Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Writing vs telling

Maybe the title of this post shouldn't be so belligerent, but it does sometimes feel like a battle.

This post was sparked by a post in my friend Elsa's blog. She wrote about writing a story down then trying to tell it, after a conversation with a friend about the tension between writing and telling (I may have been the friend she cites, I'm not sure). I struggle with this and I'm not sure why it's such a dilemma

I am a writer. I am also a storyteller. And it seems as though those two parts of my creative self can't quite co-exist.

When I tell a story it is a protean thing. It changes every single time it's told, twisting, turning, morphing into what it needs to be in the moment. The plot remains the same (usually) but the words change, the colors shift, the emphasis varies depending on how the audience responds, what they seem to need. It's a dance between the three of us, the audience, the story and me. And every dance is different.

When I write it's about crafting the language. Choosing the right word. (Hmm... do I use protean or variable. Oh, fine, I'll show off a little. Jeez I'm pretentious.) Finding the right reading rhythm. Or tonalities that will leap off the screen or page. It's far more about linguistic niceties, because I don't have the advantage of my body and physical voice to help me out, nor do I have your direct feedback. It's a much more internal process.

Now comes the interesting part. I don't write down the stories I tell. None of them, not one of the 75 or so stories in my active repertoire exists as more than a slim list of notes, the bones.

I have tried. And I have managed to write some of them successfully, turn them into good written pieces, but when I do they pretty much universally stop being telling stories and become written works, alive on the page, but not the stage. Since much of my creative process is tied into performance I have become quite reluctant to write these stories down, to tie them to written language.

I'm not quite sure why this happens though I find it incredibly frustrating. I think it may have to do with somehow thinking the language becomes fixed once I write it. If I try to perform the story again I become more concerned with the exact phrasing and exact language, so I can't pay as much attention to the needs of the audience. I get tangled up in words. Just as in dance, if you are always worried about where to step instead of paying attention to your partner and the music, you start to stumble and fall.

It's a problem. I have a pretty substantial body of work, but it's ethereal. If anyone has any brilliant ideas about how to loosen these ties I'd love to hear them. I don't want my stories to become ghosts and memories when I do.

(c) 2008 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

1 comment:

  1. You are lucky that you can use stories in two totally different formats and they ARE different and you apparently have a very good innate ability to know what works in which form. Telling, as you know, is a social act and a performance. It's ancient and basic to human life and civilization. Writing a story is an ego act as well as an individual way of reaching out and also trying to immortalize oneself, although some writing is really self-exploratory and not necessarily meant for sharing.
    Rejoice that you have two talents and don't worry about forcing the verbal onto the page. You can explore audio or video of your performances if you want to capture them -- what that will do to your spontaneity I don't know. I suppose you'd have to try it to find out. It's an interesting and provocative post. I presume you know there are associations of story tellers, I've attended performances which were magical.


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