Mysterious Letters | StoryADay 2024 Day 19

My favorite prompt!!

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The Prompt

Write a story in which your main character tries to unravel a mystery, but write it as a series of letters, social media updates, or memos – or a mix of forms

Things To Consider

The ‘epistolary novel’ had its moment in the sun in 18th Century British literature.

It was a form that allowed an intimate glance into the thoughts and emotions of characters ‘just like me’, at a time when expressing yourself publicly could be awkward, if not dangerous.

It was a titillating alternative to omniscient narrators and religious or political tracts that circulated more commonly, which, I imagine, accounted for the popularity of the form!

Epistolary writing goes in and out of fashion, but it does always come back around and is really fun to play with.

(My friends and I were obsessed with The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend (which really wasn’t a children’s book!).

You might have been moved by the 19th century photo-Blair-Witch-Project that was Bram Stoker’s Dracula – treasure trove of ‘found documents’ from letters and journal entries to newspaper clippings and telegraph messages (pretty cutting edge stuff, in Stoker’s day).

This is another form where short fiction triumphs, because short stories don’t have to play by Big Narrative’s rules.

Further Reading

A one-sided conversation

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!

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37 thoughts on “Mysterious Letters | StoryADay 2024 Day 19”

  1. I wound up losing the mystery element. I had an idea of two friends texting about a third and trying to figure out what was up with him. But it wound up starting where it was supposed to end, with something along the lines of, “OMG! He’s is in the pub RIGHT NOW! With this guy. And they’re SO into each other! And SO nervous! It’s adorable…” You know, the guy who was supposed to be the solution to the mystery of why this friend was acting weird and cancelling stuff? So, not much of a mystery. But it was fun to see the romance play out from the POV of two of their friends lovingly pulling for them.

  2. I’ve been keeping up with the daily challenge but not with reading comments or leaving them. Glad to see so many people still at it! To those who’ve shared stories and ideas, congrats! I’m enjoying reading them.

    I’ve been having good luck with keeping stories short enough to draft in a day so far, but today’s story escaped containment. My muse found the prompt really juicy, I guess, and wanted to work with some painful middle school memories. How could I say no?

    It’s going to be a ghost story, about a group of friends, now middle-aged, who have kept in touch since they were kids. They have to face their collective haunted past when one of their friends dies from mysterious causes. I’m excited about this one! I outlined thoroughly so I can loop back when May is over.

    1. That’s great, and thanks for checking in.
      I definitely think one I wrote this week is one I’m going to be coming back to in June…

  3. This one was challenging for me. Since it was a mystery, I had to plan it out much more carefully than I usually do, and since it was epistolary (with no conversations taking place outside the correspondence) I had to include actions that I might have simply implied in a piece of flash, say.

    I presented a thread of emails which displays the most recent message at the top, and works its way back through time. That way the solution is presented first, but it is not at all clear what it’s a solution to. You only get the full picture when you get back to the first email.

    That’s the idea, anyway. I don’t think I quite made it work, though it was fun to do. The mystery, if you want to know, is the disappearance of an elderly man from the yard of his son’s house. It turns out he was eaten by a giant pitcher plant. Eat your heart out, Audrey II!

      1. Thank you, Elizabeth, but I don’t think it will. See the light of day, that is. It was fun and educational to write, but too deeply flawed to be rescued. At least that’s what I think now.

        A couple of StADa prompts have led me to think carefully about the order in which to provide information to the reader. Like Steve Bochco’s Columbo scripts, sometimes you can create tension by providing the answer up front, and that’s what I was striving for.

    1. Yeah, I don’t think I thought through how difficult it would make things if it was a mystery told this way! Starting to resent Past Julie, at times 😉

      1. Me and Past Julie are cool, especially after today’s prompt! Sometimes it’s good to dig deep!

  4. Dear Monica,
    I have found us the perfect place to live here. It’s a nice house surrounded by trees with a view of the ocean. I’m anxious for you to come see it.
    Love, Bradley

    Dear Monica,
    I had hoped to hear from you by now. How are you? My new job is working out well. Looking forward to hearing from you. I’ve left you about a dozen messages. Did you get them?
    Love, Bradley

    Dear Monica,
    Are you receiving my texts? Or my phone messages? I’m getting worried. If you’re receiving them, please let me know. I know you’re busy, but it’s been a while.
    Love, Bradley

    1. The story has so much possibilities, Valerie. Why did you leave it half-finished? Sorry, if I seem to be acting the big brother. But the story has/had the makings of a great story.
      Bradley and Monica are a couple, married or whatever. For some reasons, Bradley had to leave her behind. And there is no news since then. What happened to her? Why has she been keeping silent? Is their marriage/ relationship on the doldrums?
      But then as we are getting into the thick of the story, it ends abruptly, leaving us totally in the dark about what happens in the end!
      Personally, I would have liked you to give us a hint or two through one or a few more letters.
      Anyway, that’s my view. I am sure there are people who would make much more of the story than my average comprehension grasp would let me.
      Did I ever tell you that I love your character sketches, language a lot.
      Keep writing and sharing. God bless you always.

