Yeonsu Oh. Sound Letters. Grade 12, Age 18. 2012 Silver Medal, Art Portfolio.

Yeonsu Oh. Sound Letters. Grade 12, Age 18. 2012 Silver Medal, Art Portfolio.

Leslie Asked:

Hello Mr. Vizzini! I’m writing a story, but a lot of it takes place between messages online. So I am wonder how exactly do I go about that? It’s based on a true story, and it took place first with wall posts, to messages, then to Skype etc. I’ve never written something like this. Any advice on how to go about it? Thanks!

Ned Answered:

Hi Leslie, What you are writing is an epistolary story – that is, a story presented as a series of letters. This kind of story has a long history. The 18th century novel The Dangerous Liaisons, which you might know as the basis for that 1999 movie Cruel Intentions, was written as a series of letters. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, more recently, is structured as a series of letters addressed to an unnamed friend.

Stories written this way have a certain realism and intimacy that’s very appealing to readers. It’s one thing to open a book and be plunged into a main character’s life; it’s another thing to be plunged into that main character’s writing. By discovering the main character through his or her writing, you feel as if you are discovering a real person.

In the last decade, many books have tried to take the principles of the epistolary novel and apply them to the digital age. A few that you should read are Lauren Myracle’s Internet Girls series (ttyl, ttfn, l8r, gr8r), which tell compelling stories entirely in text-message format, and Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, which alternates between the personal narrative of one character and the Facebook-like posts of another.

These books will help show you how to structure your own story. In general, when you write, don’t be afraid to read what other people have done with your idea. Then you can take those wall posts, messages, and Skype chats you have and arrange them in a way that is close to what the professionals are doing, but also uniquely your own.

Good luck!

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Ned Vizzini is the New York Times bestselling author of young-adult books The Other Normals, It’s Kind of a Funny Story (also a major motion picture), Be More Chill, and Teen Angst? Naaah…. In television, he has written for ABC’s Last Resort and MTV’s Teen Wolf. His essays and criticism have appeared in the New York Times, the Daily Beast, and Salon. He is the co-author, with Chris Columbus, of the fantasy-adventure series House of Secrets. His work has been translated into ten languages. He lives in Los Angeles. E-mail your questions to


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