Epistolary Short Stories: Examples of Letter and Diary Stories

Epistolary Short Stories Examples of Letter and Diary Stories
Epistolary Short Stories

Here you can find an epistolary short story that’s 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. Also included are stories where a character isn’t writing a letter or diary, but they’re recording something that they intend to be found and read at some future date. I hope you find a great example of an epistolary story here.

Epistolary Short Stories

“Simple Arithmetic” by 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”. This story can be found in the anthology Other People’s Mail: An Anthology of Letter Stories.

“The Roosevelt Dispatches” by Mike Resnick

In his diary, Teddy Roosevelt writes that he killed an unusual beast in Cuba. He plans on sending letters off to museums about it. It was about the size of a grizzly bear with a round head and tentacles. It was highly resilient and put up a significant fight. He’s concerned there are more of them. He wants his Rough Riders to remain and make sure the island is clear.

This story can be read in the preview of War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches(24% in)

“The Writer’s Secret” by Dino Buzzati

An old writer with a ruined reputation explains the circumstances around his downfall. In his forties, he was highly regarded and admired, but the quality of his subsequent works kept deteriorating until his luster was gone. (Summary)

“I CAN SPEAK!™” by George Saunders

Mrs. Faniglia receives a letter from KidLuv, makers of the I CAN SPEAK™ device for babies. She returned the one she purchased, so an associate addresses her concerns. The device doesn’t read the babies mind. It recognizes aural patterns and then makes it seem like the baby is speaking. The mask doesn’t look like your baby, but the upgraded version does, which they are pleased to offer her at no extra charge.

This story can be read in the preview of In Persuasion Nation(30% in)

“Fox 8” by George Saunders

A fox learns human language by listening in on bedtime stories. A building project threatens the group’s habitat. (Summary)

“The Letter” by Laura Bulger

Domingos writes a letter to his parents back home in Portugal. He tells them the positive things but leaves many other things unsaid. His family life is unhappy. (Summary)

“Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage” by Alice Munro

Johanna goes to the train station and arranges to send a load of furniture to Gdynia, and to buy a ticket for herself to the same place. Johanna is the housekeeper for Mr. McCauley and his granddaughter, Sabitha. Sabitha’s mother is dead and her father, Ken, lives elsewhere. Johanna and Ken have corresponded a bit through Sabitha’s letters. Johanna is making big plans although nothing definite has been agreed to.

This story only contains a few letters.

Some of this story can be read in the preview of Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. (20% into Kindle preview)

“The Semplica Girl Diaries” by George Saunders

A forty-year-old father of three starts a diary to inform future readers how life is in the present. He chronicles the events leading up to the thirteenth birthday party of his oldest daughter, Lilly. The family is middle-class, but they live beyond their means. The father wants to buy his daughter an expensive present, and also wants a status symbol to show off to the neighbors. (Summary)

“Love Letter” by George Saunders

A grandfather advises his grandson, Robbies, on a delicate matter regarding J, who was arrested for withholding information about two of her friends. The prevailing political forces make it risky to get involved. He tries to explain how things got this way. (Summary)

“Children of the Sea” by 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”

Find an Epistolary Short Story

“The Human Chair” by 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.

“Noorjehan” by Ahmed Essop

Noorjehan drops out of her English class after nine months. Soon after, she writes a letter to her teacher explaining that her parents are arranging a marriage for her and she needs to prepare. She doesn’t want to go through with it, and asks him to come speak to her father on her behalf.

“Africa Kills Her Sun” by 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” by 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” by 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” by 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” by 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.

Find an Epistolary Short Story

“The Mole” by 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.

“Unmailed, Unwritten Letters” by 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” by 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.

“Graveyard Shift (Day of Reckoning)” by 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.

“A Wilderness Station” by 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.

“Why, Honey?” by 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.

I’ll keep adding epistolary short stories as I find more.