      1. Thank you so much, Rathin! I appreciate it. Obviously what I intended did not work. I meant it as a story about a man whose girlfriend ghosted him after he moved away, even though she’d led him to think she’d follow him there. I now see that readers can’t read my mind. I thought I was being subtle. Now I get that I was subtle beyond comprehension. You helped me.

        1. Dear Valerie, what a great idea! Now, you have stated it, your story takes on a different perspective altogether.
          I have never known to have been (?) very bright. Otherwise, I could have easily concluded that her long absence was due to her demise, if I can put it bluntly like that.
          Keep writing, my friend and impacting lives. God bless you always.

          1. Mistake again! The line : ‘I have never known to be….’ should have read, ‘ I’m never known…’. No wonder, my language is always some kind of a let-downer!

  5. Started with a post-it note and then a series of texts, Lou figures out who left dinner in their fridge. This may or may not end up informing a later scene in the WiP. 368 words

  6. July 5, 2000
    Dean John,
    Have you seen Suzy lately? I asked her out on a date for July 4th. We were supposed to go to the parade, but she didn’t answer her door when I arrived.
    July 10, 2000
    Dear John,
    I am getting very worried about Suzy. I have tried calling her on her mobile phone, but there has been no answer, and she isn’t returning my calls. Have you heard anything at all?
    Sincerely Raymond
    July 12, 2000
    Dear John,
    So she isn’t returning your calls either? Have you spoken to her sister, Samantha? Samantha told me that her sister mentioned taking a vacation soon, but she didn’t expect her to leave so soon, so she is now starting to worry, too. I don’t know what to do.
    July 15, 2000
    Dear John,
    I tried to call the local hospitals and the police department. No one has heard from her since July 3rd, and I don’t know what to do next. How about her friends? Do you know how to contact any of them? I spoke to Betty, and she hasn’t heard from her for a couple of weeks now. Should I file a missing person’s report with the police?
    July 20, 2000
    Dear John,
    On your recommendation I contacted the police to file a missing person’s report. They told me they would make some inquiries, but people her age sometimes disappear and do not tell anyone. They weren’t too concerned. This really is upsetting me. I can’t imagine Suzy just up and disappearing without a word to anyone. That is not like her. I contacted several of her friends, and none of them had heard from her either. Her mother became almost hysterical when I called them. She said I warned Suzy about you. She made it clear that she didn’t like me and that I must have had something to do with her disappearance. I don’t know why she would think that of me. Let me know if you hear anything at all, please.
    July 25, 2000
    Dean John,
    I have some terrible news. The police called me, and they found Suzy’s body in the next town over. She had been strangled to death. They followed up on the missing person report, and when they contacted the towns surrounding Angel’s Cove, one of the police stations responded with a confirmation of the report. Her body had been found by a group of kids hiking through the Red Bush Forest Preserve. There was no ID on her, but the picture I submitted with the report made her recognizable. You could see the butterfly tattoo on her shoulder, and the body they found had the tattoo as well. I am so distraught. I loved her, John, but now she’s gone. I was going to give her an engagement ring on July 4th after we watched the parade together. I had it all planned out. We were going to her friend Angie’s house for a barbeque.What am I going to do without her?
    Dear John,
    Thank you for your condolences. They mean a lot to me. I think I am going to go away for a while to recover from my loss. I will contact you again once I return. Again, thank you!

    1. That’s a wonderful story. I like the idea of one person, Raymond writing the letters throughout. The language is lucid and the story makes a good read.
      I have a question though. Why do I have this creepy feeling of Raymond having a hand behind Suzy’s murder? His goody-goody attitude makes me feel like it.
      Anyway, that’s the beauty of a short story, I reckon. The reader is entitled to making the final choice.
      Lovely story. I would love to read more of your stories.
      Stay blessed and best wishes.

  7. A pet cat is giving signals that it is hungry, lonely and needs it litter box changed. Two siblings argue about whose turn it is to do these three chores through emails as they sit on beds next to each other.

  8. So I was out today, a Saturday, off to have lunch with a friend. I’d started with the hidden message idea in my head (may still do that). Also listened to an audio book, and then when I got to the pub for lunch, the friend was half an hour late, so I opened the book with me, and managed to read a page or two before my friend’s arrival interrupted.

