Storytelling and Communicating

>> Thursday, August 12, 2010

I had one of those weird/confusing conversations I occasionally have with my husband where he says something I just don't understand. It's ironic. We both have an excellent track record with communicating with people, but, when it comes to each other, it's like a different language.

Today he said, and I quote, "Storytelling isn't communicating. It's art. Art has nothing to do with communication." He said some more stuff along those lines, but I don't remember them all. My eyes were rolling. He was trying (I believe) to bring forward that I didn't have to please anyone else with my writing; that no one had to get it to be worth my while.

While I appreciate the supportive sentiment (expressed because he really doesn't like an aspect of my latest book), I don't agree on many levels. First off, of course storytelling is communicating. It can be art, too, but storytelling is, first and last, a way of communicating. True, it can be art and anyone who's ever sat, breathless, at the knee of a master story teller knows they aren't all the same. It's a gift. But art, in my opinion, is about communicating something too, expressing something the artist, whether musician, painter, sculptor, writer, etc. wanted to say. The viewer/listener/reader may not get that same something (or all the intended something), but, in my opinion, without that communication, it's not even art. Even if what's communicated is just "I'm beautiful."

Good storytelling is art, made all the more difficult because we can't use our voices and inflections, our hands and dramatic pauses. We have to put as much as possible on paper, using language and the music inherent in the words themselves because, in general, we can't be there to read it the way we envision we'd tell it.

Some of that is technical - knowing punctuation and pacing, vocabulary and expression, but some of that is art, knowing just that right lilt at the very end that cements it all in place, or finding the words that breathe life into a character's dialog, that makes a reader smile or laugh out loud. The art, in my opinion, is really where the writer touches a reader, bringing some aspect of the book to sufficient life for the reader to care what happens, to feel something about what is only paper, ink and imagination. For events that never happened and people who never existed to matter deeply to the reader, so much so that the book, those events, those characters become part of the reader's psyche.

Fancy shmancy imagery and a million dollar vocabulary can be tools to do that, but they can't do it alone.

For that, you need art.


  • Project Savior

    A man asked a native New Yorker, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?"
    "Practice, Man. Practice." The New Yorker replied.
    Obviously that's not totally true practice and getting a firm grasp of the technical parts of the craft is essential but once you have those down is when you can let art flow easily. That's the art can shine through.

  • The Mother

    All writing is communicative. Even stories.

    David Hume was a huge proponent of the NOVEL as the way to change opinions. I think he was right--novels have tremendous power as worldview jostlers.

  • Aron Sora

    Ha! Found it:

    Read that, it shall be clear

  • Jeff King

    I couldn't agree more.

    Conveying our meaning through words is the ultimate form of communication.

    Best wishes...

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