A children’s publisher (4RV’s Vivian Zabel) commented on the difference between storytelling and writing. She explained that storytelling involves visual aids, whereas writing does not.
Granted, children’s picture books do provide illustrations in the form of
visual aids, they're not the same as storytelling’s visual aids.
I had never thought of this before, but once it was said I could see it clearly.
Storytelling allows for the use of visual aids, which includes facial expressions. There is also voice tone, word pronunciation, along with word or phrase stressing that help aid in conveying sadness, anger, fear, and an array of other emotional sediments. This is also known as voice inflection.
Along with facial expressions and voice inflection, the storyteller can also take advantage of movement.
Imagine telling a group of children a spooky story that has the protagonist tiptoeing around a corner to see what’s there. As a storyteller you can actually tiptoe, hunched over; and exaggerating the movement enhances the suspense. Visual aids are easy to use and are powerhouses of expressions.
Another example might be if you are telling a pirate story to a young boy. You can use toy props, such as a toy sword or pirate’s hat, while limping with a pretend wooden leg. These visuals enhance the story experience for the child without the storyteller having to create the imagery with words.
Writing a Story
Writing on the other hand depends solely on the writer’s interpretation of what the facial expressions, voice, mannerisms, image, and body movement of the characters might be. And, that interpretation must be conveyed through words that preferably ‘show’ rather than ‘tell.’
If you think about it, storytelling is much easier than writing a story. But, most of us authors are writers, not storytellers, and as writers we need to convey emotions and activity through showing.
In the storytelling examples above, how might you write the scene as an author?
For the first scenario of a spooky story, one example might be:
Lucas grabbed his little brother’s hand and pulled him close. “Shhh. Don’t make any noise. It might hear us.” They crept along the wall, barely breathing, until they reached the . . .
While this passage doesn’t have the advantage of the storyteller’s visual aids, it does convey a feeling of suspense and fear.
In regard to a pirate story, as an author you might write:
Captain Sebastian grabbed his sword and heaved it above his head. “Take the ship, men.”
The pirates seized the ropes and swung onto the ship. Swords and knives clanking, they overtook their enemy.
This short passage clearly conveys a pirate scene with Captain Sebastian leading his men into a battle aboard another ship. No visual aids, but it does get its message across.
You might also note that while trying to write your story through showing, you need to watch for weak verbs, adjectives, and a host of other no-nos. In the sentence above, the words, “barely breathing” might need to be changed if it reached a publisher’s hands. Why? Because “ly” and “ing” words are also frowned upon.
So, knowing the difference, if you had your choice, which would you prefer to be, a storyteller or a writer?
I'd be a writer!