Thursday, April 14, 2011

Fuel for the "But They Broke the Rules" Fire

Reading thuRsday

Annette Lyons discussed, "The 2 Sides of a Good Writer" in a recent post at the Writing on the Wall blog, and identified the writing versions of the Hatfields and McCoys: the storytellers and the word smiths.

If we peel away the petty jealousy for those who collect royalties when we collect rejections, the complaint that someone broke the "rules" and still succeeded often comes down to storytellers and wordsmiths complaining about each other.

How often have you heard writers complain that a best-selling author tells a good story but is a terrible writer? How about critiques that someone writes beautiful prose but the story doesn't go anywhere?

You might say that storytelling vs.word smithing simply echos the distinction between commercial and literary fiction, where the former is all about the story and the latter is about how the story is told. But that observation only speaks to the stereotypes.

The deeper point is that storytelling and word smithing represent two fundamental approaches to the way we share narrative information. Storytelling is about selecting and presenting the best bits. Word smithing is about telling a bit well enough that it's interesting in its own right.

So, does this mean we have to choose sides?

Those of you who have been following for a while know that I don't like dichotomies unless they lead to a synthesis. The real answer is to make peace between the Hatfields and McCoys and strive for a good story, well told.

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn /

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