Storyteller vs. Writer

campfireStorytelling is as old as man himself. There were storytellers sitting in a cave in the dark of deepest winter, weaving a tale so vivid the youngsters could feel the heat of summer’s sun while they huddled, shivering in their furs and skins, staring into the fire’s flames and seeing ghosts mammoths and the gods of the beginning legend. The storytellers would be the medicine man or wise woman who was the holder of the legends and beliefs of the clan or tribe. Their history was oral, passed down from mother to daughter or father to son.

Writing as art, as something other than the tallying of bushels of grain or pieces of gold came much later. The first writings were pictographs on the walls of caves and later the hieroglyphics of the pyramids and temples. The first writings were just as much artwork as writing as such. Papyrus made writing available for all. The loss of the Library of Alexandria was the greatest loss to man.

Today, there are storytellers and there are writers. For a lucky few, the two halves are present in the same person. But, usually, a great storyteller is just a good writer and a great writer may just be an okay storyteller.

Sometimes we wonder why a ‘just okay’ book becomes an amazing success. Sometimes it is because the author is just an okay writer, but they are an astounding storyteller. They pull you into the story. You are there. You are on an adventure with the hero. You are falling in love with the main character. For a moment in time, you are THERE.

Sometimes we wonder why a well-written book doesn’t “hit.” The sentences are works of art. We feel the story in our heart. But we don’t LIVE the story. The writer has not been a storyteller. They do not pull us in deep enough. It doesn’t strike that elusive chord that is needed to define a “great story.”

What book pulled you inside and didn’t let you go until the last page? What story did you miss when it was done?


About Jill James

Jill is a self-published author with The Lake Willowbee Series and numerous other books in paranormal romance and zompoc romance. She enjoys reading just as much as writing. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter @jill_james
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16 Responses to Storyteller vs. Writer

  1. susanrhughes says:

    I love Diana Gabaldon because she’s a great storyteller and writes wonderful prose. I’m boggled by the historical detail in her books. I just wish I could be like her!


  2. Kristy Tate says:

    I love how there have always been storytellers–and I think there always will be. A storyteller is someone that can’t be replaced by a machine or a robot, because stories aren’t formulas. A good story speaks to our hearts and makes us think and feel something that we haven’t felt or thought about before.


  3. I’ve published a series of three Paranormal Romance novels that I believe to be unique stories, but I call myself a storyteller rather than an author. To me, authors are those whose works have found enough of a following to allow s/he to make a living at the craft. Of course there are truly successful authors like the late Tom Clancy, J. K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer who have gone far beyond making a livin, who have developed a large fan base. For now if I were to use the term “author” I feel I would have to add “struggling” in front of it.


  4. Carol says:

    Storytellers are special and fascinating crafters. Great post!


  5. Skye-writer says:

    Story tellers are rare and thus to be treasured. But I love to read so while I might wish that every book I pick up will be one of those that haunts my thoughts and heart long after I turned the last page, I’m grateful for the good writers out there as well. Diana Gabaldon’s first book, Outlander, was one of those treasures that pulled me and wouldn’t let go, that I felt like I was THERE. Not so much her subsequent works which are rich in detail and have a cast of thousands. Those fall into the second category. But another writer recently drew me so thoroughly into her world that her book stands out among the greats, too. Tracey Garvis Graves story On the Island is a treasure.


    • Jill James says:

      They are a treasure, aren’t they. I have a friend who is the most amazing storyteller. We had an open mic night one time and she forgot her pages at home. She spoke of her great-grandfather and The Great Butter Raid of Minnesota for 30 minutes. It was like an audio book brought to life. It was an amazing story. I would have rambled and lost my thoughts a million times in those 30 minutes. LOL


  6. Joan Reeves says:

    I was the storyteller to my brothers when we were kids. Guess it’s no wonder I became a writer. Thoughtful post, Jill!


  7. leighmorgan1 says:

    Great post, Jill. I love great story-tellers. Most of them are fantastic writers too, and some just love the art of reciting works of others. Still, a great story lives on its own, independent of the the writer. For me, that’s what makes great stories great. Defy Not the Heart by Johanna Lindsey probably isn’t what most would hold up as iconic writing of the late 80’s & early 90’s, but it’s a great story (and I think well written). Dan Brown has been hailed and criticized for his writing. No matter what your opinion of his prose, Angels and Demons is a great story. I love every book I’ve every read by James Lee Burke; he’s colorful and his writing to me is exquisite. Still, it’s the story and the characters I remember, not the turn of phrase. What a fantastic post, Jill! You’ve really got me thinking 🙂


  8. Jill James says:

    Oh, Leigh! Defy Not The Heart is the epitome of romance writing of the 80s and 90s. I read that book again and again just to see the cover. Lots of people pick on Dan Brown and James Patterson but boy can they tell a story. They are my auto-buys for a reason.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. E. Ayers says:

    Very interesting post. Now I’m going to have to think about what I’m doing.

    Liked by 1 person

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