What's The Difference Between Writing And Storytelling?

Are You a Writer or a Storyteller?

What's The Difference Between Writing And Storytelling?“I am a writer!”

This is one of the most important and freeing statements any of us ever makes. It’s almost a rite of passage. The moment you can look your banker/hairdresser/pastor/aunt in the eye and tell them (without mumbling) that you are writer, hear you type—well, then, congratulations, you’ve crossed an important threshold in claiming your power as an artist.

However, not to complicate your victory or anything, but what you may really be trying to tell Pastor John and Aunt Lucy is that you’re a storyteller. Or maybe you’re a storytelling writer. Or is it a writing storyteller?

Or maybe I’m just nitpicking, because aren’t they basically the same thing? Aren’t “writer” and “storyteller” pretty much interchangeable?

Yes and no.

Yes, we pretty much assume that if someone is a fiction writer, then they’re also a storyteller. And vice versa: if they’re a storyteller, then, more than likely, they’re writing those stories down.

But also, no: because “writing” and “storytelling” are, in fact, totally separate skill sets. One does not automatically come as a BOGO with the other. Even though we are all interested in both, most of us still gravitate more strongly to one or the other. One of them was the reason we started creating novels, and the other was something we learned along the way.

Understanding whether you are more naturally a writer or a storyteller can help you take better advantage of your strengths and address your weaknesses in the most holistic way possible.

What Is Writing?

Definitions first, please. If there’s such a big difference between writing and storytelling, then what is it?

Writing is, well, writing. It’s the art of putting words on the page in a pleasing way that accurately, efficiently, and sometimes artfully conveys information. It’s what I’m doing right in creating this blog post. What I’m not doing is telling a story.

Writers come in all stripes and sizes. Some of us do indeed tell stories. Others report facts, offer inspiration and encouragement, or create technical guidance. However, for our purposes, we are, of course, interested in those who create stories—specifically, fiction.

The moment you put words on the page to evoke a story, you’re a writer. But just because you’re telling a rip-roaring old yarn doesn’t mean your writing is, perforce, equally riproaring. You can be a fabulous storyteller and a downright awful writer.

Writing is the skill of evoking the reader’s imagination. It’s wordcraft. It’s the mastery of narrative technique. Following is a sample listing of skills that fall under the heading of writing:

What Is Storytelling?

Storytelling, on the other hand, has no inherent connection to writing. Storytelling is the tradition of discovering and portraying the dramatic patterns of life—and if you’re a good storyteller, sharing them with enough suspenseful emotion and resonant truth to steal the hearts of your audience.

Storytelling happens across media. We find it not only in novels, but in movies, television, poetry, song, painting, photography, even dance. Humans, by nature, are storytellers. We seek to translate our experiences into cohesive snapshots—both to capture them as memories and to discover any deeper meaning they might offer.

Storytelling is the skill of finding the universal truths of human experience and translating them into cohesive drama. When we talk about any of the following, we’re actually referring less to writing and more to storytelling:

How to Develop These Two Different Skill Sets

Story, by itself, is little more than raw emotion and imagination. Transforming it into a medium others can appreciate and understand requires a skillful translation technique. By the same token, writing alone is nothing more than sensible, and possibly pretty, words strung across the page. To tell truly great stories, we must master both skills.

So which is your strength—writing or storytelling?

One clue may be your preferred approach to your books. Do you prefer to discover your stories in an outline before writing the first draft? Or do you prefer to discover your stories while actually writing the first draft?

As I’ve discussed elsewhere, all successful writers must use a mix of writing techniques: plotting and pantsing, logic and creativity, storytelling and writing. Each of us organizes these processes differently within our own approaches.

My experience in teaching outlining to thousands of writers over the years has shown me that much of the resistance to outlining is simply due to writers not having yet understood outlining for what it really is—brainstorming—and/or not having yet found a flexible system of outlining that works for their creativity and lifestyle.

However, something I realized about myself recently helped me see this from an even better perspective. I realized what I love most about the craft is not actually writing but rather storytelling. In turn, this is one of the main reasons I love outlining so much.

Outlining allows me to separate and further focus my two necessary skill sets. In outlining, I get to focus on the storytelling without having to simultaneously worry about creating a perfect narrative technique that will convey that story to my readers. Once the outline has afforded me a complete and solid story, I can then focus on using my writing stills to bring that story to life for readers in the most evocative way possible.

This isn’t to say this is the only way, or even the best way, to balance these two very different skills. But it’s important to at least be aware they are different. If you’re struggling with trying to tell your story from scratch in the first draft, or wondering why you always end up with messy first drafts that require a lot of revising, it may well be because you’re trying to do two things at once: discover the story while telling it to readers.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter at all whether you were first drawn to fiction out of your love of story or your love of wordcraft. What matters is that you learn to perfect both.

