Friday, July 8, 2011
Aren't You the Crafty One: Writing vs Storytelling
"Writing" encompasses a lot of things. It can mean the technical skill, the overall topic, the style. Unless you know what someone means when they say "write" you might be thinking about different things. (and this has led to many a heated debate)
Can anybody learn to write?
It's a trick question.
I believe that anyone can learn the craft of writing. How to put sentences together, plot, write dialog, structure scenes -- all the technical aspects of it. Writing is a skill like any other, and if someone puts in the effort they can learn it and eventually do it well.
Storytelling though, is another story.
I think this is where talent comes in, and I'm not so sure this can be learned the same way craft can. I do, however, think that you can develop this skill if you do have it (and improve it if you don't). You can discover what works and what doesn't, find your voice, explore the best ways for you to tell a tale. You can find the types of stories and characters that inspire you. Finding that passion can go a long way to telling a story others will be passionate about.
I'm guessing a bunch of you right now are thinking, "Do I have that storytelling spark?" I've asked myself that same question over the last ten or so years. Truth is, it's hard to say. If people read your work and say, "what a great story," chances are you do. If they read it and say, "you write beautifully," and never mention the story part, you might need to focus more on your storytelling skills. If they say, "I love this story, you write so beautifully" you're in great shape.
I think craft vs story is a big reason there are a lot of frustrated writers out there (I was one of them once). We focus on on the words so much, that we often forget it's the story that matters to the reader. It's not about the number of adverbs you use, or the way you tag your dialog. That's why you see articles where a best-selling author is ripped to shreds for being a "lousy writer." Their craft might not be perfect, but they nailed the storytelling. Like that author or not, they did something a book is supposed to do -- capture their reader. Readers haven't studied the craft of writing for years. They don't notice or care about they stuff writers notice and care about. Readers want a great story. Period.
Learning your skills is important, and to succeed in this business you have to be at the top of your game. But it isn't all about the words. The words are just the way we tell our stories. That's like saying NASCAR is all about the cars. Plop any old driver in the front seat and the car can still win. Not likely. It's the driver that makes the car. The story that makes the book.
Don't ignore your stories, or ignore nourishing your inner storyteller. Finding a story and a voice that speaks to people will take you a lot further than cutting out your adverbs.
What do you think? Can storytellers be made or are they born? How far can just craft (or just talent) take you?
More on storytelling:
Trusting your writer's compass
Ways to improve your storytelling skills
What every story needs to do
An awesome example of wonderful storytelling with very little to tell it