Storytelling and Writing: the Difference

Storytelling is a folk art. Mark Twain (SC) thinks it’s an American folk art. The way he tells it, storytelling has to do with timing, pace, arrangement of content, and surprise. That’s a tall order, though I don’t disagree with Mr. Twain.

I noticed when I was a teen that arranging the content was a critical skill of storytelling. You can blurt out the punch line way too early, or give away critical elements that ruins the surprise. You can miss the timing and lose your audience or mess up the pace and stumble in your own story. All these things can go wrong, but a well told story is a delight in itself. That’s when I began to apprentice storytelling. I watched and listened to storytellers like I was studying a craft passed on by masters.

Storytellers learn their art from listening to well-told stories. So, it’s critical to be born in the right region, to the right people with the right skills. Apparently, some people give those things little thought. The worst problem of the lot is being born to the wrong people. That’s just carelessness.

Fortunately, I was born into a family of storytellers from the south. Automatically, I had things right. Family gatherings abounded with well told stories. When we weren’t with family, friends were great storytellers too. It was of greater fortune I was born in Texas home of the greatest storytellers on God’s little green earth (well, not so much since global warming, but that’s another story.).

There are rules for storytelling, but not the same rules as for writing. In writing you can stumble on spelling, grammar, word splitting, articles, conjunctions, pronouns, and so on. The list is endless. It is so exact and endless it is a surprise anything gets written. In storytelling, none of those things matter. What matters most is the effect of the story. The most prized effects are surprise, laughter, head shaking, and exclamations like, “Ain’t that the God’s truth?” in that order. The worst thing that can happen with story telling is your listeners give you  a blank look as in, they just didn’t get the story. That’s real bad. It could get you exiled from Texas to… dare I say… Oklahoma! Such a cruel fate.