3 Ways to Become a Better Storyteller

1. Learn to View Story From Both the Inside and the Outside

The psychology and technique of story is vast and complex. It’s like a massive diamond. You hold it in your hand and turn it every which way, trying to see all the different ways the light catches its facets. And even then, you still don’t see all there is to see; you have put it close to your eye, maybe get out your magnifying glass, and look deeper, all the way to its glistening heart.

Storytelling is like that. To truly understand and master it, you can’t look at it from just one perspective. You must move back and forth, looking at it from afar to see the big picture of how all its pieces fit together, then closing in to consider the beat-by-beat cause and effect of how it develops paragraph by paragraph.

Arguably, a good story’s most important qualification is cohesion. The halves must align. The questions asked in the first half must find their answers in the second half.

This is where outlining can prove a valuable aid (and why I’m so excited about our brand-new Outlining Your Novel Workbook computer program!).

By stepping back from the story and first considering its big picture, you’re able to make sure its questions are finding the right answers, and that its answers are paired to the right questions. Outlining allows you to address the throughline of your story’s structure, so you can make sure the big pieces are all in their proper places before you start sorting through the little pieces and trying to figure out where they go.

2. Look for the Story Beneath the Story

What is story? It’s many things, of course. But if we strip it down to its beating heart, what we find is theme. A story (no matter how casual or puerile) is a statement about the world.

When you start out by looking for that statement, you will be able to immediately identify what your story is about. This, in turn, allows you to choose the right plots and characters to best support that story.

You can then use this knowledge to see your story clearly. You can strip away the pieces that don’t belong or that are resulting in dead ends, and focus on creating a story that resonates thematically in the most powerful way possible.

3. Study Story Theory

Ultimately, storytelling is really all about story theory. If you start studying and perfecting any of the subjects we mentioned above (plot, character, theme, etc.), you are learning how to be a better storyteller.

Storytelling is a creative art form that wells up, instinctively, from the human psyche. As a result, perfecting its conscious mastery is, in fact, a pursuit of human psychology. It is a perfecting of our veneration and respect for life itself. It is a study in awe and humility. It is a search for Truth.

You can’t be an excellent storyteller without first being a devoted student of life.

3 Ways to Become a Better Writer

1. Learn How to “Show”

If storytelling is about gathering and organizing metaphoric interpretations of life, then writing, in its turn, is about more than just sharing these gleanings. Rather, it is about bringing them to life.

Writing fiction is the art of dramatizing. We don’t just want to tell readers about our story; we want them to live it.

This is why perhaps the most fundamental tool of narrative writing is “show versus tell.” This is the technique of dramatizing, rather than summarizing events. It is the skill of choosing vivid nouns and verbs and parsing them in active and immediate sentence constructions.

It is also, arguably, the single most challenging aspect of writing excellence. That’s as it should be, though, since if you can master the balance of showing and telling, you will have mastered the ability to go all Inception on your readers and bring your visions to life in their own imaginations.

2. Practice the Art of Information Dissemination

What are you doing when you’re telling a story? You’re sharing information, right? But anybody can do that. The trick to good writing is disseminating that information in the most aware and artful manner possible.

This, too, ties back into an awareness of psychology. Basically, what you’re wanting to do is create an intricate dance that mesmerizes readers into allowing you to temporarily control their minds. You give them just the right bit of info at just the right time to help them visualize the scene, to nudge their emotional reaction to a character, to inspire them to ask the right questions.

This technique works hand in hand with that of “showing,” and like showing, we might say it is the whole art of writing all to itself. Although certain of its principles can be taught (e.g., “scatter descriptive details throughout a scene” or “share backstory only as it becomes necessary” or “use action beats to ground your setting during dialogue“), this is ultimately a skill that must be developed through personal experience.

Which is why it is so important to…

3. Practice

The art of storytelling can largely be learned without practicing. All you have to do is study stories and study life. (There are many excellent students of story theory who are not, in fact, particularly skillful conveyers of those stories.) Writing, however, you must practice.

The rhythm and flow of good prose, the ability to choose evocative details that “show” readers, and the instinctive understanding of what info to share and when—these are all largely skills that cannot be taught. Rather, writers learn to perfect them through, first, a conscious observation of the techniques of other writers, but then, most importantly, by actually getting down and dirty with the words on the page and learning how to control them.

This is yet another reason, I prefer to separate the storytelling and writing processes, via outlining. If I can get the largest of the vital storytelling questions out of the way before I start writing, this frees my focus in the first draft so I can concentrate on the intricate task of narrative wordcraft.

