Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Are You a Writer, an Author, or a Storyteller?

The question might seem obvious, but a subtle distinction exists between the three. Of course, we are writers. Practically everyone is a writer--"a person who uses written words to communicate ideas." Another way to describe a writer is: "the word refers to the creation of human language."

I once saw a cartoon of the inside of a large cave. Figures and symbols covered every available space on the ceiling and walls. A caveman stood with his hand to his chin, looking up, contemplating...something. Two cavewomen sat together on a stone. One said, "We're going to have to move again. George has just finished another novel."

We've grown up writing. At age three, we used crayons to draw a picture and add a crooked letter here and there, "writing a letter to Grandmother."

As we grow up, we write notes to friends, essays for a class, or a love letter to someone we love. We write something every day, some way. We might even keep a diary.

A professional writer uses words to produce creative pieces such as literary art, novels, short stories, poetry, plays, news articles, essays, or songs. Writers often write about how to write, or why they write, or write critical articles about someone else's writing. Often a professional writer gets paid when a piece is published.
Dickens, Collins, Gaskell, and Proctor
An author is one who originates any written work. An author can claim responsibility for creating the writing.

A storyteller is one who conveys events in words, images, and sounds, often by embellishing and improvising the tale. The storyteller educates, preserves cultural phenomenon, instills moral values, and entertains. The narration, then, includes a plot and characters, complete with a point of view.

When I began writing, I did not refer to myself as anything other than "someone who wrote stories." Calling myself an author didn't sound right. All my stories were stored in files and folders in my computer. But with my first contract, I felt perfectly at ease referring to myself as an author. I became...Celia Yeary, Author.

With published stories came reviews. I will never forget the day when one reviewer called me a true "storyteller." Wow. That somehow made an impression, as though I had reached some pinnacle of success. I held that thought close and still do. For someone to refer to me as a storyteller still makes me proud.

Today, my local readers are very generous is telling me what they think of my newest book. Often the person will say something similar: "How do you think of all these stories? They're so good."

I'm actually hearing, "You're such a good storyteller." No one uses "author," and I take their words to mean, "storyteller."

What do you think about this idea? Which are you? Have you been called a storyteller? Is it really the best compliment?

I like all three terms--writer, author, storyteller. Me...You...all wrapped up in one package.


  1. I enjoyed this blog, Celia. I'd never thought of it just this way.
    I think my own progression is seen on my business cards. The first one said Linda Swift-writer. Then I became Linda Swift-author. When I reach the last plateau, I will be Linda Swift-novelist. I like the sound of that but don't feel worthy of the word---yet.

  2. Linda--I'm so glad to see you on the interenet! I thought we'd have to go weeks without communication--so, you can use the other computer.

    Interesting. I've one business card and it's so generic I still use it--the box is not empty yet--and I had to make myself write Celia Yeary-Romance Author.

    Thank you for your comment!

  3. Excellent piece, Celia. I agree, we are each of us all three. But the greatest compliment has to be storyteller.

  4. What a great topic, Celia. You are indeed a wonderful storyteller. I very much enjoy your writing.

    I haven't spent much time thinking about this before, but it seems to me that once the craft elements become second nature, a person conveying a story through the written word, is free to use more illustrative words and shape the story until its a living thing.

    My two cents...

  5. I like being a story teller. One of my CP's said I am a great plotter. I suppose she was saying I tell a good story. It's just nice to hear from someone who compliments me on a story I've written.

  6. Interesting post, Celia. I've always thought of myself as a storyteller, as I've written stories since I was eight or nine - and just carried on from then. I suppose I became an 'author' once my books started being published, but I still consider myself a writer of stories!

  7. John--thanks for commenting. I appreciate it so much. I believe you're right--if we write stories, we are storytellers.

  8. Maggie--"shaping the story until it's a living thing,"--this is the point. You can write, you can become an author, but to be a storyteller, you must be able to embelish until you convey to the reader that your characters are real. Thanks!

  9. Paisley--if a CP gives you such a compliment--frame it! You definitely are a storyteller, a writer who can make a story and characters come alive!
    Thank you.

