Why should you tell a good story?

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MUST AN AUTHOR be a natural-born storyteller?

It depends.

If she is writing a social studies text book, maybe she can skate on the storytelling.

Maybe.

But if she is writing fiction she’d better be able to tell a good story.

Hold on, Steve, you say.

Now you’ve shifted from “natural-born” storyteller to someone who is just capable of telling a good story.

That’s not the same thing, you say. Storytelling can be learned just like riding a bicycle.

I agree that anyone who writes can get better at it with practice and training.

The issue is really the way the author approaches the world.

If someone asks an author a question about why the Earth revolves around the sun does she reply: “The sun has a big gravitational pull, and the world is trapped in it.” Or does she say: “The gods were fighting about what to do with the extra clay leftover when they made the universe.  They drew straws and the loser threw the last glob of primordial ooze as far away from him as he could. The winner caught it before it fell off the edge of the universe and spun it like a top, kicked it toward the sun.  And there it has remained to this day.”

What’s the better story?

For a writer of fiction this world and all others and their inhabitants are the fodder for an infinite number of stories.

If a person asks a writer, “What’s the best thing that ever happened to you,” the author doesn’t say, “I fell in love once.” Rather she says, “Let me tell you about the night Jimmy and I ran away together,” and plunges into an account of that night so long ago.

Another way of saying this is that for an author storytelling is the default way of looking at and explaining the world.

Just as a singer must sing, a writer must spin a tale.

Writing books is hard work.  I can’t imagine why anyone would even try to do it if she didn’t have a bunch of stories bottled up in her and hundreds more she knows will come along tomorrow.

Tell me a story.

Make it a good one.

Did you hear the one about…?

Stephen Woodfin is the author of Next Best Hope.

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