Perhaps, like me, you were a storyteller from your earliest memory, and it was this love that led you to the companion love of words and writing. Or perhaps you have always been a logophile, addicted to the rhythm and grace of words on paper—and this love gave you the further cathartic and enlightening gift of storytelling. Either way, both gifts are ours to explore, to expand upon, and to use in writing amazing stories. Recognizing the differences in these two skill sets can help you improve upon both, as you optimize your writing process to best suit your creative needs.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Were you drawn to fiction first as a writer or a storyteller? How do you think this propensity has shaped your personal process? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Wow, yet again you’ve written a post with important information I never knew I needed. I’m more writer than storyteller, which is why I tend to overdo internal monologue and sometimes forget to make my characters *act*. That worked all right for my first novel, a family drama in which the principal conflict is protagonist vs. herself, but for the high fantasy I’m writing at the moment, I need to become more of a storyteller.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The thing I love so much about this life we’ve chosen is that it’s never either/or. We *always* get the best of both worlds if we’re willing to put in the work to pursue them.

  2. Also, “You can’t become an excellent storyteller without first being a devoted student of life” has earned a place on my list of important quotes. 🙂

    • MICHELE says:

      Even though I knew from high school that I wanted to be a writer, I waited to attempt my novel (my story) because I felt like at that age I hadn’t seen enough of life to have much of a story to tell.

  3. Jason Hinz says:

    Definitely a storyteller! I’ve got a lot of exciting ideas, but the “writer” side of me isn’t quite developed enough to execute on them. I’m sure I’m not alone in that. Loved this post!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Another good exercise for improving the writing side is grabbing a few of your favorite books off the shelf and transcribing a couple pages. Writing them out, word by word, really helps you get a feel for the rhythm and word choice the author is successfully employing.

  4. Question: how does this relate to left brain vs right brain? At first I thought it was a similar distinction, since storytelling could correspond to the creative, imaginative side while writing would be the analytical, logical side. But then it sounded​ like both are more creative; you say even writing is about making beautiful rhythms and sounds.

    That’s important to me because I’m not sure which side of my brain is stronger. In the same way, I can’t remember which first drew me to writing fiction: storytelling or writing? But if these are separate distinctions​… Maybe I’ll be able to make more progress.

    Thanks!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s not quite cut and dried (and, supposedly, right brain/left brain isn’t even a thing any more–although I still like it for illustrative purposes). In reality, of course, our brains aren’t so much compartments as big mixing bowls, where all the ingredients swirl together to create the delicious piece de resistance.

      However, that said, I categorize like this:

      Right Brain: Subconcious: Creativity
      Left Brain: Conscious: Logic

      Outlining/storytelling is, of course, both creative and logical, but within this article, I’m classing it more as logical, since it’s a rational process, whereas the writing–when we’re in the zone–just flows out of the deep well of our inner selves.

  5. Yes. Once again you nailed it, Katie. I wrote my entire first novel without realizing that I was a good writer, but not a good storyteller! Thanks to your blog & books, I am learning how to be a better storyteller. Thank you for not only laying out the distinction between the two so clearly, but for also giving us steps to tackle our shortcomings. Bravo!

  6. This is one of my favorites yet! I love a conceptual framework for understanding how different people think. It’s interesting to think through how I fit into each side of the storyteller/writer dichotomy, though in the end there isn’t any serious question that I’m a writer first and a storyteller second. I am nearly as interested in literary essays as in novels, and I sometimes get nearly the same type of aesthetic pleasure from a well-constructed argument as from a literary masterpiece or piece of music — the pleasure of seeing how the parts relate to the whole, the precision with which the core idea is set out, and the brightness of the ideas.

    The dichotomy that had come to my mind is the Architect versus the Dancer — are you primarily concerned with creating a fixed aesthetic object, or transmitting an aesthetic experience in motion? Then I saw this sentence: “Basically, what you’re wanting to do is create an intricate dance that mesmerizes readers into allowing you to temporarily control their minds.” This is just what I was thinking of (and what I do NOT naturally do)! Some writers/storytellers are more naturally interested in the intensity of the experience in motion; some are more naturally interested in what the story will look like as a completed whole, from the bird’s eye view. Readers need both. At least, that is one of my theories. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Great points–especially about the Architect vs. the Dancer. I think, too, it depends on our motivations for creating our art. Are we primarily concerned with a thing of beauty–or a thing of beauty that is a metaphor for something else?

      I love books whose chief virtue is the insane beauty of their prose. But I can’t write them. My prose *can* be beautiful on occasion, but it’s not *why* I write.

