“A fabulous writer is not necessarily a good storyteller.” Victoria Alexander from her article Twenty Things I learned in Twenty Years as an Author.
The Seekerville blog post was full of been-there-done-that moments for me. But the quote above caused me to pause. I have no idea what the author meant by her quote from her own personal experience. But her list was to encourage fellow writers and allow us to draw our own conclusions.
So, here are my thoughts on the difference. I remember as a child listening to various older people tell stories of their childhood. They didn’t just say I walked three miles in the snow. Instead they would captivate my imagination with details. I could imagine their array of friends who accompanied them along the way. The mean boy who ripped her dress whom she then chased down the street and pummeled him much to her parents’ chagrin. The unusual things they would see or find along the way.
It wasn’t just the incident but the things building up to it. I noticed my friends who grew up in other countries are wonderful story tellers. They build suspense as they give account of something they experienced. I remember one story that in and of itself was amazing but the added details made it more unbelievable. My friend’s family found three precious gems wrapped up in a cloth by the side of the road. Cool—right.
But the story started with her very poor family praying for God to make provision for them. They were Christians. The minority in a country where Buddhism was the recognized religion. Their faith kept their father from having steady work. We can picture in our minds how difficult that would be. Then she shared how much they enjoyed their worship time every morning. Now we know they are happy even in poverty. My friend speaks about how they all worked together to keep their home spotless. Now I can see a clean, happy, very poor family who pray and believe.
As she, her mother and another sibling were walking down the road. (I don’t recall where they were going.) my friend finds a wadded up rag and picks it up. Her mother scolds her. She was concerned about what might be in the dirty pouch. Again another bit of tension. Before she throws it down they open the bag. Inside was a ruby, an emerald and a sapphire. They are excited. Rejoiced in God’s provision all the way home. Their father takes the gems into the city and sells them. God has met their needs. End of story. But the reminder of God’s provision stays with me all these years later.
What is a fabulous writer then if not a storyteller? You might think they write non-fiction. Perhaps. But the story I just related was factual not a fiction. But it was the style of the telling that made it memorable. A fabulous writer can weave words with grammatical perfection. Facts have been checked, research completed and no stone left unturned. Whether they are writing an exposé or a novel, the point of touching the reader is missing when perfect grammar and strictly adhering to facts loses emotion. The heart of the story doesn’t reach the reader.
This is why a storyteller may sell more books than a fabulous writer. Readers will overlook imperfections in style, grammar even head hopping if the story engages with their heart.
Some people are natural storytellers. And when they share anything at all, people listen. Mark Twain was one of those. He turned ordinary situations into character studies his readers could relate to.
We all want to be fabulous writers who have learned the craft and practice it daily. However, if we can capture the ability to be a storyteller, readers will wait with anticipation for our next book and will carry the lessons set forth in their hearts for years to come.
What author do you love to read who has perfected the art of storytelling?
I’ll be posting another conference tip on Thursday. Here is the link to Conference Tip #1 in case you missed it. If you haven’t signed up to receive Writer’s Patchwork in your email click on the link to the right so you don’t miss any of the ten tips I am reposting from last year and other writerly posts.