Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Telling the Story vs. Storytelling

I wrote, a little over a week ago, about the "big lesson" I have been learning from reading JK Rowling's latest book: The Casual Vacancy. It's all about the art of storytelling. I'd like to expand upon that here.

Anyone can tell a story, I mean if we couldn't, every single social situation would be silent. However, just because someone tells you some story, this does not put them on the same level of JKR. This occurred to me while reading The Casual Vacancy because, unlike the Harry Potter series, this book is has a more grounded storyline, free of fantasy, wizards and things that were created in the recesses of Rowling's mind. So, since the story isn't the hugely unique experience that Harry Potter was for me, i was wondering, what keeps me turning pages? Then it hit me: it's the storytelling.

I'd like to demonstrate the difference by telling you a story of something that happened to me - first in a very straightforward way, and then showing you how my telling differs when I put my storyteller hat on.

Here's what happened:

A number of years ago, when I used to run in the morning for exercise and peace of mind, I had one amazing experience that will always stay with me. I got up extra early on that day, started my run just as usual, but, for some reason, everything felt right that day - the weather was right, the neighborhood was quiet and my pace was perfect. I felt like a superstar!

Anyway, I always run the same route - it's about three miles from my house and back - but on this day, since everything was going so well, I wanted to stretch it out. So, when I came up to the point where I normally run alongside the woods, I decided, this time, to go in. That's when it happened - not ten feet in front of me - I was face to face with a deer! It was majestic! It was magnificent! I was stopped in my tracks. Something about the experience was spiritual for me. The deer saw me, I saw it, and I knew I didn't belong.

I stepped out of the woods and walked home in quiet contemplation. The beauty of the moment was overwhelming.

The End

That's THE story. It's what happened. It's essentially how I tell the story to people if I were casually talking to them; it gets the point across.

Read it on
When I started this blog in 2011 it was so I could have a place to participate in the writing activities provided by Write on Edge (back then they were calling themselves The Red Dress Club). The first time I did I used the story of my run as inspiration. That's when I wrote "Off My Trail". I want you to take a moment to read that.


OK. In "Off My Trail" I was a storyteller. The facts are all there, nothing is changed or added to what happened to me on that day, but this is so much more than THE story I told above. I sat down in front of my keyboard as a more than someone who was relaying the details of some event that happened in my life; I also wished to entertain the brain of my readers.

When writing, the details are important, the mood is the writer's choice, the emotion must come through. I didn't just give you the facts I invited you to feel them! What does that look like? Here are just a few examples I can see:
  • In the story above I told you "my pace was perfect", in Off My Trail I gave you the beat "one two one two" --- both of these are true, both discuss the same fact however in one I am telling you what happened, in the second I invite you to feel it.
  • In the story above I said, "I always run the same route - it's about three miles from my house and back", in Off My Trail I explained that route, taking the reader on the trip with me, "It is three miles from my kitchen door, to the baseball field and back. It's my route."
  • In the story above I said "the point where I normally run alongside the woods", in Off My Trail I said, "the block that borders the Greenbelt Natural Reserve" --- what I casually call "the woods" is the Greenbelt Natural Reserve, calling it by its name now adds life to it and a bit more depth, I think. (I didn't really think of that at the time I was writing, but I can feel a bit of the difference now upon reflection.)

There are definitely more examples, but I am not going to dissect the entire story. The point is Off My Trail , in my opinion, provides a more vivid snapshot of what took place that day and, in the end is a more "magical" telling if the story. This is what I see as the power of The Casual Vacancy. JK Rowling brings her magical storytelling to a story about ordinary people.

I think, this is the true challenge for all writers. We must ask ourselves at each step, Am I just telling the story, or am I storytelling?

With each passing page of my reading The Casual Vacancy it has become clearer and clearer to me that this is what my issue is with my current WIP. During all of my rereads, I couldn't help but feel as though *something* has been missing. Now I know what it is. I have a story; now I just have to put my storytelling hat on to truly tell it!

Do you have any tips for helping writers to wake the artful storyteller within?

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post Nicole. I love how you showed the difference between the two stories. I also really enjoyed the story. I did FEEL THE "magic" of the moment. Peace to you.