Sunday, November 25, 2012

Storytellers vs. Writers

Visiting Christopher Columbus in his 'living room',
Columbus Circle, NYC, art installation

 First of all, my apologies for the 'radio silence' of the past few weeks. This may be the longest I've gone between postings on the blog since it's inception in 2005. It's been a busy time, with a brief trip to NYC (my old stomping grounds!) followed nearly immediately by the happy chaos that is Thanksgiving in our home.

This year, we had 9 people and 4 dogs in our house. (Our normal complement--though very few people who know us think we're normal--is 4 people and 2 dogs. So it felt a wee bit crowded.

My in-laws' dogs, finding an inconvenient nap spot in the middle of the kitchen

I have always enjoyed my in-laws' company. I think my husband's family have the gene for storytelling, which is possibly mapped nearby the one for spatial relations (one I definitely DO NOT have) and cooking. Of the three, the storytelling gene is probably the strongest.

Dinner table conversations are often rollicking, especially when my husband and his father get going. They both have this ability to spin out a tale or a joke. Good comic timing and the ability to carry the listener along, rapt, waiting for the punch line, even if they've heard it before.

I am not a storyteller.  I'm a writer.

I think they are very different skill sets.

If you give me a crayon and a napkin, I'd likely write a poem or a story before I'd draw a picture. And I can only seem to tell my stories on paper. (Or the computer screen.)

But my father in law can spin out a tale, seemingly without any preparation or planning and with consummate ease.

It is a skill I am quite envious of, but one, alas, I think is beyond me. Perhaps that's because I pay as much attention to the language as I do the story in the telling. And that gets me tongue tied. You can't edit on the fly and for me, the magic happens in the editing.

It's one thing to get the bare bones of a story down, but quite another to let that story sing. For me, it takes careful crafting and consideration of each word as it sits next to its fellows.

I am also not a spontaneous person. Me and spontaneous don't even sit well in the same galaxy. I think you have to have a certain fearless spontaneity to be a story teller.  And an ability to just toss out the words, knowing they're the right ones in the right order, or not worrying if they're not--trusting in the flow of the story to carry your reader along.

If you are a second guesser, a brooder, or a planner, like me, I suspect you aren't a storyteller. Thank goodness that's not the only way to create Story, or I'd be stuck trying to figure out what to do with all the voices in my head. :)


  1. I don’t see storytellers as especially spontaneous people, quite the opposite actually. When I start writing I never know where I’m going to go. It doesn’t matter if it’s a poem, a short story, a novel or a blog. I may know generally what I want to talk about but I find what I actually need to say through the process of writing. Plot isn’t important to me and I never plan ahead. I’m not interested in telling stories; I’m interested in exploring ideas. By the time I’m finished with a novel there will be, invariably, a bit of a story there and a very thin plot but most of my short stories are nothing more than vignettes, talking heads. As far as crating goes I edit continuously as I write, leave the work for a long time (years) and then edit again. I’m planning to bring out a collection of short stories in the spring and I’ve just finished my sixth run-through editing as I go. When I can read the book from beginning to end without wanting to fix anything then it’ll be done and time to pass it onto my wife to do her edits and a proper proofread. I’m happy enough to read stories written by others and I’m often amazed by how they manage to hold everything together and tie it all up in a neat bow at the end. I prefer to read slices of life though.

  2. Hmm, I'll have to think about this and get back to you. Initially I disagree. After all, historically, the storytellers of the spoken word, WERE the writers of their day. This is how lore and history were communicated and passed down, generation to generation. Personally, I enjoy both. I love to weave a good tale, spoken on the fly, and I adore the written word.

    1. LOL. I think my reasoning is simply my own rationalization for not being able to be an oral storyteller. :)

    2. Oh, girl...all I can say is practice makes perfect. You CAN weave a tale, so it can be said or read.

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