The Dreaded Letter


[Family of Letters (detail) by Lauren Pressler]

One of the writing exercises P does in his workshops is called The Dreaded Letter. If it’s done correctly, it clearly illustrates the kind of passion that can and should be on every page of the student’s prose. The letter can contain a secret, a confession, a tirade–but it must be honest. Frighteningly honest.

Writer or not, perhaps you’ve written a similar letter to someone in the past. Did you send it?

One of the good things about the writing exercise is that one doesn’t have to show it to anyone. It can be torn up or deleted soon after it’s written.

Last week, I wrote a dreaded e-letter to a friend. I didn’t know it was a dreaded letter at the time, but I was worried about the effect it might have. I worried all week when I didn’t hear back from her. When I saw her, I feared the worst. But all my worry and fear was for naught. She never received it. I went home to find that there was no record of my having written it–let alone my having sent it. It is lost out there in cyberspace somewhere.

If I hadn’t labored so long over it, I might think that I dreamed writing it. In the intervening week, she did the irreparable thing that I had cautioned her against in my letter. Somehow I can’t think that it was an accident that the letter disappeared.

This scenario would never work as a device in contemporary fiction. It is too coincidental; it would seem too planned. Misplaced letters are the stuff of 19th century novels and 1930’s films; readers are far too sophisticated now to accept such a plot twist. Funny, isn’t it, that real life truly can be too strange for fiction?

2 thoughts on “The Dreaded Letter”

  1. I love this exercise — I’m going to have to try it. I think you’re right about things getting lost for a reason as well. I have one dreaded letter to write and haven’t been able to for years — maybe your post is my inspiration to do it.

  2. Ah, letters – the possibilities for dramatic impact and life-altering decisions. A few of those have passed through my life – some with irresistable serendipity; others with rather appalling timing and extremely bad taste. 🙂

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