Writer vs storyteller

An interesting conundrum from last week’s visit from Major Author – do I want to be a ‘writer’ or a ‘storyteller’. The implication being that ‘writers’ are usually not commercially successful, only admired by their peers, but they may collect a few baubles along the way. Whereas a ‘storyteller’ will have a career, audience, and money.

I went into the talk thinking I wouldn’t agree with anything Major Author would say (almost as a matter of principle). I thought I would find it good theatre (I did) but dismiss the author’s way of doing things as easily as I have dismissed their work to date. I certainly don’t agree with the distinction between the two (writer/story-teller) – but perhaps I’m being naive.

For the most part, the talk went as expected – lots of grandstanding, a little boasting, light on detail and strong on personality. And yes, that was all there. But then they went through a writing exercise they’d undertaken. And the embarrassment gene kicked in and I thought it was going to be shoot under the desk time. But it wasn’t – at all. The seriousness which MA took it (both in having done the exercise – ‘drive’ being one of the key impressions of the night – and also the care with which they explained how they’d chosen words or phrases) really drove home three things:

  • Every word matters
  • Keep the reader wanting more. Never leave them satisfied.
  • And most contentiously, don’t always know where you’re going to end up. That is what the second / third/ Nth draft is for. In MA’s own words ‘if I know where I’m going, I will give it away – I will spoil the surprise.’

As someone who despairs at ever finishing this specific draft, the idea of ‘wasted’ words fills me with dread. We had Other Major Author in the week before, and they’d cut 130k words from the latest draft over the course of a year. Madness!

But… but… but. I’ve been examining my manuscript, and been thinking about my process and ‘what kind of writer do I want to be’ (simple answer – the published kind)? And I’m slightly horrified to find myself more and more thinking along Major Author lines. Not that I suddenly start writing sagas or poor-boy-come-good-against-the-odds type things, but there is a lot to be said for their basic approach. Write and enjoy yourself. Entertain people. And make it work in the second draft. Or third. Fourth etc. Think about how you’re ending each para, each chapter. Revise, revise, revise until it works (MA also did this with their speech, and it’s something I’m well aware I do with my ‘jokes’) Make dialogue do the heavy lifting. Think hard before wasting time and effort describing things. If you need to simplify your language to get someone to turn the page, then do it….

I have bigger issues – principally whether I’m writing science fiction (well, cyberpunk or some new form of cyberpunk that allows for social networks – cyberspunk (HA!) or soc-sci-fi?)  – or whether I’m writing dystopian literary fiction.

I’m trying to write accessibly, but maybe the plot itself is too far out? I’m trying to write a funny story, that is also gripping. I’m not sure the two things are compatible. It’s certainly a hard sell…. Decisions, decisions….

Am I a writer? Or am I a story-teller?

One comment

  1. Hi Monki

    I think it’s a spectrum – on one end there are things which are carried solely by the style and have almost no plot, but are nonetheless serious writing – and then on the other end things that are extremely plot-driven, not necessarily well written, but extremely *readable* (Martina Cole?!).

    Personally I think the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle. I think something like Lolita is an example of something balancing style/plot – really pacey, gripping, and undeniably well written.

    On plot being too far out – I’m not sure this is possible, as long as the suspension of disbelief required of the reader is consistent and the plot itself is internally coherent.

    – Zoe (auburnette on Fetch)

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