In the genre of Creative Nonfiction, I personally believe one of the most important elements of voice is the tone. The reason it is so important for this genre is that often the writer of a creative nonfiction piece is trying to share their personal ideas, beliefs, or philosophy through a story.
The tone I want to focus on, especially regarding creative nonfiction, is someone’s most authentic and real voice. Why? Well, this is the most interesting voice to read. It’s the most relatable, understandable. It should have raw feelings like anger, sadness, or even humor. Those factors are important, natural emotion especially, because they gain the reader’s trust. An author who does this really well is David Sedaris. He balances the emotions through his essays, while maintaining his authentic, honest, sometimes exaggerated tone. For an example, in his book Calypso there is a chapter where he talks about his sister committing suicide. In this chapter he covers the topic of children and at one point he says “One or two seemed reasonable, but anything beyond that struck me as outrageous. A couple Hugh and I knew in Normandy would occasionally come to dinner with their wrecking crew of three, and when they’d leave, several hours later, every last part of me would feel violated.” The tone here is comedic, maybe a little exaggerated. But he is easily able to switch up tones and go back to the serious tone necessary for the main subject of the piece. Like so, “This was fascinating, as we didn’t really know our sister very well. Each of us had pulled away from the family at some point in our lives—we’d had to in order to forge our own identities, to go from being a Sedaris to being our own specific Sedaris. Tiffany, though, stayed away.”
If you are writing about a personal or tough topic, maybe it’s a problem within yourself or an issue that is found throughout society. Either way, gaining and maintaining the reader’s trust is vital. Through the sharing of this topic, you’ll be conveying your personal belief which hopefully contributes to your personal philosophy you carry out as a nonfiction writer. I like to think of it as a conversation you’re having with someone. If you were trying to get someone to listen to you, maybe even agree or be on your side of something, you wouldn’t bring a cohesive, Harvard-worthy argumentative essay to the couch to discuss with your pal, would you?
One major thing that goes into the use of tone is vocabulary. Writing in your voice—not someone else’s, not a fictional character’s, not your dad’s—in your authentic voice is what will make the story great. With that said, you as an independent human being have your own personal vocabulary and it is beautiful. If you swear a lot, do it in your writing. If you use London slang regularly, write it out. With all of that said, there is a balance. You can’t only be dropping the F-bomb. There is always space for effectual words in your writing. Do not underestimate a thesaurus. Strong words, that the reader may not always even know, help get your ideas across to the reader. The reader may have to Google the word or use their best inference, but it will be powerful. It can be the hammer to the nail of your piece.
Jonah Weber, Editor-in-Chief