Because I Was Asked. The Difference Between a Writer and a Storyteller is This:

Posted on 09/03/2012 by


A writer writes, a storyteller* tells. The answer is there in the question.

The word ‘storyteller’ can refer to any kind of wordsmith or storyweaver, but in this context I mean a person who gathers others around them and weaves a tale out the air with their voice and their hands and their eyes. And, see, I write with my hands — whether it’s pen or keyboard. I don’t dictate my stories because they turn out differently. The words that come from my fingertips are just not the same as the ones that come from my mouth. (This might not be true of everybody, but I’m inclined to believe that someone creating verbally will produce a different product than if they’d created it by hand.)

Now obviously, most stories are written long before they’re told. Huge numbers of them aren’t even technically written by their tellers at all, they’re drawn, adapted and remastered from other sources — from books and oral histories and whatever seems right in the moment. But fundamentally they’re created to be told. No matter how the story is assembled their whole reason for being is that at some point the storyteller will sit down and speak out loud.

A piece of advice that’s constantly offered to new writers is show don’t tell. The idea is that this will encourage them to set the scene properly, to use dialogue and description in a broader way. To take a phrase like ‘she looked angry’ and write something like ‘she narrowed her eyes/her nostrils flared/a muscle jumped in her clenched jaw’ — writing about what anger looks like on this character and letting the reader figure it out on their own. Storytellers tend to go the other way. They lean on tell more heavily, because it’s faster and they don’t have the same depths of time available to hold their audience. But also because they can communicate — with voice, with expression, with the speed and pauses of their narration — a vast array of information that’s not available to a reader on the page.

When I say I’m a writer, not a storyteller it’s not because I can’t write to a storytellers format. It’s not even that I’m terrible at the performance part of things. I’m not a bad actor (although not great at the voices), I can read aloud well, and I can respond to a crowd by truncating, editing or spreading out a story on the fly according to what’s needed. But… well, I can do a lot of things. I just don’t.

I’ve written poems that don’t completely suck and film scripts that do. I’ve written speeches I never wanted to give and one that felt so natural that I gave it after being awake for 53 hours straight. I’ve written limericks and I wrote on a wedding cake once. I’ve written comics and short stories, songs, technical manuals, theses and articles for journals and newspapers. I can do all those things. But when it comes down to it, that’s not the way I want to communicate.

I am a novelist and a television scriptwriter, but I am not a speechwriter or a poet. Or a storyteller.


Posted in: Kandace