In my opinion there are no rules, only what works for your audience and what doesn't. If you have books you've read that include diary entries which you've liked, and ones that include diary entries that were distracting you're 99% of the way to being able to distinguish whether to include them in your story.
In general, if your diary entries and letters (or anything, really) add to the story and keep the pace and tension high on every page, then it's unlikely to hurt.
I second what BenM said. Just make sure they're interesting and you'll be fine. It's also a great way to enhance your character's voice and personality. People say things in a diary differently thatn they do to other people.
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I think making an entire story in letters would make people think you're trying to emulate some of the old classics. I did use some letters in stories myself. They were very short, more notes than letters. It's fascinating how differently you can read text if you know it's suppose to be a letter. It gives the reader the feeling they are right next to the character reading or even in his head.
So yes, a letter can be used effectively, but like with everything, try not to overdo it.
I loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, but I've talked to other people who felt that the beginning (where the letters involve what the MC is going to do for her next book, and such things) was too slow and boring, and I've had to tell them to keep reading because it is worth it.
Those who have, agreed that it was worth it, but think of all the people I wasn't able to talk to, who put it down and never finished it.
So make sure your letters get you right into the Real Story.
The boring letters in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society could have been interspersed with the Real Story letters (and thereby might not have been so boring), if the authors felt they really needed to be included.
I sent a chapter I had done to my cousin who is an author and has also worked for a publisher. I had 1-2 pages of diary entries, one right after another. I was showing/telling how hard the 13-year-old girl was crushing on a boy by seeing what she wrote. Things like, "I looked at [him], our eyes met, and I think he gave me a little smile!" "He's so handsome." "I was assigned to sit right next to him! I hope I don't do something dumb." I also ended the chapter with, "Dear Diary, today was the worst day of my life!" after she asks him to dance, and he brutally turns her down. My cousin said that diary entries were not a good idea. Maybe the entries were too distracting, or jumpy. I've now edited it to just the last diary entry. I also have another MS in the works where a man and a woman meet at a wedding reception, but because they live in different states 1,000 miles apart, they use e-mail (or maybe I'll use Facebook) to communicate back and forth, because he's just out of college, and she's a single mom. The whole book isn't about writing back and forth, they're just added in to see how their relationship develops over a continent away. For instance, the reader would experience the type of week the woman had at work and with her kids, and the type of week the man has in his life, but they write to each other about once a week. I plan to increase their communications.
[This message has been edited by tj5to1 (edited November 12, 2010).]
Vernor Vinge's FIRE UPON THE DEEP (if I remember the title correctly) used a lot of usenet-type communications every so often.
I think telling a story using characters' Facebook (TM) communications would work, though it will date your story.
And I think I'd recommend that you not call it "Facebook." Come up with some other name that makes it clear what you're using, but not something that's trademarked. (I believe "MyFace" has already been used, though. Maybe "MyNetwork" or some such?)
quote: I sent a chapter I had done to my cousin who is an author and has also worked for a publisher. I had 1-2 pages of diary entries, one right after another. I was showing/telling how hard the 13-year-old girl was crushing on a boy by seeing what she wrote. Things like, "I looked at [him], our eyes met, and I think he gave me a little smile!" "He's so handsome." "I was assigned to sit right next to him! I hope I don't do something dumb." I also ended the chapter with, "Dear Diary, today was the worst day of my life!" after she asks him to dance, and he brutally turns her down. My cousin said that diary entries were not a good idea. Maybe the entries were too distracting, or jumpy.
I hate to say it this way but coming from someone with one story published three years ago and yet has read hundreds of stories, it may be your diary pages not diaries in general. You said they were one right after the other. That could be distracting. You said you dealt with that though.
And I've been told that certain things you really don't need to go into great detail about. The reader's mind can come up with details. Like don't describe a house in minute detail, unless it's really unique, the reader knows what a house looks like. His house may not be what you pictured but it will still get the job done. A 13 year old girl crushing on a boy could be one of those things. Describe certain thoughts but not entry after entry. Unless of course she notices something that is important to the story. Like he has the cutest pointed ears, my dad doesn't like him because of them but I do, I don't care his face is narrow and he likes to play in the forest. Or That antenna sticking out of the top of his head makes him look sooo unique and fabulous, he can even transport for a few feet anything he touches with it-I wish he would transport me.
Some of this agrees with statements already made I believe.
An example that occured to me this weekend: the young adult novel ttyl by Lauren Myracle is told entirely in text message / instant message shorthand. I haven't read it from cover to cover, but I pieced through it and was impressed. It got good reviews.
[This message has been edited by sojoyful (edited November 15, 2010).]