      • That’s a great point. We bring all of who we are to what we do, and there is really no point in wanting to be someone else. I agree about motivation — it makes a different whether it’s Beauty for Beauty’s sake or Beauty for Truth’s sake. My first inclination is to say, obviously the latter is better! But that isn’t actually, well, True. 🙂 I have read very convincing arguments that literature should make an argument that cannot be expressed as a proposition. I think that’s incomplete — it’s not hard to think of great literature that makes a very clear (and propositional) argument — but it’s certainly one valid way of thinking about art.

        And of course at some point, one has to stop theorizing and just get the story written. 🙂

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          I do think that, inherently, Truth is Beauty and Beauty is Truth–so in portraying one, we can’t help but portray the other. However, it’s still valuable to know what our primary focus is, because it influences every choice we make in the process in general and the story in particular.

  7. Ms. Albina says:

    Katie, great article

    I am a writer. I am not much of a story teller. If they work hand in hand then authors have to be both.

    How do you show writing the characters hair color-male or female?

  8. Whatever the label, — Artist, writer, Inkweaver, Word Enchantress, Seanchai (Gaelic for Irish storyteller, haha)…

    Obviously you can be one, the other, or all of the above and more!

    But like a novel/story needs that holy trinity of ‘Plot, theme, and character’ as a strong, balanced foundation to be ‘great’, I’ve always personally felt that the most ‘balanced’ fiction writers either have or are able to portray that holy trinity of writer/storyteller/and artist as a base of their skill set. Because at the end of the day, it’s about both the CRAFT of writing, and the ART of storytelling 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I agree. I think it’s one of the reasons I love this gig so much: it both offers and demands *everything.* So many facets for us to explore

  9. I have briefly thought about this idea of writing vs. storytelling. I decided to pursue a degree in English after some of my professors told me how good my writing is.

    Unfortunately, when it comes to storytelling, I prefer theory over practice, and I haven’t considered myself a huge reader since my Harry Potter days. I figure my best bet from here is to get into the habit of reading by plowing through decent young adult books, getting myself hooked, and then return to canonical books and storytelling attempts.

    Does that sound about right?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Sounds about right to me. 🙂 Experiencing the stories of others is the single best way to absorb the principles of good storytelling.

  10. The best writer I know is not a good story-teller. She’s a great writer because she knows how to use words to evoke an image and pull at your emotions. But son-of-a-gun, in all those beautiful words it’s almost impossible to discern the story.
    Now, I know there’s a story in there because she told me so. She even told me the outline of the story.
    But when you KNOW the plot and still cannot find the story among that stream of beautiful words…
    Well, that’s the point, isn’t it?
    I would send a link to her so that she might read this article, but damn it folks, she won’t read it. She doesn’t think she needs advice because… you guessed it. Because she’s the best writer I know. And she doesn’t think she needs advice.
    And she’s no longer talking to me because… you guessed it. I tried to tell her that I can’t find the story in all those beautiful words.
    And round and round we go, and where it ends nobody knows.
    *sigh*

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Eh well, we can’t walk other people’s journeys for them. If she’s happy doing what she’s doing, awesome. If one day she decides it’s not working for her because all her readers want a story, well then, she’ll start searching for–and finding–the answers. 🙂

  11. The question was: Were you drawn to fiction first as a writer or a storyteller?
    I was always a writer.
    But to write my first novel I was drawn, not to telling a story, but to uncovering a character who incidentally had a story.
    Hope that makes sense.
    For me it works this way. Right now I have a character deep in my mind. I want to write about him. I can’t begin to write until I find his story.
    So now I’m looking for the story. It’s to be a historical novel. It’s about a character I’ve already followed through four historical novels (Katie, you know the novels). Now I want to fill a time gap in the continuing series of novels.
    Here’s where story becomes primary. I know the character, I know the timeline, but I don’t know what happened to the character during that historical moment in time.
    And so I do not yet begin to write.
    And yes, I will develop an outline this time before beginning to write. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Ah, the old “plot vs character” question. 😀 I tend to believe, though, that they’re inherent to one another. They create one another. So if you’re uncovering a character, you’re also uncovering a plot, even if that’s not your entry point.

  12. I’ve been told I am a good wordsmith and I do enjoy forcing a sentence into shape. I’ve written poems and plays and I enjoy the physical act of writing- pen to paper, so I think I am a writer mostly. As I develop my novel and continue to learn the craft, I am learning to tell stories and I am learning to outline and mind map before I start to learn the story before I begin. Thanks Katie, your blogs are always inspiring.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I think there will come a point where we are so well-rounded in both aspects that it will no longer really matter whether we started as one or the other. In the meantime, understanding our motivations and skills helps us know what areas we need to work on. 🙂

  13. Great post as always. I am learning to be a writer telling a story. I see it in my mind but I am having challenges putting it on paper. 🙁
    In time…

    • Hi Dwane, I am exactly the same, my story wants to be told. Sometimes I have a feeling it is an autonomous creature inside me. But the writing part… I have recently realised it is a craft that I need to work on. Thanks Katie for this wonderful site, your posts are always motivating for me!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s the whole challenge of bringing sharing our imagination with others, isn’t it?

