daw | Thomas Bailey Aldrich

John Flemming has slipped and broken his leg, leaving him confined to his couch. He begins corresponding with his friend Edward Delaney to pass the time. Delaney describes the mansion across from his place including the beautiful young woman who lives there.

Read “Marjorie Daw”

One Reader Writes | Ernest Hemingway

A woman writes to an advice columnist about her husband. He returned from his military service with some kind of malady and she isn’t sure what to do.

Read “One Reader Writes”

Suzy and Leah | Jane Yolen

In her diary, Suzy writes about the refugee camp in her town where she and other children have brought candy bars to the children inside. They will be attending her school soon, and she’s not looking forward to it.

In letters to her mother (who is deceased), Leah writes about being in the refugee camp, and the conditions that she and others endured during the war and while fleeing from the Nazis. She is afraid of going to school in America.

They become classmates and are assigned to work together, but they don’t understand each other.

Read “Suzy and Leah”

Born of Man and Woman | Richard Matheson

An unidentified narrator, a child, tells their story through diary entries. The child is chained up in the basement, and has to keep out of sight or be beaten.

Read “Born of Man and Woman” (PDF Pg 57)

The Mole | Yasunari Kawabata

Sayoko writes a letter to her husband. She says she dreamed of the mole on her back, which was a source of contention between them. She reflects on details of their marriage, and the history of her mole, including how it became a focus for her.

Read “The Mole” (Pg 359)

Unmailed, Unwritten Letters | Joyce Carol Oates

The narrator writes a letter to her parents; Marsha, a young girl whose father she’s having an affair with; and her husband, Greg. We get details of her marriage and affair.

Servants of the Map | Andrea Barrett

Max is a surveyor in the Himalayan mountains. His wife, Clara, had given him letters to take with him, to be opened on certain days. He writes to her about his experiences but leaves out the things that would worry her—the daily hardships, the exhaustion, the loneliness, the teasing from his fellow travelers, and the bodies they find.

Read “Servants of the Map” (scroll down, first story)

Graveyard Shift (Day of Reckoning) | Richard Matheson

Luke sends his father a note saying the Widow Blackwell has been murdered. Her son, Little Jim, is scared and hiding. He tells his father to send the sheriff and coroner right away. In the next letter, Luke’s father, Sam, informs the Widow Blackwell’s brother of the tragedy.

Read “Graveyard Shift” (PDF Pg 103)

Simple Arithmetic | Virginia Moriconi

A teenage boy corresponds with his divorced parents by mail. He has difficulty reaching his mother; his father nags him about various things.

Read “Simple Arithmetic”

A Wilderness Station | Alice Munro

Simon and George Herron, brothers, go into the wilderness of Huron to set up their own home. They clear the land and build a log shanty. It’s a difficult life with no luxuries. When they finish, Simon thinks it’s time to get a wife to look after the domestic duties. With his minister’s endorsement, he writes an orphanage asking if there are any marriageable girls who’d be interested. That’s how he meets Annie.

Read “A Wilderness Station”

Why, Honey? | Raymond Carver

A woman responds to a letter she received about her son. He doesn’t live at home anymore and she’s afraid of him. She reads about him in the paper sometimes. She relates some of the troubling incidents from their past, starting with the disappearance of their cat.

Read “Why, Honey?” (PDF Pg 4)