Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Images Versus Words

Alison Kent is discussing storytelling versus writing in her blog today.

I'm a storyteller. At least by my own personal definitions I'm a storyteller.

A storyteller sees events as images in her (his) brain, yet struggles to translate those images into words that convey what she sees. There is a chasm between the imagination and the page that a storyteller struggles to bridge, and the frustration lies in the desperate need to get what's inside out. It's like having something incredibly urgent to say only to find that someone has put duct tape across your mouth. If a storyteller had unlimited resources, he or she might be just as happy to use a different medium - such as movies or television - to present his or her story. Words are simply the cheapest and most easily accessible tool at hand. For a storyteller, the ends justify the means. It's all about the destination.

A writer hears the poetry in a well-crafted sentence or phrase. A writer can identify and create ebb and flow with nothing more than the alphabet and punctuation. The words to convey an image never elude the writer. However, sometimes it's the image itself that brings a writer to his or her knees. Feed them an idea, and they can present it pretty as a picture, complete with a natty bow tied on top. To a writer, there is no substitution for the written word as a means to tell a story. Nuances are critical, and the journey is key because even if the destination is the same, there are so many ways to get there, and the one you choose makes all the difference. For a writer, it's all about the means. The ends is just a vague point to be reached eventually.

Because I'm a storyteller (or proving that I'm a storyteller, depending on how you come at this) my brain thinks in pictures. And I struggle like crazy to translate those images into words. I'm never satisfied with the results because the words don't obey me, they never capture exactly what I see. Or if I do write exactly what I see, I don't end up with something anyone else would ever want to read. I know that some sentences need to be long and some need to be short and varying them makes for a nice tempo and written rhythm. But I don't hear it. I can recognize a piece of good writing and can even spot where other bits fall down. But for some reason my brain-to-fingers connection lacks the wiring to create the good stuff.

This is not to say that I can't appreciate a well-turned phrase. Actually, watching a poor sentence massaged in the hands of a writing master into something breathtaking is nothing short of a miracle to me. I want to know how to do that. And I'm struggling to move toward that lofty bar.

In the meantime, I suffer because the stories festering in my brain struggle to get out. I dream of winning the lottery so I can buy my own movie studio and become the director of all of my inner tales. The images play for me and me alone, and I fear that I'm the only one who will ever enjoy them because I'll never master the ability to put them into form that the rest of the world will buy.

Maybe I was just born a few centuries too late. Maybe in a previous life, I was a bard. Lord knows I wasn't Shakespeare.

Edited To Add: After I wrote and posted this, I went back to Alison's blog and jumped to the links she provided. I see that I'm not original in using journey and ends as descriptives in regards to storytelling versus writing, although I promise I did come to these same conclusions all on my own. So I'll give proper credit to those who came before me and feel smug (ha ha) in deluding myself that maybe I think like others far more eloquent than I am. Or at least satisfied in believing that I get it. I really do.

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