  14. Josiah DeGraaf says:

    This is great! I’ve been coming to this realization gradually myself over the course of this past year, but this post really helped me to solidify those distinctions and realize that I’m naturally better at storytelling than writing, and thus need to work on my writing more.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I’m coming more and more believe that one of the great secrets of life is learning to harmonize our conscious minds with our subconscious understandings. Being able to recognize our strengths and weaknesses is a big part of that.

      • J.M Barlow says:

        I’m realizing similar things. Balancing the conscious and subconscious is a tall order. Lately I’ve been working on being in complete control of my own mood.

        It’s funny that you say this with regards to this topic though. Subconsciously, my story comes out. When I’m writing, it’s much more of a conscious effort. But only with regards to my stories. Because I can post here on a whim – I have SwiftKey on my iPhone and my finger just glides around and I blabber on and on without barely thinking about what I’m even saying. I wish I could do that when I’m writing scenes in a draft. I find that some paragraphs come much easier than others. Some scenes come easier than others.

        Part of it comes down to the comfort zone, I think. Posting comments, I do with confidence. Writing drafts, not so much… I haven’t had beta readers since my casual writing in high school. Nowadays, I don’t even have anything ready for beta reading. Truth is, I don’t know when to stop outlining and start drafting.

        To me, outlining counts as part of the story crafting process – and thus, the storytelling – so I just don’t really stop. And I’ll be the first to admit that when I first came to this site, I was wondering if the outlining process was being overblown a bit, here. Nope. Outlining is fun!

        So thanks for the post. This makes me realize where I need to rally my conscious efforts to improve as an author-to-be, and allow my subconscious self do the storytelling some of the time.

        … I wish my teachers in high school had half the mind you have – and your ability to teach. All through my teenage years, I wanted to write, but my teachers were just so discouraging. It felt like I spent five years exclusively learning poetry…

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          I don’t know that we ever truly control our moods, even if we’re skilled at covering them up. The best we can do is be in harmony with our subconscious in a healthful and productive way.

  15. Jenni G. says:

    Wonderful article! I’m definitely more of a storyteller than a writer. Always have been by the sound of it. 😄
    I do enjoy writing descriptions or engaging in a wrestling match with the passive voice every so often, but character arcs and theme are by far my favorite things to study in fiction. Developing my writing to the point where I can actually get the stories I create across effectively is one of my biggest struggles. *shudders* 😜
    That tip you gave Jason sounds like something I need to try too! 🙂
    Again, awesome article.

  16. Rebekah says:

    I believe I’m more of a storyteller than a writer. I’ve always loved the process of coming up with my own little worlds, but I also love the process of putting them down on paper. So I’m definitely both. I do realize I need to work on my writing skills, specifically story theory and learning how to show and not tell. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      We get the best of both worlds! 🙂 I probably wouldn’t be a writer if I didn’t want to tell stories. But I’m very glad it worked out that way, since I’ve fallen in love with the writing on its own merits.

  17. Shannon says:

    I’m a storyteller. I love the written word but just verbally telling someone a story is like being every character at once and I get euphoric! And when I think about it that’s kind of what we do when we wrote as well. Aaaahhh the joys of this life. Thanks for this post!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      That’s interesting. I’m a *terrible* oral storyteller. :p

      • Joe Long says:

        I was a story teller first, mostly oral. I can go on at length telling you about myself or things that happened or debating politics. As I’ve learned to write it’s helped me to organize (outline) even in my head. In a few seconds as I’m speaking, or a few minutes even if I’m writing something as brief as this, I decide on what will most effectively express my thoughts.

        I just started writing at a blog, a volunteer thing to write about my favorite baseball team. I’ve been a commenter there for quite awhile and know most everyone, and got quite a few compliments on my writing. I responded how I learned from personal contact with sports writers to find the story of the game, and also how my aversion to repeating words gives my writing a wider vocabulary. I’m glad they enjoyed the experience.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Yep, I would have guessed storyteller for you.

          • Joe Long says:

            When I was younger I read a lot, but rarely fiction. I was a science nerd. Even into my adult years I loved to talk about things but found it almost impossible to imagine new, fictional stories. That started coming to me about ten years ago, and for awhile I basing the stories on myself and the things I knew best. Now I feel ready to branch out into the wider world.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            It’s always interesting to hear other people’s journeys to the writing life.

