Sunday, February 8, 2009

Story Tellers vs. Word Lovers

I read a blog this week written by a multi published author Kathy Carmichael where she contended that being able to conceptualize a complete story was innate. In other words, like blue eyes or red hair, you either have the natural talent to finish or you don't.

Sounds harsh, doesn't it? I mean, so many wonderful writers with great sentence structure, dialogue and ideas-and she believes that even with this if you don't have the innate ability to finish the book, you never will. Is that like will power? You're either innately thin or you're chubby. People born thin can go through life without a thought of food, while people who tend to walk by a coffee shop gain weight from smelling the fresh bakes scones.

Doesn't mean you can't be thin. Just means you have to work very, very hard at it. I get it. Who wants to do something for a living when you have to work so very hard at it. The answer to that is- a lot of people.

Here's my opinion, I believe there are two kinds of writers. No, I don't mean plotters and pantzers (ones who plot out a story and ones who write by the seat of their pants). I think this is even more fundamental as pantzers can become plotters and vice versa. I believe that fundamentally you are either a story teller or a word person. (Although some story tellers will say they got into the biz because they love words, they are only doing this to sound more intellectual. Anyone who writes six books a year is a story teller.)

Look, I'm a story teller. I admit it. I don't care if I have 100 "was" in the first 10 pages. I get caught up in character. I want to know what happens next. I want to sit in front of an audience and tell them what I see in my head-from beginning to end. I want to enthrall and entertain. I love story.

Word people love to write because they love language. They love the rules of language. They love to debate whether said should be used. What new word can they use to create fresh sparkling dialogue and captivating prose. They love prose.

I think that is what is innate- not the ability to finish what you start. Both kinds of people have their work cut out for them. Story tellers need editors to help them with their prose, repetitive words, passive language, etc. Word people need editors to help them pull away from the words and see character, conflict, what happens next.

To me, its not a matter of being born with the ability to finish or not, but more a matter of figuring out who you are and how you can use that to your advantage. So, which are you? Story teller or word lover?


Marilyn Brant said...

Nancy, I LOVE this! Thank you for your post--it's illuminating and it absolutely rings true for my experience. I'm a story teller. I'm writing my 9th book. This one and all the ones that camed before needed LOTS of shaping and revising. I can appreciate those word lovers out there for the linguistic gifts they bring, but sometimes I feel they get so caught up on the sentence-level stuff that I'll never get to their "story." And they, likewise, are probably very frustrated with my lazy language through those first several drafts...

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Well, I'm hoping I'm a Story-teller, because I am positively NOT a Word-person!

L. Diane Wolfe

Anonymous said...

I don't believe for a moment finishing something has anything to do with talent. It's discipline and skill, both of which are learned. It might be easier for some than others, but it's not genetic. Anyone can finish something.

I'm both a wordie and a storyteller. I don't think the two are related. One can be either, neither, or both.

Ann Victor said...

Excellent post Nancy!

1.I agree that finishing a book has more to do with the learned skill of discipline (although I do think discipline comes easier to some people than others, e.g. my dh is an innately ultra disciplined person, as befits his career, while any discipline I've got has been a hard hard learning curve.)

2. Now, tenacity is an innate trait that is necessary for an author, because without "deurhoevermoed" (a fabulouly descriptive Afrikaans word directly translated as "through hold courage") a writer may have the discipline to finish a book, but will he/she have the ability to endure the constant struggle to get published & stay published?

3. As to word lover vs storyteller...hmmm. This could be looked at as word lover (literary writer) vs story teller (commercial writer). And that I think is innate: one can't 'choose' what one writes best; I think our muse drives us in the direction in which our talent (either literary or commercial)is best showcased. However, I do think that a story-teller can *learn* to be a word lover and vice versa.

And I've said more than enough! Thanks for this interesting discussion!:)

Nancy J. Parra said...

Thanks for the great discussion., everyone! I agree that tenacity is the key-I never thought of it as innate...but I suppose it ambition is innate. What drives you.

Nixy, I think it's Fab that you disagree with Kathy and me. Cool that you can do both the words and story well, but I'm like Marilyn. I frustrate word people. :)

I don't think it's literary vs commercial though, I think a word person can write commercial and a story person can write literary.

I agree with Ann in that it is where your muse takes you- and I LOVE the Afrikaan word. I'm going to add that to my office bulletin board.


Daisy said...

I think its very much down to confidence and dogged determination. It's not easy to finish a book whichever you are. Saying that, I'm not at all sure which 'type' I fall into. I just love to write words that make people feel something - mostly laughter but sometimes tears. The premise comes first, the story second.

other lisa said...

Words, though I hope I can do the other stuff well too. I tend to really care about how the prose sounds, what the rhythm of it is.

Marilyn Brant said...

Nancy~Just returned to read the responses and saw I wrote "the ones that camed before"... Oh, my. You see? My books require lots and lots of revision!!