    In all of this, and because of the paragraph, I read, I decided to do a Vignette as my story today. I had grandiose ideas of a vignette of a hero gaining consciousness, and awaking in pain. I didn’t get to that, but I did get to this https://afstoryaday.blogspot.com/2024/05/day-19-vignette.html

    Anyway, another day done, day 19, only 12 to go.

  9. Sorry, if my stories are getting too lengthy.
    How Bapi Kaka Ended in an Asylum!
    Dear Di,
    It’s sad that God chose me to be His medium in the form of a writer but He didn’t teach me how to be! Now, in my early 60s, there are times when I feel it is already too late. All the roads seem blocked and there is no help coming from anywhere.
    The publishing houses are on a money making spree. And unless you are a reputed writer, there is not much hope of you jabbing anything out of them!
    Would you believe that it was just the other day that a well-known publisher called me through their agent. She came directly to the point straight away. She talked about the different packages. I informed her about my financial constraints. She surprised me then by telling that I could start by paying as meagre an amount as ₹500! They would send me five complimentary copies as well!
    I didn’t agree. It was never easy writing all those novels. And after all my hard labour, if I have to sponsor the publication, what’s the point?
    Anyway, thanks for your last story :The Bald-Headed Doll. It was published in Muse India, India’s numero uno magazine. Now, a Japanese publishing house has expressed some interest in the story. They want to make a cartoon film based on it. But they want ₹10,000 for registration and publicity!
    From where does a two-penny author like me manage this money? I think I am going to hit my grave in ignominy – unsound, unrewarded ( not that I care for recognition and rewards much), insane.
    But for such stray incidents, Life has been just dragging on.
    Give my love to Piya.
    With regards,

    Dear Bapi,
    I feel sorry for you. You can take it from me that you are good. I feel sorry for some writers get their share of recognition quite late in life. A few more posthumously!
    In a dream a couple of nights ago, I saw you signing autographs in the auditorium of Coffee House. There was a long queue of people waiting at the book release for your book to be signed. You were sitting behind a table with piles of “Di” on it. Both Lia and I were sitting on either side. Lia though looked disinterested.
    If my dream ever gets true, my happiness will know no bounds. Piya sends love and regards to both you and Lia.
    Never ever give up, my bro for happy days are there ahead.
    Dear Di,
    I am sorry that your divorce is most likely getting through! Life is bizarre most of the times! Who would have thought that you and Anikda, the perfect couple in the eyes of many, after a happily married life of over 3 decades, would file for a divorce?
    The fond memories of my bachelorhood, staying at Anikda’s residence, come back to haunt me.
    Instead of writing about dolls and gnomes and fairies, I have decided to write about real people. I have decided to entitle my book “Di”. Hope to get your consent writing about you two.
    You remember the day you were leaving in Rajdhani Express for Delhi to visit Piya? The train had barely left when Anikda’s mobile started ringing.
    “That’s your Di calling,” he told us (Lia was also there to see you off). “She’s calling to remind me to treat you to some snacks and coffe.”
    You know what Anikda had pressed the speaker on before answering your call. And there you were asking him to treat us like he said you would do!
    Why do such love stories always end in such painful memories?
    Anyway, I am going to be busy for the next few weeks, Rupa has responded to my pitch of the novel. Things are finally beginning to look up.
    Stay safe. Love and regards.
    P.S: Di. I would pray to God to reunite you and Anikda. You were such an inspiration to the present generation.
    Dear Bapi,
    This is the last you are going to hear from me in a long while. The divorce has fallen through. I didn’t make any claims. Anik wanted to pay for my upkeep. An offer I turned down.
    When he preferred to keep quiet about why he cheated on me, what do I care about his alimony?
    Piya has found a cosy flat for me in Kansas.
    I don’t know when I’ll get to see you again, dear bro. I never thought of settling in a place so far away from the people close to me! I remember Jhunu Aunti. She told me it was true that she was staying in a palatial house in NY ( both Sheela and Biplab Da are doctors). But once Sheela left for the hospital, she felt like a caged bird and missed her days in Kol.
    She died a very lonely woman inspite of the most advanced medical treatment imaginable for her brain tumor.
    I hope you can come to The States to meet me someday.
    Proud to have a bro like you, dear. If there is another life after this, I’d like to have you as my brother again.
    Take care and keep making the difference you firmly believe in.
    Nothing but the very best for you as always.
    Dear Chhoto Kaka,
    It’s good to know that you are a celebrity in India now. I watched the movie based on Ma’s lifestory and it was so heart-touching!
    You must have already heard about Ma’s sudden end. I could never believe that anyone could trasition so smoothly, so serenely!
    Before retiring to bed, I had made sure that she was properly tucked in. She hadn’t been sick or anything. She pulled my legs by reminding me of the date with my latest crush the next day. As I was retracing my steps, she asked me if you had called or not.
    Ma loved you so much, Chhoto Kaka. She must have watched “Di” a thousand times. She’d never let me shut down the laptop without seeing your name in the credits first. You should have seen the look on her face at such times!