  18. I was first drawn to fiction by watching TV and movies. From an early age, I was drawn to the stories they told. This was before people said there should be restrictions on how many hours kids watched TV. Especially on TV series, you could see how characters developed over time. I discovered books later, and even then, tried to imagine them as a movie or TV show. I still do that even today. If the book has been turned into a movie or TV show, I always wonder why certain scenes were cut. Many times, the movie isn’t like I imagined it at all. When I write, I carry some of that with me.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I did the same thing. Before I ever knew I wanted to be a writer, I would make up and act out stories in my head, which I called “my movies.”

  19. According to my report cards, I spent a whole lot of time in school libraries from the second grade on. I loved to read even then so I’m going to say that’s what drew me to fiction. I’m not sure how it developed from there but I was writing plays for my sibs and cousins before I was ten, then started writing stories when I got too old to play with Barbie dolls. So I’m going to say writing came first, briefly, followed by the need to get the stories in my head on paper. You know, the stories Barbie and Ken lived out for me. 🙂

    How did it shape my personal process? I don’t have a clue. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, literally since I was a kid. It’s just something that’s always been a part of me.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Hah. You just reminded me of the plays I wrote when I was a kid. One was kind of a Romeo and Juliet spoof. One was about neighborhood gang solving mysteries. :p

  20. Great post, K.M. Writing and storytelling appear to be two sides of a coin. I think that we must master both to be masters of our craft. Ultimately, I would choose to be a storyteller first. And to get my stories into the world I must be a writer too. Good thoughts. Thanks again.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes, we might think of it as storytelling being the fuel and writing being the vehicle.

  21. M.L. Bull says:

    I was a storyteller first through acting and dressing up when I was little. I believe this and childhood imagination may have led to my interest in writing, as I now consider myself both a storyteller and writer. Sometimes I randomly talk about different events that my characters in my saga series are supposed to go through that I haven’t even written yet. And others think I’m talking about someone in real life. Lol. 😄

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      As Neil Gaiman says, “Growing up is highly overrated. Be an author.” 😉

  22. I’m not sure but I think I’m a writer who likes to tell stories. My first book (& so far only book to finish) was my personal memoir going through breast cancer–meaning I didn’t have to come up with a story–just write what really happened.
    I’m also decent at finding grammar errors & typo’s in others writing making me think I’m lean more at writing (but I must admit to often making typo’s of my own thanks to my bad typing skills).
    I have several stories that I have started but not finished–partly because after receiving a critique on a couple of them, I was told I didn’t have enough conflict, & then before I figured out what I needed to do to add more conflict, Nano came up & I decided to start fresh with a new story. Now, through Nano, I have half to 3/4 of TWO stories in a sequel–NEITHER finished! UGH…
    How much does your Outlining software cost? I think I need something like it to help me get these stories finished!

    • I also have difficulty writing a quick comment to anything! And I can talk for quite awhile with complete strangers (or friends). I often find myself needing to apologize for ‘writing a book’ when leaving a post on others FB pages…LOL
      Does that make me a storyteller of a writer? Hmm 🤔

  23. directornoah says:

    Very thought provoking article. I would say I’m primarily a storyteller. I’ve wrote stories for as long as I can remember, ever since I was about six. Sometimes, I would watch a movie or read a fantastic book, and be so inspired by it, I’d think “Wow, I want to create something like that.” Usually, all my attempts would end up being hopeless disasters, as I was too young to be able to grasp anything about how to write properly.
    When I got older and finally finished a much better story, I was able to see and understand the strengths and weaknesses of it and myself, (with help from a beta reader, of course!)
    For instance, I’m good at building a plot, structuring a coherent story, creating conflict and suspense. I’m also not bad at description, pacing, dialogue and POV.
    In this case, I’d say I’m both a storyteller and writer, but my writing side needs work. At the moment, I’m finding that as I continue writing, my style and the way I bring the scenes and emotions in my mind to life, and then convey them accurately on the page using the right words, is difficult, but definitely improving.
    But I’m afraid I’m useless at verbally telling stories, I simply get into a real mess of confusion. When you develop and write it down on paper, it is much easier to see the big picture and format your story correctly.
    For me, there is no greater joy, than to have your beta readers enthralled and gripped by your story, along with its world and characters. I think it is a driving passion of being a storyteller, and one of the main reasons I wanted to become an author.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      You sound like me. My earliest memory, at around age 3, is of sitting in a treehouse making up a story. I’ve always enjoyed words and reading as well, but the stories came first.

  24. J.M Barlow says:

    Fun post!

