I read many short stories, both in my capacity as an MFA student at the Sewanee School of Letters and as the Fiction Editor of Five South and assistant judge of the Winning Writers Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest. When you read this much short fiction, a few things become apparent. One of these is when a writer has a unique voice and story to tell.
The hallmarks of this, in my estimation, are evidenced by the sentence structure, narrative construction, and prose selection. A fully realized story has a defined beginning, middle, and end. Even if the way those elements are crafted jump around in time or are experiments in form, they are still there. Additionally, punctuation and grammar, even down to how a writer uses dialogue and dialogue tags, are elements that showcase care and thoughtfulness in creation.
One story that serves as a great example of a work we chose for these reasons is David Carrington’s piece, “Like Any Other Vice.” David and I were colleagues from The Writer’s Hotel several years ago, and he and I worked on an earlier draft of this story six months ago. When the story arrived originally, it was much longer and the language and story were fully realized. I had never seen so many em dashes in my life! However, David can use the em dash to demarcate where he is delving in to showcase a particular setting or character detail and give it to the reader so as not to derail from the forward action of the narrative.
We did a line edit together, and what I was most impressed by is how seriously David took his revision process. When I saw the new story, it shone in a whole new way—and this is not to say that I loved it because he did everything I asked—far from it. He kept true to his vision, language, the characters, and the dialogue that speaks to his particular and differentiated style. He also used the feedback as an opportunity to bring the story to its tightest and most resonant form.
What we ended up with is, in the words of our Editor-in-Chief, Kristen Simental, “A whole new class of writing for us.”
Mina Manchester is an MFA candidate at Sewanee. Before coming to Five South she was an assistant editor for Narrative Magazine for six years. Mina’s work has been published in HuffPost, Columbia Journal, The Normal School, and Inscape. Her short story “Opening Day” was a Finalist for the 2020 Pinch Literary Award, and her short story “Fight or Flight” was a Finalist for Cutthroat’s Rick DiMarinis Short Story Award. She was nominated for the UCLA James Kirkwood Award in Creative Writing. Mina has attended the Kenyon Review Writing Workshop, The Writer’s Hotel, where she was also a TA in 2020, and Narrative’s Art of the Story Workshop. She lives in Los Angeles with her family.