I have a question regarding the art of letter writing.

I believe in the old-fashioned way of maintaining pen friendships (not necessarily a relationship, but could be) through hand-written letters, sent to people I have not met. This is something that used to be popular before online dating came and killed it.

The thing is, while writing letters (not emails), I often find that I end up talking about my life in a boring mundane way. Sometimes to compensate for that, I will try to make a story out of it and it comes off as overly compensating.

I understand that this highlights poor writing skills. But what are some themes I can talk about to make an ordinary account interesting? My problem is that an ordinary daily account, converted to writing, ends up as a bunch of personal opinions, biases and philosophies of life which are of no interest to anyone.

What I want is a letter that shows emotional depth and connects rather than intellectualises.

Also, when someone writes such a mundane letter, how would you respond in an interesting way? For example, if someone wrote this:

Yeah, I was supposed to go there on Wednesday, but my flight got cancelled. Now I will fly on Saturday.

How can you construct a story response to this?

2 Answers 2


I think writing a letter is similar to conducting a conversation. You're right to be concerned about good story-telling, as it is an essential element of communicating. Don't give up on it. The danger is to list events, much in the same manner as headline news. It is more interesting to colour the information in with a few personal details. Your personal details don't have to be too editorial or intellectual to be appealing. They don't even have to be about you. There are more basic ways to relate to your pen-pal. Use the knowledge you have of their interests and personality in order to craft a unique response.

A few ideas for your example: Perhaps the person is upset their flight was cancelled. You might recount an experience you had yourself with a cancelled flight, or the general inconveniences of travelling on the weekends (as they're about to do). You could branch out a bit further, and talk about a recent trip you or a friend of yours took.

Travel is a common experience and a common source of exasperation, so it shouldn't be too hard to commiserate with your pen-pal. In so doing, you'll connect with them on a deeper level than if you were to merely acknowledge the news of their cancelled flight, and you might even give them some useful advice about what to expect when they travel on Saturday.

  • Fantastico! This was what I was looking for
    – Victor123
    Feb 27, 2011 at 1:59
  • "writing a letter is similar to conducting a conversation" I sincerely disagree. There's is no two-way communication in a letter, it's a monologue. I think a good letter should be read and experienced in the same way you'd read a good story or documentary. Try not to give away the plot immediately, but build up to a -hopefully- unexpected turn of events. If you missed your flight, don't say it outright, first focus on how you nearly missed your train, bus and taxi, but managed to catch each one just in time. Feb 27, 2011 at 13:05

As I go through my life, I'm examining the various events I witness and/or am a part of, trying to find bits that are interesting stories.

For example:

The other day, while at work, I went to the bathroom, as so often happens after I've had two cups of coffee. As I approached the urinal to do my business, another man at another urinal broke wind loudly. I simply said "I agree," the proceeded to do my business in silence. The other man said nothing. After conducting my business, as I was proceeding to the sink to wash my hands, a different man (not the same as the first one) had an Elmo stuffed toy with its head poking out of his pants pocket. I said, "I'm not going to ask about the Elmo in your pocket... I'm just going to skip a sink and use this one over here." The man laughed and said something that I later forgot because it wasn't very interesting.

Look for these moments in life. They are there. Edit them. Tell them to others. Put them in your letters. If your letters about your life are boring, that is a strong indicator that you are, sorry to say, boring.

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