Created By: Paul A on December 6, 2009 Last Edited By: PaulA on December 2, 2010
Nuked

Journal Story

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Trope
A story which is presented as the diary or journal of one of the characters.

A feature of this form is that the narrator doesn't know what's going to happen next. Another is that it's more plausible they're able to remember events in detail (compared to, for instance, recounting the events years later). On the other hand, if the author makes the diarist's life too action-packed, the reader may end up wondering when he or she is finding the time to write all this down.

May turn out to be an Apocalyptic Log. Along with Epistolary Novel, one of the main forms that can contribute to a Scrapbook Story.

The film-and-TV equivalent would be things like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, which are told through the footage shot by somebody who happened to be holding a camera when the plot started.

Examples:

  • "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • parts of Dracula
  • Soldier of the Mist by Gene Wolfe
  • Diana Wynne Jones has written two novels that are in journal-of-a-character form, Black Maria and The Spellcoats, and in both the existence in-story of the journal itself becomes relevant to the plot.
  • The Art of Coarse Moving by Michael Green, which is probably too obscure to be useful as an example but comes to mind because I saw a copy in the library today.
  • Notes on a Scandal is narrated by the bitter old Barbara via her diary. In a twist, this becomes an important plot element when her victim Sheba discovers and reads the diary.
  • Frankenstein was a journal that a sea captain wrote to his sister, wherein he recounts the story told by Victor Frankenstein.
  • The Pendragon Adventure. Bobby tells his story in a number of journals which he writes in between events.
  • The Beka Cooper books in the Tortall Universe series are written like this.
  • I haven't read it, but I'd guess The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole is another example.
  • Armistead Maupin's Maybe The Moon is mainly journal entries, with a couple Scrapbook Story elements thrown in at the end to tie up the story after the viewpoint character dies.
  • Flowers for Algernon is told in progress reports.
  • Grinny, by Nicholas Fisk.
  • Anthem.
  • David R. Palmer's novel Emergence, written as the journal of the main character Candidia ("Candy") Smith-Foster.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's Podkayne of Mars.
  • The Outsiders was school paper.

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Community Feedback Replies: 30
  • December 6, 2009
    Paul A
    The Art of Coarse Moving by Michael Green, which is probably too obscure to be useful as an example but comes to mind because I saw a copy in the library today.
  • December 6, 2009
    Grain
    Every episode of Doug was a journal entry.
  • December 6, 2009
    Dcoetzee
    Notes On A Scandal: Most of the movie is narrated by the bitter old Barbara via her diary. In a twist, this becomes an important plot element when her victim Sheba discovers and reads the diary.
  • December 6, 2009
    random surfer
    Frankenstein was a journal that a sea captain wrote to his sister, wherein he recounts the story told by Victor Frankenstein.
  • December 6, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    The Pendragon Adventure. Bobby tells his story in a number of journals which he writes in between events.
  • December 6, 2009
    Iritscen
    I thought all of Dracula was in journal form.
  • December 6, 2009
    Paul A
    Parts of Dracula are in the form of newspaper clippings or letters, as well. It's a full-on Scrapbook Story.
  • December 6, 2009
    Katrika
    The Beka Cooper books in the Tortall Universe series are written like this.
  • December 6, 2009
    Sparky Lurkdragon
    No examples, but here, have another way of Doing It Wrong via a crappy fanfic: entry cutoffs on cliffhangers that don't involve a splatter of ink on the end. For example, "And then the wolf looked at me" instead of the more natural "And then the wolf saw me, so I blah blah blah."
  • December 6, 2009
    Paul A
    I haven't read it, but I'd guess The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole is another example.
  • December 7, 2009
    Paul A
    So, any suggestions for a better title?
  • December 7, 2009
    Duncan
    Armistead Maupin's Maybe The Moon is mainly journal entries, with a couple Scrapbook Story elements thrown in at the end to tie up the story after the viewpoint character dies.
  • December 7, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    Flowers For Algernon is told in progress reports.
  • December 7, 2009
    Paul A
    Grinny, by Nicholas Fisk.
  • December 7, 2009
    newtonthenewt
    The Secret Diary Of A Fictional Character?

    Oh man, it's too late for this...
  • December 8, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    the one with the house that kept changing? can't remember right now
  • December 9, 2009
    triassicranger
    A number of episodes of Adventures In Odyssey were these, after they changed the theme song if I remember correctly (though they didn't reveal it was Whit writing in the journal until a number of episodes later. Whit did act as a narrator though). Prior to this, there was an episode where the Barclay's go on vacation and Jimmy told through him keeping a journal as part of his class assignment to keep a diary journal (because according to him, only girls keep diaries).
  • January 7, 2010
    Paul A
    Still looking for a better title for this, but if nobody can think of one I'll go with "Journal Story".
  • January 7, 2010
    Idraena
    Ummm, Should We Have This?

    If this turns into "x was written in the style of a journal" I don't think it really needs to be a trope.

    BUT if this format turns into an important plot element, like the Diana Wynne Jones examples, or The Pendragon Adventure series (where when Bobby's journals stop coming it's a very serious cue that something's wrong) I think this works.
  • January 7, 2010
    Paul A
    I'm inclined to think that if we have Epistolary Novel, we should also have this.
  • January 8, 2010
    Idraena
    I see your point, although I am inclined to think that I would have wondered why we need that in its workshop days, too :)
  • January 8, 2010
    GewoonDaan
    Nothing wrong with Journal Story or maybe Narrator Journal or Journal Narrator
  • March 20, 2010
    Paul A
    The film-and-TV equivalent would be things like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, which are told through the footage shot by somebody who happened to be holding a camera when the plot started.
  • March 20, 2010
    melloncollie
  • March 21, 2010
    Arivne
    • David R. Palmer's novel Emergence, written as the journal of the main character Candidia ("Candy") Smith-Foster.
    • Robert Heinlein's Podkayne of Mars.

    Some novels appear to be regular stories, but are revealed at some point (usually near the end) to be a journal/diary/report written by the main character. Robert Heinlein must have liked this: he used it in The Puppet Masters (report), Glory Road (journal) and Friday (memoir).
  • March 21, 2010
    randomsurfer
    ^The Outsiders was school paper.
  • December 2, 2010
    PaulA
    Soldier of the Mist is another one where the existence of the journal comes up in-story: there are times when he gets taken prisoner and his journal is confiscated, or he doesn't write for a while because there's too much going on, and so on.
  • December 2, 2010
    Duckay
    Jay's Journal, Go Ask Alice and those other fake-journal books were written in the style of a teenager's diary and passed off as a "real" journal of a teenager going through X problem.
  • December 2, 2010
    Prfnoff
    Should this be a separate trope from Diary? If so, how?
  • December 2, 2010
    PaulA
    No. If I'd known Diary existed I wouldn't have started this YKTTW.

    (Actually, I started this long enough ago that maybe it didn't exist then.)
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