I’m most of the way through the slush pile for TLR vol. 1, issue 2. It’s our first issue to include nonfiction, and I’ve been humbled by the memories and the thoughts that people have chosen to share with us via this medium.
It’s certainly no small thing to put your life experiences down on paper and give them to another human being. This very act speaks of a bravery that many folks never get to exercise. I see, however, one theme cropping up again and again. It’s not breakups, the family dog, drug addiction, or travel stories. The thing I’ve seen the most this reading period is what an editor friend terms the occasional essay.
Put yet more starkly, it’s the anecdotal essay.
Ah, the anecdote! Webster’s defines it thusly:
“A usually short narrative of an interesting, amusing, or biographical incident.”
Can a work of over 1000 words be defined as an anecdote? Oh, yes. Why, this morning, I read one that was nearly 4,000 words long! Did I eventually end up taking it? No, and here’s why: Nothing happened. Nothing changed. The writer relayed something interesting, and left me holding the bag.
Your memories, your narrative, the tales you tell, your “biographical incident,” deserve better treatment, more thought, than that. Give them credence by allowing readers to see beyond the narrative itself. For instance, if your story is about the family dog, ask yourself what about your family dog’s antics made them so memorable, instead of recounting them as a list.
In another vein, essays that deal with painful parts of our histories, like drug addictions, or deaths in the family, are often so difficult to relate that a bare-bones telling of what happened when and to whom is all a writer can muster in the early drafts. But later, writers may find themselves better able to convey why such a story might be of relevance to a reader beyond a heart-wrenching narrative.
Such revelations take time, certainly, and narrative (telling, not showing, to borrow a phrase from fiction writers) may come easiest to nonfiction writers. Consider setting your work aside, and giving it a little more space, in order to gain enough distance that you can get to the meat of the essay–the “why” of why you’ve chosen to tell this story.
We’re not going anywhere, and we’ll be ready to read your essay when you’re ready to tell us about it.
(photo via SixWordMemoirs.com)