Will Edwinson

Author & Storyteller

Writer vs. Storyteller

2004-04-09 Writer I

Will Edwinson–Writer

2004-04-09 Story Teller I

Will Edwinson Story Teller with Grandson

There are writers, and there are storytellers.  What’s makes the two different? I have my own take on that.  First of all let me make it clear that the point of this blog is not to diminish the importance of the syntax part of writing   A good story teller must also be a good writer.

To me, the difference between the two is a matter of style.  One takes a very structured approach with a an outline and a plot plan;  the other just starts telling the story and fixes the syntax later.   Story tellers are those persons we often encounter around a camp fire roasting wieners , or around the kitchen table; cup of coffee or glass of ice tea in hand.  They have no outline in front of them describing a list of characters or plot lines.  They just start talking, making up their  story as they go, all the while, keeping their audience totally captivated.

 I get countless emails every day from different organizations offering to teach me (for a price) the various skills for crafting a story.  The late Robert B. Parker is one of my favorite authors, primarily because even though he, himself, earned a PhD. in literature, his writing embodied simplicity.  His novels consisted primarily of about seventy-five percent clipped, and somewhat saucy dialogue with only about twenty five percent dedicated to narrative or descriptive prose.  He said in an interview one time that when he started a story, he really didn’t know where he was going with it.  He had an idea in his head and he would just start writing. He said he would let his characters take him into the story.

 I believe this is what makes the difference between a writer and a storyteller, and it’s the way I like to write.  I’m a “write by the seat of my pants” writer. I know in my mind beforehand where I want to go with the story, but I never know how I’m going to get there until I start writing.  The story catches me like the swift current in a river and carries me with it.  I simply go along for the ride and write things down as we go.  I never know what the true nature or “character” of my characters is going to be until I get to know them better as the story progresses.

In one of my novels the protagonist (the villain) started out as an real unsavory character that was easy to dislike, but later morphed into a character  similar to J.R. Ewing.   He became a character that in whom the readers found a few redeeming qualities, and in spite of themselves, found him to be a character they hated to like. This happened, not through pre-planning on my part as an author;  it just happened through natural progression of the story.

 If I want to bring on a good dose of writer’s block, all I have to do is sit down and try to plot out my story ahead of time, or describe my characters in an outline.  When I do this, my stories become stilted.  I hate outlines.  Steven King said in an interview that he hates outlines.  He said they kill the creative spirit.  I agree with Mr. King.  I remember many assignments in high school and college where the instructor required an outline with the project.  My outline always came last.  I would complete the project, and then put together a brief outline from the finished product to satisfy the whims of the instructors.  Got away with it, too–most of the time. :).

Speaking of storytelling,  I have a book of short stories I’d like to introduce to you.  Click on the free download button at upper right of this page for a free sample (while they last) of the prologue and first three complete adventures of Buddy…His Trials and Treasures, about a somewhat impetuous boy growing up in rural America during the 1940s.

6 Responses to Writer vs. Storyteller

  • Wonderful blog! It’s way more fun to see where our characters lead us than to be tied to an outline.

  • I feel the same way about outlines. When I have done them, the story invariably changes so it barely resembles the outline. I can never know all there is to know about the characters until they start speaking, acting, and reacting to each other. Because they take over, the story often goes in a different direction than I’d intended, but it is often a richer, better story. I detest “assignments” to plot everything out. I avoid writer’s workshops because this is often what they want you to do, and, to me, it’s just busy work. Like you, I usually have a general direction and a general outcome, then I dive in.

    • Thanks for the comment, Linda. It’s gratifying to see that other good writers like you and Karen agree with me and Steven King and Robert B. Parker. 🙂 I, too, avoid writer workshops because I sometimes end up arguing with the presenter over the way they say we should do things. This usually does not make for good relations with the presenters. 🙂 But I get so irritated when they try to put us all into a cookie cutter mold.

  • Great blog, on your style of writing, Will. However it’s not the only way great writers write. The way outlines or synopsis stymies you, Karen and Linda is what writing by the seat of my pants does for me. It’s like I’m stuck in molasses. I flounder with no direction. I HAVE to have everything plotted out. I have to have a path to follow that I flesh out. (I even HAVE to have my title. Pathetic!)

    Of course, my characters weave back and forth from the path while I foreshadow and leave clues, but my ending always stays the same. Steven King says outlines kill the creative spirit. It might kill his, but outlines/plotting get’s my creative juices flowing. For him to make a broad statement like that is wrong! Whatever works for the author IS the RIGHT and CORRECT way.

    • So, it’s like I said at the beginning of my post, to each his own; it’s a matter of writing style. What works for some of the rest of us, apparently doesn’t work for you. So we do what we have to do. But as I said, if I were to go to all the work that you do, my story would die along the way.:) As for Steven King’s comment, it’s been several years since I read that story or interview. I’m sure he meant outlines killed the creative spirit for him. I know they sure do for me.

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