    I lay somewhere on the storytelling side of the spectrum. Not really sure where. I’m set on writing novels as I progress, even if my current WIP is a graphic novel. The story lends itself to that medium more.

    I was coming up with stories, playing with my toys, that went on and on, starting when I was six. I didn’t get big into writing anything down until I was about ten years old.

    On that same note, I enjoy posting comments on blogs and forums just for the excuse to write. So there’s definitely aspects of both in there.

    As for the amount of outlining I like to do compared to figuring out my story during the draft… I’ll let you know when I get there, I guess.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      That sounds very similar to my journey. I started writing when I was about twelve and never looked back.

  25. Garrett says:

    First off, to answer the question posed: I was drawn to fiction first as the idea of a writer, I think. My interests in the subject started in photography, then in to cinematography down the rabbit hole to stories and finally storytelling. You know, that second question is great. I’d say I relate to the process of coming to stories the same way you do. The part that I love most about the whole process is the *storytelling.* The part that allows me to spend most of my time under the surface in the subconscious, really just playing around. That’s the most fun for me. I can think of a solution to something that’s bothering me, and then instantaneously change my mind and do something else (it’s really the like the mind’s giant white board)! It’s more of a pure process than writing ideas down on paper then scribbling them out (not that I don’t write them down).
    The writing is a separate process for me in which after I’ve figured out the story I want to tell, the words need to take shape that gets the lovely intent across. So, I guess I’m more in love with the storytelling process and theory than I am with the actual writing. However, the more time I spend writing (words on paper), the more I am smitten with the difficulty in saying what I mean, in the least amount of words, in the best way possible.
    On a separate note, I just wanted to say this article has really shown your maturity and growing process maybe more than any (besides maybe the personal post you wrote about if writing matters) other since following your blog. I can tell that you’ve really come to a new place in writing, where you are seeing the possibilities no longer as an impossibility, but as a challenge to overcome with the knowledge you have. It’s really amazing to see that! 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      You’re a photographer? I didn’t know that. Very cool!

      I do feel like these past twelve months have been a watershed year for me in my evolution as a writer. I’m in a different paradigm now, which is very cool–particularly, since I wasn’t expecting it, having no clear notion there *was* another paradigm to be discovered. :p It makes me even more eager to discover what the future holds.

  26. Alas, I haven’t been able to comment much lately as work and life have become quite demanding. But I have been keeping up with the posts. So I’m just popping in to say I found this breakdown was both helpful and useful. I enjoy how you’ve lately been re-examining the essentials of what it means to be a writer. Keep the good stuff a’comin!

  27. In Dramatica terms, I think I’ve figured out that storytelling is best learned from the outside in, and done from the inside out. Let me explain.

    The first thing they ever teach you in language classes is perspective, represented by pronouns. I, you, we, they. That’s pretty easy to master, and has probably been around since languages were devised.

    Then, you have plot, which, in a very basic sense, Aristotle figured out as having the beginning, middle, end that schools and whoever else preach today, but it’s not as fundamental as perspective.

    Thirdly, Variation (or Theme), which is more complicated than plot and is a kind of nuance beneath it. This is harder to define, but should progress naturally while remaining consistent (there’s a paradox for you).

    Character is the ultimate goal. Character has been invented and reinvented a kabillion times, as the theoretical possibilities are complex and practice is complicated. This is the point where stories become art (or, in some circles, entertainment). The conflict is, we expect character first and foremost if nothing else, (an ideology that dominates works by William Faulkner or Chuck Jones). From there, we expect variation, theme, plot, and finally perspective, which are often cut away to certain degrees when writing shorter works. A skilled storyteller can start off with only characters and make something great of it.

    However, if you start off with character, ideas can be left out of the story, so you have the option to tweak your characters after you decide your themes, tweak your characters and themes after you decide your plot, and so on.

  28. I think I came to storytelling through writing. Literacy and language have always been strengths for me, and as a child and teenager I devoured books day and night. My teachers always praised me for being able to write excellent descriptions, and in academia I excelled at essays and analyses.

    Until one day, my freshman composition professor nailed me on a problem that I didn’t even know I’d had. While I could put thoughts and words together beautifully and come up with something that had dazzled my high school teachers, he wasn’t buying it. “Your paper has no theme,” he told me, and from that moment on, I began my search for what was missing from my writing.

    Enter learning about storytelling, which forced me to align my thoughts around a central theme and keep them there, instead of wandering through beautiful rabbit holes. It improved both my academic and my creative writing, and was the catalyst for doing the work and the studying it took to finally finish a novel and publish it.

