Thursday, 29 May 2008


One of those three in the morning revelatory moments that no doubt all writers of short fiction already know...

Call yourself a storyteller, and people know exactly what you mean. They spark. Because it is in our psyche, listening to stories. It is deeply rooted, the need to share events, happenings, lessons learned through a drama.

Call yourself a short story writer, and they go all negative. What's that? Why aren't you writing a novel? The markets are so diverse, that there is no immediate understanding about what you do.

So I am a storyteller.

The only thing is... (and whether this is a feature of the 'academicisation' of writing, or whether it is a stylistic thing that would have happened anyway)...much of what is written is so impenetrable.

In story terms, impenetrable. So many flights of language, or flashbacks that drop the baton, or exposition rambles... that the flow of the story is lost.

Isn't that why 'voice' is important? Because stories are meant to be voiced. Either literally (in the telling) or in our own act of telling stories to ourselves, in our heads as we read?

THAT was the thought that came to me at three o clock. The best ones I've managed are the ones that have both strong voices and reveal themselves bit by bit in a clear 'listen to me' story style.

There are also ones that work rather like poems, in the rhythms of prose that are just lovely to listen to either really listen, or again, in your head.

But it all goes back into the mists of whenever. We're on a continuum, mustn't lose sight of the simple things.

I guess everyone knew that anyway. Duh.


Jim Murdoch said...

You've reminded me of something Asimov said about himself, he didn't think of himself as a writer, simply a storyteller and, great literature his books may not be, but the man certainly could tell a story. With the exception of Beckett I probably own more books by him than any other author and that includes Philip K Dick although he probably comes in a close second. He's another man who knew the importance of story.

Tim Jones said...

I've received exactly the same negative reaction when calling myself a short story writer here in New Zealand - for some reason, many people do not regard writing short stories as being "real" writing.

But I think of a "storyteller" as someone whose primary mode of expression is oral rather than written - someone who performs stories rather than putting them in print. Does the word have the same connotation in the UK?

Vanessa G said...

Coo, a Jim and a Tim!

Hi both.

Jim, if there's no story, the writing can be as 'triffic' as anything, but you ain't going nowhere. You have to hold the audience...

Tim, it's the same here in the UK. Unless people know how stunning short fiction can be, they assume you are 'in training' for real writing if you say you write shorts

So, I wondered if we should start a new trend.

'I am a storyteller... and I write em down' sounds interesting. I'm going to try it.

but yes, you are right. A 'storyteller' is someone who tells, recites, reads, their work. Hence my sudden revelation about 'voice', and how vital it is to all sorts of stories if they are to work... voiced or written, really.