Letter Writing: The Letter Game

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Getting mail is a ton of fun, but, in an increasingly digital world, writing it can sometimes be hard. This blog post series about Letter Writing aims to make it easier.

I'm sure you've heard of epistolary novels, where the story is told through written documents, traditionally through letters exchanged by characters(though journal entries, texts, and even some multimedia components like videos have been used too). But have you ever heard of The Letter Game? The Letter Game is a fun twist on an epistolary novel, where you write as a character in a story to another character in the story. Instead of you writing the letters for both characters though,  it is a collaborative effort. You send the letter off to a second writer who writes back as the character your character was writing to. The exchange both players create as these characters make up the story!

Image from page 198 of "The novels and letters of Jane Austen" (1906) Though many Letter Games might end up being dropped midway (sadly often at a climatic point such as when one character has been challenged to a duel) or end up being silly, many have also become published books! For example, Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot; The Grand Tour or The Purloined Coronation Regalia;, and The Mislaid Magician or Ten Years After were all written by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer; Freedom and Necessity, is by Steven Brust and Emma Bull; and the children's books P.S. Longer Letter Later and Snail Mail No More are by Paula Danziger and Ann M. Martin.

In the first letter, one player establishes the following: who their character is; the setting; and who they are writing to. Generally, they also explain why characters are writing letters to each other, rather than meeting in person or calling each other on the phone. Quite often the setting can provide this rationale- perhaps your story is set in the past or they in space sending emails? Or maybe it is a character preference- perhaps the character you are writing is addicted to texting and Twitter over phone calls? However things are laid out, the second player must respond within those confines, and write a letter of their own back. Other characters and plot device can be introduced by either writer as time goes by. Though most Letter Games are generally written with each player penning just one letter-writing character, it is possible that you could add more characters sharing correspondence either by players writing multiple characters' letters or by adding a third (or fourth or fifth) player to write letters from these other characters.  Though there are no hard and fast rules, most generally in The Letter Game the characters should never meet, and the writers should not discuss the plot outside of the letters. This latter rule has been bent before, as Wrede explained she and her co-writer did talk about plot once or twice in person, but that it as the exception rather than the norm.

book, wrede, You may want to choose whether it is important or relevant to have your characters use common letter writing structures. Do they start each letter “Dear So-andSo,” and do they include from where or when character is writing (i.e. "At Sotterwhite Manor", or “Later”). Also, be aware of the passage of time for your characters. They may not write for a few days or even weeks etc. Don’t write your partner a “filler letter” that won’t advance the world-building or plot. Time can skip ahead to the relevant scenes for your characters.

This is a game my friends and I often said we would do one day, but never have.  Would you give it a go? 

Further Reading: 


  1. I loved both Longer Letter Later and Snail Mail No More as a kid! Actually, they are two books I've been wanting to reread "as an adult" (I still feel like a kid.) This is such an interesting, fresh genre of book.

    ♥ perfectly Priya

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    1. I'd never heard of either book before writing this but now really must read them. Epistle novels are so fun!

    2. Definitely a YA novel, but I have to be honest- those are kinda my guilty pleasure. You could knock them (both) out in a day, easy!

  2. It's the problem of planning writing but not actually writing :(
    Anyway, I will add these to my library list. :)

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