Ann~I loved that Afrikaans word, too. Thanks for explaining it :).

Pamala Knight said...

Oh Nancy, this is such a stupendous post. I too, am a story teller (as evidenced by my inability to string a decent sentence together) because I just want to get it all out of my head and onto something else, preferably paper.

There's benefits to both and you've done an excellent job of illustrating the eloquence of both positions. I'm in awe of the word people and quite a little frightened of them, too. I consider them like savants because who knows how to put all those words together without having Strunk and White permanently attached to some part of your anatomy? Not me. Anyhoo, excellent and thoughtful post as always.

Hope to see you Monday.

Frances Stephens Goss said...

Wow, Charmichael's statement really gives me the heebie-jeebies.(The hair is standing up on my back.) It's a rather poisonous statement...especially for perfectionists like myself who have had to 'learn discipline' to get beyond our obsessiveness to complete projects. My heart goes out to any aspiring writers who struggle with their work and take Carmichael to heart.
Thank you Nixy. I completely agree with you. There is absolutely nothing innate about the ability to finish a piece. I am a storyteller--my mouth never shuts up. However, I'm also a visual artist. I paint--and my writing is much like my painting. I have to go over it and over it adding layers. My methods are not fast. I'll never be the sort of writer who pumps out a half-dozen novels a year. Hell, I've been working on the same series for 6 years and only have three--but that's tenacity, for you.

Jessica said...

Wow, awesome post Nancy! I've never heard this before. I guess(hope) I'm a storyteller, though in highly emotional scenes I like to weigh my prose a lot.
I have this writer friend who writes literary and her prose is incredible, but she also can storytell. Now that is cool!
See, I'm innately skinny. Never thought much about what I eat.
She's skinny with big ... uh, you know. LOL
What a fascinating post this is. Def. something to think about. Maybe that's why many literary writers have such incredible words but boring plots?

Justus M. Bowman said...

You might have something here, though I can't tell you which category I fall into (maybe I'm a word guy who stinks at word guy stuff...)

I'm starting to think the story teller wins the day. If you disagree, look at some bestselling books and cry about the author's dialogue attribution, word choice, etc.

Nancy J. Parra said...

I agree with Justus, but ya'll must know I have a story teller bias. ;)

Marilyn, it was a typo-just a typo- that's what I tell myself.

Daisy- dogged determination is right!

Other Lisa- I am in awe of word people.

Pamela-look forward to seeing you tonight!

Frankie-there is such a thing as slow story tellers. I started off one book a year- but then they got to be like pop-up tissues. Pull one out and another pops up before you finish.

Jessica- I am in awe of innately skinny people. I'm one of those people who can't get too close to the smell of a bakery or I'll gain ten pounds. :)


Morgan Mandel said...

I think I hit a dead zone on the train before. I don't see my comment. I'm both, because I'm a story teller cursed with an inner editor. She gives me no peace.

Morgan Mandel

Howard said...

I definitely fall into the story teller category during my first and second drafts. By the third and subsequent drafts I have trained myself to switch brain sides and turn into a worder. There are times then when finding just that perfect flow of words is amost mini orgasmic. If I have any innate trait, though, it is drive (read: stubborn as all heck). I will not leave a story or novel unfinished, even if I think it sucks.

~Sia McKye~ said...

I'm a storyteller. I've told stories to friends, family, and myself, long before I thought of trying to publish them. I turned most class assignments into some kind of story--including science projects. Couldn’t do it with algebra though, darn it, which is probably why I was never good in algebra. Had a couple of teachers that seem to have that ability though…

Creating a story means to take an idea, a concept, from an embryo stage to completion or birth. Conceptualize means to form a concept or idea, to conceive (form or develop something in the mind). In that sense, anyone who writes or tells a story from start to finish can be a storyteller

There is another side of conceptualize: The ability to see it ALL in your head long before you put it on paper or word doc. I would then agree with Ms. Carmichael, it is innate—a lot of pantzers will be, to some degree or another, from that school. MOST see parts and pieces of a story idea or certain scenes and then whether you're both plotters or pantzer, work the pieces like a jig saw puzzle and the story is born. Few see the whole scope of story and store it in their head.

Writing a novel or even a short story, from start to finish takes discipline and no, not everyone has it. That’s not to say you can’t learn it. We can be a storyteller and employ discipline to perfect our storytelling abilities; again not everyone has the discipline or desire to do that.

Besides, contacts can change eye color, Ms. Jenny Craig grown rich on changing fat to thin, and Ms. L'Oreal has made a fortune changing hair color...

septembermom said...

As a poet, I see how I'm obsessed with word choice. Now I'm trying to find my voice as a novel writer. I'm having trouble switching into storyteller mode since I'm so caught up in words as images. Thanks for bringing up this topic.