This is for R—
“I’m not a writer. I’m a storyteller,” a friend of mine texted the other day. She made it sound as though being a storyteller was a bad thing. I disagree.
Being a good storyteller – and trust me, this particular friend is very good – is a gift. The world is full of writers, that is people who understand the nuts and bolts of writing. They can string together words to create beautiful sentences. They understand story beats and the hero’s journey. But despite all their knowledge, they can’t write an interesting novel to save their lives.
Storytellers, on the other hand, are all about being interesting. Grammar and sentence structure take a back seat to the characters and action on the page. Their goal is to paint such a vivid picture that the reader loses themselves in the page. They aren’t looking to wow you with their brilliant wordplay; they want you to forget you’re reading words entirely. A good story will suck you regardless. Ever devour a book in one sitting, only to realize after-the-fact that the author missed a giant plothole? That’s the power of a good story.
Now, yes, there are authors in this world who are both brilliant writers and brilliant storytellers. For example, Colson Whitehead, Anna Patchett, and Haruki Marukami. Or, Stephen King, Kate Quinn, Kristen Hannah on the commercial end. I suspect my friend’s frustration was because she is not yet in this rare circle.
Notice I said not yet. That’s because my friend is determined to hone her craft to perfection. What she’s forgotten, in her quest for mastery, is that all these great authors began as storytellers first. How do I know this? Because while storytellers can learn how to be great writers, it is far harder for a writer to learn good storytelling. If it were, then every person who ever took a writing course would be published.
Writing has only existed for 5000 years. Stories have existed since the beginning of time. And it will be stories that future generations turn to when studying our times.
So, my friend, rejoice in the fact you are a storyteller. You are one of the lucky ones.