The Difference Between A Writer And A Storyteller
I would like to start off by saying I mean no offence to anyone with what I’m about to say. It’s only my opinion, my way of seeing the things I’ve come across over the past few years.
About a year ago, I was sitting with my cousin watching college football. During a commercial break, I looked over at his cherry red electric guitar and said I wished I was a musician like him. He’d taught himself how to play almost every instrument, and had become extremely good at it. He said he wished he was a writer like me. It was one of those ‘grass is greener’ moments. But I corrected him by saying, “I’m not a writer, I’m a storyteller. There’s a difference.” He asked me what I meant, and this is basically what I said:
About seven years ago a friend of mine introduced me into the metaphorical world of Anne Rice. I know, The Vampire Chronicles had been around for a long time, and I’d seen Interview with the Vampire. I’d never read any of Anne Rice’s books, but I was a huge fan of the vampire mythology. A friend of mine, a fellow vampire fan, told me I had to read Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. She gave me The Vampire Lestat, and I was hooked. I read the entire series after that. I remember checking out a chat where people were talking about Anne Rice. Most of it was positive, but a lot of it was very critical. The thing I kept reading over and over again, “she can’t write.” The thing I also started to notice is that most of the people criticizing Anne Rice were either English Majors or Literary Majors in college. I saw how they were trying to compare her to people I didn’t think she should be compared to, like Jane Austen or Charles Dickens. I don’t think it’s fair to compare Anne Rice to either of them, or writers like them, simply because they are different types of artist. Some authors are writers, while others are storytellers.
Don’t get me wrong, good writers have to be able to tell a compelling story, and good storytellers have to be able to put together readable sentences that flow. But, they are completely different art forms. Writers can take simple, and complex, words and put them to together to form sentences that amaze readers with its poetic beauty. Storytellers take simple, or complex, ideas and amaze readers with its dazzling presentation. Writers are the children of Euripides and Shakespeare. They are brilliant with word choices in describing a simple landscape, or an entire oppressive era in life. Storytellers are the decedents of the old traveling gypsies and tribal legend keepers. Their ability to take stories, and present them in easy to follow and engrossing ways helped legends to flow from generations to generations. Homer, collected legends from traveling storytellers and put them together to create The Odyssey. I only mention that because Homer gets much deserved credit for being a great writer, but the traveling storytellers seem to be left out of most of the accolades. I’ll get back to that in a minute.
I’ve been thinking about the difference between a writer and a storyteller because of all the flack Stephanie Meyer has been taking. I heard an interview that Stephen King did, where he tried to compare her to T.S. Eliot. I thought to myself, that’s not far. Yes, they both are authors, but in my opinion one is a great writer, while the other is a great storyteller. You can’t look at their work with the same view, because it is like critiquing a Realism painting and an Avant-garde painting with the same standards. Yes, they are both paintings, but Realism and Avant-garde are different art forms. I think people should look at authors in the same way.
One last example, Salem’s Lot and Interview with the Vampire are both books about vampires, and both came out around the same time. Both books were hugely successful and created their own cult following. In my opinion, Salem’s Lot is a better ‘written’ book, but Interview with the Vampire is a better ‘story’.
I think both art forms drive the literary world. One is respected much more over the other, but most storytellers understand the elite will always love Homer, while trying to keep the travelers out of the acknowledgments.