    I also have you and your blog/books to thank, Katie. Without learning about story structure and the wonders of outlining, I wouldn’t have learned that valuable lesson nearly as well or as quickly as I did. 🙂

  29. When I first started writing stories, I would just pants my way through and invariably get stuck. These days I have a planning process and what surprised me is that I developed a different awareness of my story telling. For example, when I write a scene I have an almost instinctual awareness of what the implications are for scenes I have not even worked on yet.

    My process, these days, factors in enough flexibility that I can discover as I write but I know the overall fate of the characters. I write more, writer (I hope) better stories, and I finish more too. Overall, I’d say I have more fun by doing the hard part first.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes! I know precisely what you mean. I always feel like Luke when Obi-Wan says: “Congratulations, you’ve just taken your first step into a larger world.”

  30. I think I am naturally a storyteller, though I love beautiful prose as well. But for me the beautiful prose is important not because it is beautiful, but because it adds to the story, to the depth of emotion and character I can convey myself or experience in another writer’s work. It also helps to make the world of the story come alive, which is one of the reasons I read and write, to explore other places and times through a character’s eyes. So I guess what I’m saying is that for me, writing is the hammer and anvil with which I forge stories. The trouble is I often feel like a swordsmith who has an image in her mind of the most beautiful blade, how it will cut and handle, but can’t get the hammer to strike true nor the metal to bend as it should. It doesn’t help when I go back and read old writings that at the time I thought were brilliantly conveying emotion and character, and find now to be heavy-handed and melodramatic. *sigh* All part of the journey, I guess. At least I can see the melodrama; now I just have to figure out how to avoid it. 😛

  31. Writer here, married to a storyteller and reminded often how envious I am of that innate ability lol. I particularly liked your point about outlining – how you like to outline because it’s the story itself that grips you. I’m the opposite. My inspiration isn’t in the outline but usually in the character and the need to tell their story and step into their world and explore it. While I recognized a lot of basic requirements for a narrative arc instinctively, I had to force myself to step back and take a more holistic view of the world my character inhabited. I’m still learning but I’m much better now, I think, at giving each character a role and meaning and at identifying the core theme(s) and how to knit everything together to reinforce it. Definitely still a work in progress there though.

  32. Is it possible to be a mix of both? I`m an avid reader and I read for the sake of the story. I will always write to tell a story, but I care a great deal about the prose. I happen to love rewrites and I strive to touch a reader with the prose as well as the actual story.

  33. What I’m? Probably a quack, a dabbler.

    I started as an avid reader, quickly turning to the original, untranslated material. Not only because I hated waiting for one doing the translation, but much more I found that much got lost due to translation.
    As part of my hobby and later work, I wrote much non-fiction. Telling (and showing) how to achieve objectives, and much more important, how to overcome mistakes or required diversions. I wonder how glorified my high school teacher would be, if they would know how much I fell in love with the English language, yes, even its grammar and historical idioms. I would almost (!) dare to consider me as a wr… But no.

    Much later, while listening to an audio book, on a long ride, I started wondering. As stretching my imagination to the limits, is part of my daily job, it was nothing new. But this time I wondered about all possible left-out details, parallel and new story lines. Monts later, back at home, I wrote them down. Made a page with character characteristics, a rough skeleton of events that could have happened. Each idea, plot, dialogue, carefully inserted into the rough schedule.

    The first pages, simply made me smile, cry, or caused goosebumps.
    Now, 350K words written, writing and reading back cause the same sensation.
    Am I a writer? considering the pile of errors I still make, I have a bumpy road still ahead.
    Do I consider my self a story teller? Far from that, so much still to learn. But I have a story to tell, and according to some beta-readers, they are longing for it.
    While writing/plotting, I learn. Some lessons are hard and bitter. That’s the price of naivity.
    Perhaps, one day in time, I’m forgiven for my mistakes, shallow lines, obscure pointers ahead, double meanings, intended offences. Only then, I would dare to consider myself as a writer and story teller.
    Until then, just a word bungler.

  34. Wonderful article! Never thought about it in such a depth. My stories were always in my head and I was reshaping them until I was satisfied with all the twists and turns. So I am a storyteller that actually never told them to anyone. 🙂 One day I felt I need something new in my life and I had just the story in my mind, so for the first time it goes on paper/screen. It is a whole new universe! Thanks, Katie, for all the tips and masses of information on your site!
    I like also to put the right words together to convey the image and the feeling that I first have in my mind, but its more work than storytelling which just happens naturally.
    “A story (no matter how casual or puerile) is a statement about the world.” I like that. A one small part of the world you want readers to focus on.

  35. K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

    That’s great! Up through my teens, my stories were very private as well. I told them for myself, not for others. I only started writing them down because *I* didn’t want to forget them. Sharing with others and learning the art of writing was a gradual outgrowth from there.

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