Scribblers, Storytellers, and Authors: Which Are You?

I was recently talking to a friend about writing, and she said she never considered herself a writer because she isn’t interested in the mechanics of writing. She is a voracious reader, though, and she enjoys coming up with stories.

This got me thinking about the different kinds of people that are drawn, in one way or another, to the written word. Despite the general assumption, writers are not all the same, some monolithic mass of personality traits, predilections, and propensities. When some writers get a story idea, they just jump right in; others outline the piece beforehand (pantsers and plotters, as they are commonly called). Some write from page one, or at least the perceived idea of page one, while others work on the scene that interests them the most: they’ll piece the plot together later. And some don’t even rewrite, going from story to story without ever looking back.

Still, we all have this desire to write a story, these characters that demand our attention, right? Surely that much is in common? Not necessarily. I think writers come in three different varieties, each with their challenges and benefits, and we aren’t motivated in the same ways.

First, there are the Scribblers: people who write because they are irresistibly drawn to the written word. They write poetry, they write blog posts, they write journals. They write down their random thoughts and hope they never find their way into the public eye. Scribblers like to play around with language and characters and ideas, and when they don’t write, they can’t think straight, since writing often helps them sort things out.

But a Scribbler may not be very good at writing a story. She may come up with ideas and interesting characters, but no plot. And she must follow through long enough to get to the end, before something else comes up that must be written. The story and plot threads aren’t what fascinate her as much as the characters, the relationships, a good scene here, and interesting bit of dialogue there. These writers are probably the ones who do very well with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Write Month) since it urges them to write a project quickly, while they’re still interested, but they are also prone to rabbit trails, and they usually have a lot of unfinished novels and projects because, once the mood for the piece moves on, they move on, too.

Then there are the Storytellers. For them, it’s all about the plot. They need good characters, too, but it’s the plot that draws them in. Who-dun-it, and how-the-story-ends, and what-happens-next are what drives them to keep reading and writing. And they don’t always need to tell the story through the written form; as often as not, they’ll do it by talking to anyone who’ll listen.

For a Storyteller, the challenge is actually doing the writing. NaNoWriMo helps them, too, because it makes them commit to actually putting words on the page–the hardest part for them.

They tend to be really good at brainstorming, coming up with plot after plot after plot, but they’d generally prefer finding someone else to take the story and tell it for them, if they could. Since the actual writing drags them down, they often have many unfinished projects, and Storytellers don’t always feel like they’re real writers. They usually don’t like reading books about how to write, and they aren’t drawn to talking about language much at all. But they are really good at noticing plot problems, because they think in terms of plot and threads and cause-and-effect.

Finally, there are authors, the writers who start out as Storytellers or Scribblers and learn to master the other half of writing. They are the Scribblers who learn to pay attention to plot, to capture enough enthusiasm to get through a story even when the excitement isn’t there and when they have to fix faltering cause-and-effect sequences, making the plot reasonable when it’s no longer new and intrinsically inspiring. They are the Storytellers who learn to overcome their tunnel vision, finding ways to make the sentences and prose and descriptions interesting even when playing around with language and metaphor is real work.

It’d be nice if we were all born authors, but I don’t think we are. Still, we are writers. If we have a story worth telling, then it’s worth learning the other half of our craft, no matter how hard it may be to use creative language, write dialogue, and plot out the project. As we work to take our writing beyond a hobby, we will become the authors we dream about being. For those taking on NaNoWriMo, you can do this. And for all those who haven’t taken the plunge, don’t worry; you’re still a writer, too. 🙂

Copyright 2014 Andrea Lundgren

6 thoughts on “Scribblers, Storytellers, and Authors: Which Are You?

  1. Thank,s Andrea for this interesting post. How did you come up with these ideas? For years I scribbled. I have lots and lots of exercise books in the house to show. Then I became a story teller. Now I’m becoming a writer. You have just descried my writing journey!


    1. That is so neat! I spend a lot of time writing, and thinking about writing, and as I learn something (or even as I’m just theorizing about things) I like to share it in a post. 🙂


  2. You draw some interesting distinctions between the different aspects of writing and storytelling. I definitely agree that writing requires both order and chaos, at different phases of the process.


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