Writer Wednesday | Storytellers vs. Authors

In a book review I posted earlier this month, I discussed storytelling in relation to novel-writing. I’d like to come back to that and explore that a touch more tonight.

In my leadership graduate program, many of my peers and I would discuss the difference between managers and leaders. If you think about it, these are two separate roles. Managing and leading are not synonymous; they are different functions. A manager could be a leader, and a leader could be a manager – but the primary function of a manager is to manage. Getting a leader is a nice bonus.

Storytellers and authors fall into the same “similar but different” distinctions for me. A storyteller might be an author, and an author could be a storyteller – but these are not synonymous functions. There’s something very special about a reader and author connecting through the words on the page. Ever find yourself completely immersed in the language and lost in the experience of their words? That is storytelling. Simply enjoying a book is different. It’s a pleasurable enough escape, but the trip back to the real world is a quick one – no jet lag, no daydreaming, no permanence.

I listen to audiobooks and doing so has changed my relationship with books and my approach as a writer. I’ve always been a proponent of “reading aloud.” When you read your writing aloud, you can hear the words tumble and trip. By contrast, that perfect sentence just floats there, hanging, waiting to be paired with another of equal worth and significance.

In 2011 and 2012, I both listened to and read Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy (and novella). The audiobooks were hell to finish – I found them plodding and difficult, the writing clumsy and awkward. By the end of the second audiobook, I was invested although largely unimpressed. I could not for the life of me figure out why people were rabidly in love with the trilogy. When the final book came out I opted not to listen to it.

Finally, I got it. After I was done with the last book, I read the novella for the backstory. I didn’t love it, but at last I understood the appeal. In retrospect, I think it boils down to the storyteller/author difference. Mira Grant was not a storyteller, not to me. I was not absorbed in the experience. I was not immersed in the world. I was not hanging on to every sentence. I was not freaking out over the fates of the characters. It was an escape – a giddy, joyful adventure away from reality. It was, say, Fantastic Four to The Avengers: a distraction, but nothing I wanted to dwell on.

That’s not to suggest that mainstream literature is written purely by authors. Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy is a wonderful example of storytelling in the YA genre (for my tastes). I know I will repeat that listening experience, and I also have a beautiful set of hardback books in my library so I can curl up and flip pages with a veritable bowlful of tea.

Perhaps this is subjective; in fact, I’m certain it is. In my world, a storyteller writes prose that is poetry (figuratively speaking of course). What about in your world? Is there a difference between a storyteller and an author?

2 thoughts on “Writer Wednesday | Storytellers vs. Authors

  1. Christine @Buckling Bookshelves says:

    You know I hadn’t really thought about this before, but it is so true! Two of my all time favorite authors who are also incredible storytellers (to my taste) are JK Rowling and Diana Gabaldon. They have written series I can just literally get lost in – and the reason for that is definitely their talent for storytelling.


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