I was looking up a book price for an author who will remain nameless on Amazon when I happened to scroll into the abyss of the review section. Usually, I make every effort to steer away from the career Amazon reviewers, but this time my pointer slipped a little too far, and, well, you know. The review read, “____ is a great storyteller, but not a great writer” as its first line. I don’t know about you, but I am generally in the book reading business for great writers. Sure, the great storytellers are there for when you just finished the Charles Dickens catalog, but one could argue both of these elements need to be present for great writing.
The great storytellers all seem to have one aspect in common. There is always enough, “What’s going to happen next?” keeping you from skipping ahead. Stephen King is masterful in creating the ultimate scenario collision, but often his characters feel like they could be cast from any guy or girl we pass on the street. Maybe it’s that very kind of character development that makes us keep reading all of the fantastical authors. It really could be me running from zombies created by a cell phone signal across the world. In the end, though, I do wish I knew more about the characters so I could understand why they are making the decisions they’ve made other than the author says so. Leaping from rooftop to rooftop effortlessly translates into the movie option with easy success. The Twilight movies may not always follow the books, but people come back again and again because the movies embody characters that not only resemble everyone we’ve ever known, but they are also infused with powers we wish we had, however life threatening.
We also have to point out that the great literary writers have one aspect in common: the characters drive their novels. Every thought process, conclusion arrived, and action taken is examined within the pages. I’ve had instances of shutting the book in anger at a characters’ decision, shouting, “You would!”
Readers spend chapters falling in love with the main character’s love interest as the character itself does, but the event is just as breathtaking as a rooftop jump when we see the final decision to let go made. Reading Santiago’s struggle with the shark in Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea was just as packed with anxiety and hopefulness as any Mission Impossible stunt. Try to translate The Old Man and The Sea into movie form and you end up with a lot of waiting just to see the shark standoff and eventually Santiago’s return to shore. The reason why literary epics don’t always become the greatest movie spectacle is due to the fact directors have to spend a lot of time focusing on the character’s face, aimless wandering through streets, or general forlorn laying about somewhere to accurately exhibit character struggle. Only the truly self destructive characters like Chuck Palahnuik’s Tyler Durden/Jack allow us to enter the sides of ourselves that we deny every day – the side that wants to break free.
Sometimes I am afraid of only ever being considered a great storyteller rather than a great writer. On the other hand, being a great storyteller means I can capture the minds of just as many people as a great writer can. A great writer captures tiny instances and makes them seem huge, but always seems to lose the event to how the character interprets it instead of letting the event stand alone. Really, I think I’d like to be the ultimate hybrid. Making room for tons of action while allowing the reader to see so far into the depths of the characters that they feel their minds change with the character’s decision means for a long book.Challenge accepted.
Lauren Mack: Co-founder of The Well Written Woman is an aspiring writer, blogger, and overall enthusiast of brainstorms. She is currently attending Flagler College as an English major with no intentions to teach. Lauren spends a lot of time reading novels and hoping she can one day finish her own. She often wonders how they made blue cheese so delicious. Really, she is just imposing her elitist attitude on everyone.You can find her pennings at her blog and follow her on Twitter.