Max Brooks's World War Z: Epistolary Style vs Alternative Narrative Style

Categories: Epistolary

Analyze and critique the epistolary style of the Brooks novel. Is this effective for the subject genre? Or would the novel be better served if written in a narrative style like Harold and Maude? Argue for or against the epistolary style in Brooks’ book, using Higgins’ book as a critical-thinking comparative while always keeping the focus of your essay on WWZ;

World War Z

World War Z, an oral history of the zombie war written by author Max Brooks wrote this spectacular and exciting novel in an exciting way and that method was using the Epistolary style.

An epistolary work of literature is one written through a series of documents/letters. This contemporary novel World War Z does a clever and unique take on the epistolary form of writing which incorporates interviews from the survivors during the apocalypse and detailed documents during their time which is the reason why this book did so well because of the epistolary writing incorporated in this exciting and thrilling book as if epistolary writing was meant to be the writing style of thrilling, scary, and exciting novels such as World War Z.

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The way Max Brooks used the epistolary style definitely makes it more effective for the subject genre rather than having it written narratively like Higgins used for Harold and Maude because of the intensity and climatic effects the epistolary adds onto the dramatic novel such as World War Z. World War Z would definitely be better served as an epistolary piece of literature rather than a narrative writing piece because the way epistolary sets the story up to be more climatic with the dialogue/interview style of writing and gets more personal and detailed with the characters and the stories of the characters.

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In Harold and Maude, narrative writing would be more effective because Higgins is telling a story between two individuals with different ideals and lifestyles that come together to share what they love and turn that into love for eachother. Epistolary writing wouldn’t be as informative and efficient if Higgins chose to write using that method because Higgins wouldn’t be able to create a story and story tell as well using the epistolary style of writing. If Higgins were to use the epistolary method, there would only be conversations of them to each other or of their thoughts and the plot of his story would not flower or advance like it did beautifully with his narrative style of writing when creating his piece of literature; vice versa on how Max Brooks used the epistolary method for his piece of literature because it made his story so much better than it could have been because of that extra added dramatic effect. The epistolary writing creates intimacy and allows the reader to access the world created by this type of writing.

For example if Higgins were to use the epistolary style of writing, he wouldn’t be able to narrate the mock death scenes that Harold would display because of his obsession of death. It would be awkward to use conversations to display that type of scene and the best option to do so would to narrate the scene so that you can take it in from an outsider perspective rather than first person. Scenes like “She made a sudden left-hand turn that sent a terrified Volkswagen into a heart-stopping change of lanes. She raced over a small hill, causing Harold’s head to bounce repeatedly on the ceiling, and then made another sudden left-hand turn that threw the rear wheels into a momentary slide” (27,Higgins) wouldn’t be portrayed as descriptive and viewed from both perspectives of Harold and Maude if Higgins decided to use the Epistolary form of writing because it wouldn’t be the correct way to illustrate that scene using that method. The difference would be so immense if Higgins chose to write his novel using the epistolary style of writing and it wouldn’t give his audience the story telling experience, the dark humor, and the strong themes as it did when he narrated the novel himself.

The epistolary style worked so well with World War Z because Brooks knew that the novel would consist of dramatic and climactic events that partake during the zombie apocalypse thus an insider view style of writing such as the epistolary style would help us get in the thoughts of the characters that are taking place during the apocalypse and helping the readers know how they are feeling and what they are thinking. The way Brooks incorporates the epistolary style including narrations that describe the time, day, and setting of this scene which helps the readers create the scene in their imagination a lot easier. These “conversations” that are being produced by the epistolary style gives the effect that the readers are listening to them and feeling their pain as if the readers are the ones that are asking the questions and interviewing the zombie apocalypse survivors. For example “Wouldn’t it be more dangerous once you reached the streets? ‘No, safer. No, honestly. That was one of the things I’d learned online. The living dead were slow and easy to outrun or even outwalk’.” (261), using this method it makes it seem as if the readers are the ones interviewing the characters in the book and it’s exciting to read a book that is being documented on about the outbreak of zombies, it’s thrilling, exciting, and entertaining.

If Brooks were to publish this novel in an all narrative book reading style, it wouldn’t have been as successful as it is right now. If the book was a narrative style reading, it wouldn’t have gone so in depth with what happened to the survivors that were displayed throughout the book. The book would’ve focused more on the macro and the plot of the book; the storyline, the war, and the outbreak instead of the micro which is the situation of the characters, what they were thinking, their mental state, etc. The reason why the book was so beautifully written and successful now is because of the unique method he used to portray the story, and beautifully analyze the characters throughout the book and their stories during the outbreak. If anything; the book stands out more because it's more of a narrative epistolary writing which narrates the plot and at the same time gets more into detail of the characters in every region around the world. “But you could kill them more easily. ‘Yes and no. You didn’t have to hit them in the head; you could take out the lungs, the heart, hit them anywhere, and eventually they’d bleed to death. But if you didn’t stop them with one shot, they’d just keep coming until they died’”(197). If Brooks were to narrate the story throughout the whole book, readers wouldn’t have gotten this type of interaction with the characters and the detail they provide through the epistolary style, and instead the readers would have been more into the storyline itself. The reason why Brooks intended to use the epistolary style was to delve deep into the minds of the character and develop this consensus of having it feel like the readers are in the story, facing the tragedies and environment that the characters in the story are struggling with.

Many authors use different methods to portray the story they are putting out to display to their readers. Some authors choose to write their stories using the expository method, some use the descriptive method, others may use the persuasive method, and Higgins chose to use the narrative method to write Harold and Maude, while Brooks used the epistolary method to tell his fascinating story with. There are a variety of methods to write a book with and to make one the best it can be is to simply choose the best method to write your novel and book with. In Brooks case he simply chose the epistolary style because it made his novel such a high class novel because of the added effect the “conversational” style writing it had throughout the book. The way Brooks wrote his book was the best way he could have written it because it wouldn’t be as good as his epistolary style of writing if it was written narratively because World War Z wouldn’t be as unique and delving as it came out to be when he published it. They were about to make an adaptation of the movie that also dove deep into the minds of the characters and turned out to be a good movie that everyone loved. Harold and Maude was written narratively and it was the best option for Higgins to take because of the way the story and plot was portrayed by Higgins, and the same goes for Brooks because the epistolary style made World War Z unique and it wouldn’t be the same if Brooks decided to write it another way. It was definitely effective for subject drama because the book was dramatic, climatic, and exciting and Brooks wrote it spectacularly.

Updated: Feb 21, 2024
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Max Brooks's World War Z: Epistolary Style vs Alternative Narrative Style. (2024, Feb 21). Retrieved from

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