  10. Paula--you see, we must become writers, first, then authors, and then a storyteller if our published story comes alive. I can read one book, and never "know the characters." I can read another, and the characters come alive and I know them...and I remember them. Now, that's a storyteller.
    Thank you for visiting--I always look forward to your comment.

  11. My experience is that we are story tellers first, and then we refine our art into becoming writers, and then authors once we are published. That sees to be the logical progression to me!

  12. The word "author" is not as profound as "storyteller". Author is also used to mean things besides fiction writing. A lawyer can be the author of an opening statement. Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence--not really a story.
    But a storyteller, well, that's like being a snake charmer. We enchant people with a tale taken from our personal history like the day my grandmother killed her old parrot (accidently) or my mom let a monkey in our house, or our stories are completely taken from our imagination, but we attempt to engage readers into our story and hold them there with our charm and the magic of our words. There's nothing funner than that. LOL By word of mouth, on paper, or in a drawing, we want to tell our story so, yeah, I agree, the high rung of our art is to become a storyteller.
    Great article, Celia as always.

  13. I love your article. I think some writers take themselves way too seriously, and others scoff at genre stories as if there is some other yardstick to measure "literature" than "Did it entertain you?"

  14. Paula--Interesding--you see it the other way around. But in a way, it still means the same thing. Many people can write and even author something, but they might not be able to create a story. I'll bet you were creative as a child, and probably wrote--or made up stories as you played. You were a born storyteller--but you had to work at it to be an author.
    I didn't write as a child--not really until I was in my 60s--but I always made up stories using paper dolls and a Sears and Roebuck Catalog...and my western outfit and cap gun six-shooter.
    Thanks for telling us about another view!

  15. Sarah--you completely understand. "Snake Charmer" is such a good example of what we do with words and ideas.
    The main thing a storyteller must has is the ability to embellish and create a scene complete with characters.
    Gone With the Wind could have been written as a literary piece, with no dialogue, but as a history lesson.
    Margaret Mitchell didn't become a storyteller until she took the basic story and added MUCH embellishment, for example, Scarlet!
    Thank you--I always love to read your comments.

  16. Gerald--oh, yes, I know some of those highbrows that scoff at my western romances. I've even been told that these weren't really "worthwhile literature."
    Maybe not, but many readers have bought and apparently enjoyed them! I am a storyteller!
    Thanks, Gerald.

  17. Celia, I love your explanation of the three terms. I agree that storyteller is the most apt description for what we do. And that's something to be proud of. The Irish have a long tradition of storytelling. When a shanachie, a storyteller, came to visit, he was given the place of honor by the hearth, where the family would gather around to listen raptly to his tales.

    My dad was half Scots-Irish and he loved to tell stories. When I was a little girl I listened to his tales of life on a Texas farm when he was a boy and his adventures "on the road" during the Great Depression. He had a way with words that made me feel as if I could see the scenes he described. I'd like to think I inherited a small part of his storytelling talent. I know I inherited my love of the OLd West from him.

  18. Lyn--I'd not heard that word for an Irish storyteller. If not for storytellers, we would have no history from centuries back in all parts of the world. The Native Americans have done it so well, and our ancestors probably did, too.
    I had a blind uncle--my daddy's brother--and he loved to talk and tell stories. He chewed tobacco, and he'd stop once in a while and spit--somehow he knew where to spit so as to not get on any of us. But I only knew him in my childhood/young teens days and cannot remember the stories. It seems they were most often about animals and Indians--the Comanche--who had a history for that part of Texas where he lived.
    Wouldn't you love to sit in a circle and listen to one of those ancient Irish storytellers? Wouldn't that be something?
    Your comment was very interesing, and I thank you.

  19. I think some people are natural storytellers and some are natural writers. Some can merge both with practice and some never do.

    Often, being a good storyteller is enough because readers will forgive iffy writing/grammar if the story holds their attention.

    Sometimes being a good writer who can create beautiful flowing prose is enough (such as some literary writers).

    Being both should be the goal, I think. I'm not sure there's a word for that, though. It would be equivalent to poet laureate, right? Should we call it a novel laureate?