Not long ago, I read Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries. I enjoyed the use of the diary format—it brought immediacy to the action and intimacy to the character. I couldn’t help but wonder, however, if the diary format could be as successful today as it was then.
The Princess Diaries was written in 2000—not ancient times, certainly, but before everybody and their mother had a blog/MySpace/Facebook/Twitter/etc. Kids today are highly comfortable posting their lives on the Internet, and their “diaries” are their blogs. In The Princess Diaries, Mia says that she wanted to write everything in the diary because she didn’t want anyone to know that she was a princess. That sort of secrecy would be impossible with an online journal or blog.
So, would a diary format book become a bestseller in today’s market? Possibly—kids still know what a diary is, and some may even still keep a “paper” diary. I suspect, however, that as the kids of today become the writers of tomorrow, the diary format will turn into a blog format. Will this lose some of the intimacy of the form? Kids writing on a public blog (even a fictitious one) are unlikely to be as forthcoming and honest with their thoughts and emotions. Although kids today are more willing to put themselves “out there” than most adults, they are aware that it is a public forum, and I think that will inevitably lead to some self-censorship. This could lead to some constraint of the form, some limitations to how far it can be pushed.
A cousin to the diary format, the epistolary novel is also looking at a sea change. With letters dying out, replaced by emails, chats, text messages and the like, will epistolary novels go the way of the rotary phone?
In her blog, Tracy Marchini notes that one of the defining characteristics of an epistolary novels is that time elapses between each letter—and a lot can happen in that time. With emails, the elapsed time between communications dwindles from several days or weeks to several minutes or hours. Granted that it only takes a moment for someone’s life to be irrevocably changed, it still brings a different cadence to the communication.
Like the diary novel, I think we will see the epistolary novel morph into a new form—a “communication” novel involving email, chat and text. I also think this will be a smoother transition than the diary novel, because so many of the basics will remain the same. An email is, after all, often just a letter in digital clothing.
Do you think these forms will evolve into something new, or die out altogether? Are there other formats that technology will make obsolete or change substantially?