By Terrance L. Manning Jr., Assistant Fiction/Non-Fiction Editor
Like any reader, I’m looking to be moved. When I read fiction (beyond seeking the essentials of craft), I’m looking for a scene, a moment, even a line of dialogue written so precisely that it sticks with me. The same goes for nonfiction. A good essay doesn’t have to be personal to the point of confession, but it should be honest, or attempt, at least, to seek a quality of honesty. It’s those moments that the authors themselves are writing into discovery that ring true.
This idea of truth often emerges in the writer’s “voice.” So often, as writers, we talk about voice in terms of style: that writer has a strong voice, a vulnerable voice, an angry, frustrated, jealous, I’m-seeking-redemption voice. But voice goes beyond style in a way that develops that quality of honesty any good non-fiction piece should strive for. Voice affects tone; it affects the way, as readers, we understand the writer to have been impacted by the events of an experience. Just as it changes the way the reader will react to the essay, voice governs the manner in which the story is told. How much has this person come to terms with what they are writing about? Do they still have questions, concerns, struggles? Voice changes everything; it is the difference between just getting over the dead dog or looking back twenty years later and re-realizing the meaning of the dead dog in terms of something in one’s current life. What questions are they seeking to answer?
When reading submissions, I ask myself why now? What has given agency to this essay? From whence is the narrator telling the story? If it doesn’t feel like they’ve got it all figured out, or like they’ve got all the answers, then it feels true. And it’s that truth, that honesty, that belief that we can never really understand an experience, but rather revisit and re-examine it, that creates a strong essay.