I’ve been thinking about the weight of narrative written in different forms. Particularly, I’ve been mulling over the power of a simple letter.
The Letter. Written from one person to another, a letter carries an intimacy that very few other forms of communication carry. It speaks to knowing the person, speaks of connection. Letters, unlike free-flowing conversations, are distinctly one-sided and can be written as hastily or as thoughtfully as the writer so desires.
When Amber and I were in college, I made a significant mistake. I cannot now remember the particularities of that mistake, and for purposes of this example, they do not much matter. In any event, I received a letter from Amber in the mail. It started with, “Dearest Seth, I am so sorry and I hope that you will forgive me….” The correspondence continued, sharing how much Amber loved me, and couldn’t wait to see me. I must admit, I was confused because I was the one that made the mistake. But then, as I rifled through my other mail, I saw another letter from Amber, one time stamped an hour prior to the one I had just read. It stated:
See with the first letter (which was actually the second letter I received), Amber insinuated that my mistake had led to our breaking up. She did it with few words in a very intimate form of communication. In her second letter (the first letter I received), she became more vulnerable, realized that she had compounded my mistake with one of her own and asked for my forgiveness. The second letter took her some time to write and took a distinctly warmer tone.
As an aside, I must admit that I’ve always been glad I received the letters in reverse order. Who knows what would have happened otherwise.
As you can see, the intimacy of the letter makes for a great narrative vehicle. Stories can be written as if to a particular reader, but the remainder of the viewing audience gets this kind of voyeuristic thrill, as if getting a sneak peek into a world intended only for the writer and the recipient. It piques the curiosity of the reader: what is the back story, how long have they been married, what was that argument all about in the first place? The narrative correspondence creates opportunity for imaginations to run wild and perhaps that is the beauty.
This week, Amber and I experimented with some story-telling letters. On Tuesday, John Blase did the same. Go read his letter then come back here. Do you like the correspondence as a form of narrative story telling? Why or why not?