A while before I wrote this article, I read this absolutely fascinating BBC article about diaries. It was then that I realised that it’s been a few years at least since I’ve kept anything close to a traditional diary. But, for quite a while, I had an on-off relationship with diary writing.
Although I very rarely re-read them, my old diaries from when I was a teenager are more of a record of who I was back then than they are a record of the banal details of my life back then. Yes, they’re filled with mundane details, but the thing that really strikes me is the person who was recording those details. I can see an extremely detailed emotional and psychological snapshot of my younger self, and the sheer number of both differences and similarities always shocks me.
Sometimes it feels like my old diary entries were written by me, but many times, it feels like they were written by a different person.
There is nothing quite like a traditional pen and paper diary. Although I dabbled in writing diary-style blogs in the past, they were never really the same and they didn’t last long. There’s something vastly different about typing something for public consumption and actually writing something for an audience of one.
The combination of not having to care what people might think, the physical act of writing and the fact that you can easily add small drawings too means that traditional diary writing is more of an intuitive and intimate experience. It’s kind of like the difference between thinking and public speaking, I guess.
All of these things are important to remember when writing fictional diaries, although there are some slight differences. So, I thought that I’d provide a few tips about how to use fictional diaries in comics, stories etc….
1) Remember the format: This almost goes without saying, but the format of your character’s diary makes all of the difference. If your character believes that their diary might be read by someone else, then this will affect how they write about certain situations, topics and/or other characters. The tone of the diary will probably be less emotional and more will probably be left to the reader’s imagination.
Likewise, if you’re trying to make your story more “modern” by replacing a diary with “daily life” blogs, Twitter updates and/or social media activity then the amount of characterisation you can include is a lot more limited. After all, you’ll only be able to show the thoughts that your character feels that they can broadcast to the world. In other words, you can often only really show or develop some surface parts of your character that they would probably reveal through “ordinary” dialogue.
Traditional diaries, on the other hand, can give your audience a much deeper insight into your character’s mind and personality. However, it’s important to remember that their accounts of events should be seen how the character has seen (and thought about them). In other words, they shouldn’t just be a totally “reliable” and “objective” account of the events of your story or comic.
2) Remember the time: Regardless of the format, fictional diary entries can be a great tool for quick character development. It’s a very easy mistake to make (and one I never really thought about before writing this article), but your character’s older diary entries shouldn’t read like they were written by exactly the same character.
Even if the changes are fairly subtle, people are constantly developing in some way or another. This usually happens in a gradual and incremental way, but it can sometimes happen quickly. But, often, changes can only be seen over large periods of time. For example, the person I was in 2014 isn’t hugely different to the person I am now. However, both of those versions of me are extremely different from the person I was in, say, 2004 or 2006.
Needless to say, this sort of thing can also be a good way to introduce some dramatic irony to your story. After all, everyone has probably held at least one opinion that they’ve later changed, some interest that they’ve only discovered recently etc….
3) Remember that it still has to follow the rules: Although you should probably use any experience you have with writing diaries to help you write realistic fictional diaries, it’s important to remember not to be too realistic in the way that you write your fictional diary entries. At the end of the day, you’re writing a comic or a story that will be read by other people for entertainment and this still means that it needs to be written in a way that tells an interesting story.
Real diaries, like real life, don’t always follow the rules of storytelling. Things can happen in seemingly random ways. Diarists write about things in the way that they think about them, rather than in a logical and chronologically consistent ways. In a real diary, an account of a single conversation might easily segue into a three-page essay about an almost unrelated subject. In a fictional diary, you probably wouldn’t be able to do this without confusing or annoying your readers.
So, remember that your fictional diary is a part of a larger story. In other words, it should still follow the rules of good storytelling as much as possible.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