Story tellers are writers who wield their pens (er, or keyboards) with a brilliance and finesse that appears to defy logic and the writing rules in some cases. You’ve seen them. You know who they are. Wizards with a pen or keyboard is what we all aspire to become. But to reach that, or work toward that or to even know if that’s possible means understanding what makes a writer a writer.
Um, they write, right?
Okay, cheekiness aside, there are various schools of thought on this story tellers business. I’m in the camp that believe writers are born, not made. I’m not saying that there aren’t all varieties of great writers or writers who create inventive, complex and well-threaded yarns that leave you saying “Hey, that was damn good, I really liked that” when you finish reading a piece. That’s not what I’m talking about. There are tonnes of excellent, solid writers around this rock and they work hard at their profession every day. I’m talking about the other kind.
The natural story tellers. The wizards.
Natural story tellers may not always be the most technically perfect writer or have even been formally trained. But they have something else you can’t teach. The ability to infuse words with spirit. It’s the magic part. Don’t believe in magic in words? Shun you non-believer! Okay, you can stay. So how about I enlighten you, instead…
Story tellers and the history of spelling
Writing is the oldest form of magic. Honestly, it used to scare the pants off people. Hey, don’t take my word for it–look it up. Back when almost no culture on earth had a system of writing, of the ones that did, very few people were educated in it. People who knew how to write were revered and also feared, because they were considered magical persons. It’s where the belief in written spells having power arose. It wasn’t the words themselves people feared, but the skill of the ones wielding them.
To the uneducated, the perception of what happened when someone wrote was this… That these skilled people would take a thought or an idea that was inside their head, even the emotion that was tied to it, and then encapsulate it in a concrete form, in a word or multiple words. That concrete form could then be transported to another person, even a stranger, who would decode it on the other end, read the words, and in doing so would feel the same emotion that had been inside the writer, think the same thought that had been inside the writer’s head, before they captured it in that concrete form of written word. To affect another person at a distance, to manipulate their thoughts and emotions in that way was what gave rise to the belief that writing was a form of magic.
When you think of it that way, it really is a lot like that, don’tcha think? This is what I’m talking about when I say writers are born not made. That there are scribes who definitely do a bang-up job, but then there are wizards, the story tellers who can tap into that magic dusted over words hocus-pocus and make you feel what they feel and see what they see. These guys are in another class.
I agree with Stephen King’s belief that a good writer can become great with practice, no question. But writing is an art form and just like any other art, there are practitioners and there are masters. Masters are born with innate ability, that something extra beyond techniques learned, beyond what thousands of hours of practice and polish can accrue. It’s that brilliant, natural and unteachable ability that sets them apart from the rest. It’s the part you can’t describe.
The magic part.
Scribes and Wizards – the difference between “writers” and story tellers
The difference between reading something written by a scribe as opposed to one these wizard story tellers? Okay, well it’s the difference between reading something from someone who’s a great writer and reading something that sucks you in so far you forget where you are, makes you cry when a character who feels like your best friend dies, makes you angry and yell unabashed in an empty room when the villain doesn’t get his comeuppance and then feel emotionally drained and yet strangely, deeply sated when it’s over. It’s the difference between a great book and a classic that’s enduring in its ability to affect people across decades and ages and never dulls with the passage of time. It’s what everyone who writes wants to produce, but few achieve.
There are a lot of people who call themselves “writers”, but to me, that title is right up there with “bard” and should be reserved for those with that natural born ability to affect people at a distance. To me, it’s really simple–there are people who write, the scribes, and then there are natural born writers, the story tellers and masters, the wizards. Just my personal opinion, but, then again, I’ve been called a giant snob and am perfectly comfortable with that. Really, I’m just very serious and careful and thoughtful about all artists and feel they deserve their proper credit and respect.
In an age where we have software that can help anyone produce just about anything artistic, I feel as though anyone who has that natural born ability in whatever their art might be needs to be defended. These things need to be said outloud and makes these subtle distinctions even more important.
Let’s remember, not everyone who produces artwork in Photoshop is an artist. Not everyone who captures images on their iPhone camera and puts it up on YouTube is a filmmaker. Not everyone who’s capable of writing a formula story using the Microsoft Word default thesaurus to expand their vocabulary is a writer.
Next time someone tells you they’re a writer, think about these things. Are they a scribe? Or are they one of the natural born story tellers, a wizard.