    Entering her room the next morning, I was surprised to find the glass of water near her bed, untouched. Ma had always been an early riser and before the yoga exercises, she had to have the glass of water.
    She passed away in her sleep, the doc said. She had such a blissful look on her face, Kaka. She seemed to have reconciled to her fate long ago when her suspicion about Baba proved totally unfounded. And talk about a miracle, he had been here with Ma for the last two weeks or so.The way they patched up their differences can only happen in a fairy-tale!
    My love to Lea Kaki. By the way, my debut film is going to be screened at the Kanne Film Festival. On the way back, I am coming to India. I have booked the hotel already. Can I meet you and Aunt Lia then?
    Dear Piya,
    It is nice to hear that you are coming to India. Unfortunately, your Bapi Kaka isn’t here with us any more. We have shifted him to a mental asylum, and for reasons best not disclosed in this letter, even his family members are not allowed to visit.
    My heartiest apologies, dear.
    Best wishes.
    I made the enquiries around as you requested. Bapi Kaka desperately wanted to visit your mom but his family was against the idea.
    When worse came to worst, he was banished to the asylum. I couldn’t find the address though. Looks like his family doesn’t want his relatives to meet him!
    Lia Aunty as the sole heir, is rich now because of the royalties.
    I’ll let you know if I can get hold of any other info relating to him.
    Till then, bye.
    Your Bestie from Kol

    1. Rathin,
      You had me looking back at the prompt again, looking to see/find the context to your story.
      Once I had this, context in mind it read quite differently.

      1. Thank you, Andrew. You know something? This mobile wasn’t working. Last time I wrote a story using it, everything became topsy-turvy! The Capital letters weren’t coming all right. Had a problem regarding spacing in between the words and so on and so forth!
        Now, while replying to yours, I find it working again!
        I’ve written a number of epistolatory stories. I shall be happy if you got the story through the letters.
        Btw, I read one of your blogs “Landon Again” recently. You are a very good writer.
        Keep writing, sharing and shining. God bless you.

    2. Rathin, I think this assignment really worked with your story style. It was enjoyable to read.

  10. Well I’m up in the middle of the night again. Shoulder pain keeps at night.
    I started a story at 1 am

    My character finds a diary in the basement of the house she just moved into.

    She’s wondering who wrote this and what happened to her.

    I’ll be tackling the rest of the story later.

    1. Lisa, Sorry you couldn’t sleep, I do not envy the shoulder pain at all.
      The story though, the effort at such early hours well done.
      My question though, will you share it? and how?

      1. I don’t usually post my stories. But maybe when I’m finished.
        I’m pretty self conscious of my work on the first draft.
        By the way thanks for the compassion on my shoulder. I have a torn rotator cuff in my left shoulder. Thank God I’m right handed.

        1. I’m with you, Lisa! If a story idea works out, it’ll work out after revision. If it really works out, I’ll try submitting it for publication. If you post it online, you can no longer offer a publisher first rights, which is what they usually want.

          I love your story idea! So sorry your shoulder is keeping you up at night.

    2. Thank you, Valerie.
      I love writing theme-based, character-based, easy-to-read and uncomplicated stories. And then I have this desire of sharing/posting them as soon as I finish writing. As a result, there are mistakes. Sometimes, they are anything but easy to read like the story I wrote yesterday. I had the letter to be deciphered at the start. I realised later that the letter should have been shorter. By then, I had finished writing the story with each letter of the letter ( I ain’t sure if I am making sense).
      I kept changing some lines then and that didn’t help my cause much. Finally, I decided to post it as it was. At times like that, I feel frustrated. But then I carry on in the belief that I was destined to be writer.
      Sorry, if my comments get lengthier than they should be most of the times. Please bear with me.
      Keep writing, encouraging and sharing. Stay blessed always.

      1. Rathin, when I was trying to read the code in your story yesterday it seemed easy to read but in some places I got lost so I think you explained why here. Like a little kid, you get so excited about your stories you can’t wait to share them. You obviously love to write.

        1. You are spot on again, Valerie. There’s still the kid in me! I am so passionate about writing that at 63, I still don’t know if my writings will take me anywhere!
          Then there is this craving for recognition! When I get people critiquing my stories, I feel that all is not lost yet.
          Stay blessed. Best wishes.

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