“As you tell a story, you make stuff up along the way … and when you ask people for ideas they give you good ideas. Then you can write a story.” – anonymous 4th grader.
I’m teaching a class at Casa Libre called “The Art and Craft of Storytelling for Writers” and I had a lot of fun doing research so I could talk intelligently about the differences between storytelling and writing and the way one enhances the other. It all boils down to storytelling being an active exchange between teller and listener and storywriting being a passive exchange between writer and reader.
The dynamic flow over a live connection is what sets apart a told story. The basic meaning of the story remains the same but each telling is a reaction to the audience and their responses. The teller can change content or presentation dependent on the feedback she gets, thus the listener affects the outcome.
The written story is fixed and unchanging. Although the reader may derive different meanings from re-readings, the story is static after it’s on the page and there is no interaction between reader and writer.
Practicing one of these arts can enhance the other. Some storytellers organize their thoughts by writing out the story, some use outlines, some repeatedly tell the story to themselves or to others; it all depends on ones learning style and how the story is going to be used (i.e. telling to your grandchildren v. performing on stage). Writing out a story can help develop the underlying meaning and establish the structure.
Conversely, a good way to develop a writers voice (the author’s style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author’s attitude, personality, and character) is to tell the story aloud and hear yourself speak (you can even tape record yourself). Telling is also a way to recall stories and story elements and to identify important details. Then, as our 4th grader tells us, you can write the story.
“There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories”. ~ Ursula K. LeGuin