Are You a Writer? A Storyteller? Or Both?
I’ve wanted to cover this for a while, but I’ve found it hard to articulate what the differences between the three are, how to marry the two if you are both, how to become a storyteller if you’re a writer, and how to become a writer if you’re a storyteller.
Great! I was too. For a while.
Over the years, I’ve encountered a variety of authors. Many can write but can’t tell a story. Many others have the opposite problem, and while some can do both well, they still need help merging their talents into a cohesive book/story.
We’ll start with writers. This is an easy one.
You’re a writer if you can make a good sentence. Sentence structuring isn’t too hard once you’ve learned that most sentences are effective if the subject goes before the verb. That’s pretty much it, and all that’s really required of you. You can string together many good sentences until you have a full, 60-90k novel. But there’s something missing. Your characters may not resonate. You may lack tension in the necessary areas. Your dialogue may not reflect the personality of the characters whom you’re trying to depict. Your story points may be in all the wrong places. I encounter this sort of manuscript more often than anything else. Now, some writers may have other issues (we all do), such as unnecessary repetition (please don’t show and tell. There’s a time and place for both, but when you do both, that speaks to your lack of confidence in your own work. Please have more faith in yourself!). Some may like to use dramatic proclamations too often in dialogue so that it doesn’t feel realistic. But for the most part, a decent writer can write, but (in the context of this blog post) but they fail to effectively tell their story. They may have a few good plot points, or a decent subplot, but their manuscripts will be filled with, well, filler.
A good writing coach can help you, along with you committing to reading books. I love working with writers who can competently spell, use homonyms, and just generally write well. Adding those story elements in is something I love to help with. Brainstorming with my authors is one of my favorite things to do! There's help for you yet! <3
I like helping storytellers with the writing aspect, as I honestly believe that it’s easier to learn to write than it is to learn to tell a great story. Storytellers are bursting with fantastic ideas, and they have them all written on the page, the story moves along at a great pace, there’s tension, action, denouement, climaxes, and all sorts of exciting elements. What do storytellers tend to lack, when their primary talent is telling a story? And how can this be detrimental when writing a book is mostly about the craft of telling a story?
(Note: These are all my own personal observations. Others are free to disagree. I’m not necessarily right about this. This has been my experience only.)
Oh, it can be so detrimental. Because a storyteller is that author you speak with who has a thousand ideas, and you worry they may be either micro-dosing Adderall, or perhaps already on a steady diet of cocaine and Pixie Stix. These authors more often than not need extensive line edits, restructuring, as well as intense copyedits.
Natural storytellers (you know who you are) can run ideas by their editors, friends, family members, at an alarming speed. And most of the time, the problem is that they’re all good ideas, you just can’t tie everything together in a cohesive manner, so you shove all the action into the story, and often suffer from a lack of character attachments as well as reader attachment because everything moves so fast the reader doesn’t have time to catch their breath. This is where the editor comes in to tell you to put the cocaine down and take a deep breath. We help you to emotionally bond your reader to your story. You’ve got some great events, a great foundation for your protagonist and antagonist, you have a cool world surrounding them—but what are you missing? The small things. That’s what you’re missing. And those small things really are what can help a reader attach themselves to your story.
For example: the way your characters bond with one another or are repelled from one another. You may lack intense connections between the characters you want to endear the reader toward. Character reactions may not suit the characters themselves. Character development may happen too quickly and with no relapses back into their old ways. There are so many things that you are great at, as a storyteller. But filling in the blanks is what you need the most help with. Again, the small things. Body language. Meaningful statements from main characters. Meaningful gestures from main and side characters.
It’s great to be a natural storyteller. I love that. I’ve often found that storytellers are much more willing to learn the craft of writing, than writers are able to learn the craft of storytelling.
So How Do I Fix This Shit?
Come closer. Little closer.
READ! READ BOOKS!
That’s step one. Pay attention to what you’re reading. Whether you love it or hate it. Find the “why” behind that love or that hatred. Try to emulate the things you love about stories and try to firmly avoid the things that you hate.
Reading various opinions from random writers and editors won’t help you. Yeah, sorry. I’m just here to waste your time! Here’s why: You’re going to get so many different means of guidance from so many different “professionals” that you won’t know whom to trust. If you’re a natural writer or a natural storyteller, reading, and reading often, will help you to bridge the gaps between what you do well and what you do poorly, simply by taking in the words on the page, the events, how they’re tied together, and how they succeed or fail in impacting you as a reader.
If you’re both—I love you. I love you. I love you. All I have to do, for the most part, is go through your work, tell you what needs help, you do it, and then we move on and everyone lives happily ever after. You still have weak points, but you’re willing to learn. You’re willing to grow. BLESS YOUR HEART YOU WRITER/STORYTELLER COMBOS! You make my life easy! Not fun, because I don’t get to tell you how much you suck and why, but you do make the workflow so much faster. But yeah, the excitement is lacking. Sorry. That doesn’t mean that you can’t cobble together something completely subpar and submit it to me to spice things up, though. I’ll still take it.
One Does Not Simply… Become Both.
It takes hard work and dedication. An open mind, and a willingness to hear out constructive criticism. Now that I’ve listed all of your weaknesses—forget about them for a while. Try to passively work on improving them. But mainly what you need to do is evolve in what you already excel at. If you’re a writer who can’t tell a story, keep working on your writing. But pick one aspect of storytelling and work on that as well. Write short stories that contain all of these: a main character with a motivation, something that gets in the way of that motivation, how the character overcomes that obstacle, how they change or regress because of that, and then wrap it up with a proportionate ending. End with a story question. Don’t wrap everything up in a nice bow. Challenge yourself to give the readers something to wonder about. They’ll want to read more of your shit. No cliffhangers (yeah, there’s a difference between a story question and a cliffhanger).
If you’re a storyteller who can’t write… READ BOOKS! See how other authors do it. Work on your worldbuilding on a smaller scale. Build characters, develop them, give them motivations and flaws, obstacles, etc. (Though, to be fair, most storytellers are great at coming up with obstacles). Play to your strengths, and if you need help, people like me are here to help guide you with your writing. That’s what I do. And I love to do that. I want to help you evolve your work, because you’ve spent a lot of time working hard on it. I want to work hard to help you obtain the story you’ve always envisioned. That’s what we’re here for.
I think that covers it. I don’t know. There’s a storm. I got distracted.
And no, I don’t proofread my own blog posts because I’m off the clock. And just for Julie, I’ll make sure this one isn’t ONLY a cat picture.