Writing and telling

Joining the local creative writing class 15 months ago restored my confidence (as I’ve said previously on this site) and enabled me to write – among other things – another novel. (I still await the literary consultant’s assessment of MS of said novel but it’s expected within the next few days.) At the same time, I found my oral storytelling skills had improved; I became more relaxed about it, more responsive to my audience, more imaginative, better able to visualize settings and characters, and therefore better at conveying the traditional folktales I so much love.


So there seems to be a connection, a synergy, between oral storytelling and fiction writing. During the past 48 hours, for example, I’ve done a one-hour storytelling performance for the local U3A (eight Peak District stories in sixty minutes) and two slots for the Glossop Storytelling Group, attended this week’s creative writing class, and written a 2100 word story in response to our tutor’s latest homework challenge. Earlier in the week I met the Inspire Glossop team again to discuss amendments to the drama script I’ve written for them, based on local folktales; but in general I’m not conscious of the link between the two activities, writing and telling. However, there’s no doubt the link is real – and, for me, a boon and a blessing. I wouldn’t be able to do so much storytelling and so much fiction writing in so short a time period if there were no synergy.


But what exactly is the relationship? Fiction writing is a creative act – to state the obvious. Yes, it exploits your personal experience of life, your emotions, your values and attitudes, but first and foremost it depends on imagination – then on the critical detachment you need to turn a first draft into something worth reading. In contrast, storytelling depends mostly on memory. You’re not creating a new story of your own; you’re merely serving as a channel through which a traditional tale can transmit itself to your audience. To be an effective channel you have to be flexible, adapting to the needs of the moment, to the mood and interests of the audience – there’s no time for drafting and redrafting. You must think on your feet. Considered in this light, the two activities seem fundamentally different.


I’m going to return to this question in a future blog. In the meantime, comments and suggestions that help to explore the complexities of the writing-telling relationship will be gratefully received!

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