Monday, May 23, 2011

Storytelling and writing: two different talents

Last night, once again I was reminded that there are two strands to be an author of fiction. First and foremost is storytelling. This encompasses the creation of stories with its attendant characterisation, setting and plot structures. Then there is writing or the manipulation of language.
To tell a story, you don't have to write. Stories can be told in pictures or with sounds. You can tell a story orally.  And to write, you don't need to tell a story. Writing can be a list, an essay and is simply the act of putting words on a page. It can be poetry or it can be as dry as dust. It can have a soul or not be very deep at all. But the act of writing does not guarantee a well-formed narrative.
When you have the marriage of the two, you get an author. It is the combination of two talents -- the ability to tell a story and the ability to manipulate language on the written page that creates an author. No one person is equally adept at both.  In commercial fiction, the ability to tell a story outweighs nuanced language. Sometimes in literary fiction, it is the other way around and the poetry of the image and symbolism can hold more sway. There are reasons why commercial fiction is more accessible to the masses.
Once you accept that there are two types of talent, then the question becomes not how much talent do I have, but how can I maximise and make the most out of the talent that I am given. How can I achieve its potential?
 The truth is that you are capable of far more than you think but you have to be willing to work at it. It is not easy. You have to learn to play to the strengths of your talents rather than playing to what others might think. If you adore heavy symbolism, do you want to write a rom-com? If you need the action and adventure rush, do you want to write a tale that is mainly internal and gentle? Conversely if your talent lies with exploring the depth of human relations within a family, do you want to write a thriller? Work with the themes you are drawn towards. Explore the ways you like to tell stories.
You have to accept that storytelling takes maturity because it deals with the human condition. The maturity to tell a meaningful story comes to us at different ages. The desire to tell stories may happen earlier. There are reasons why successful novelists as a general rule tend to be older --- unlike say mathematicians who tend to do their best work early for some reason. Life adds depth to storytelling, rather than taking from it. For example for women, having children can add a resonance and understanding that wasn't there previously. The stories you write in your forties will be different than those you wrote in your twenties.  This doesn't mean that good story tellers don't exist in their twenties btw. It just means the average age for a successful novelist tends to be older.
But however the mix of your talent, it is up to you maximise it and work with it if you want to be a successful novelist.


Rula Sinara said...

Excellent post. So true.

Becky Black said...

Very interesting and timely for me as I'm doing some thinking ahead of my long term writing plans and I definitely need to take into account what I know I'm best and and most drawn to.

Teresa F Morgan said...

Very thought provoking, as I've been sitting here struggling with writing my novel, and feeling rather crap about it all, if I'm truthful.

But yes, I do agree with the reasons why authors tend to be older. And certainly I am a different person, with different perspectives and priorities now that I have children.

Thanks, you've given me some vote of confidence. If I work at it, I'll improve and hopefully become the best I can. ;-)