Peggy Bechko: You’re a Storyteller

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by Peggy Bechko

This is a reminder to all the writers out there.

When you create a script or a novel or a short story or even something more along the lines of an article you’re not just writing. You’re not just creating an object like a script or a book or a magazine that can be held in someone’s hands.

Nope, you’re doing a lot more. You’re telling a story. You’ve become a storyteller.

Why is this important to remember? Well, telling a story means getting involved with your audience, getting their full attention, connecting. Creating an object such as a book or a script, getting the grammar, the formatting, the punctuation right, is another matter.

Not that the creation of the object isn’t important to your task if that is your outlet and not verbal storytelling. And by the way, I highly recommend you catch an honest-to-god live storyteller some time. In my town of Santa Fe, we have Joe Hayes and it really is a kick to watch how he draws his audience into his tale.

But I digress. Well sort of. Because the two are linked really.

When you begin a story you’re going to tell you, as the writer, must first get your readers’ attention, not unlike the live storyteller who has to do the same.

So, if the live story teller opens with a question, perhaps something like “who’s here to hear a good story?” or something more directly related to the actual story like “do you believe in ghosts?” that storyteller is engaging the audience and you can just see them perk up and direct their attention.

For the writer, the parallel is the hook. What can you do or say on that written page to engage your audience, be they script readers you have to get past to move your project forward or a reader of your book who you must immediately engage?

In effect you ask a question. You plant the seed of curiosity or create a scene so breathtaking it’s hard to ‘look away’.

When a storyteller connects with an audience it’s done by speaking to them like a family member or a friend is spoken to. It’s something to think about in your writing. No, you’re not having a conversation with the reader, but you can make your work very readable. Stay on point. Keep your sentences mostly short. Don’t show off your great vocabulary just for the sake of it – you wouldn’t do that to a friend you’re talking to. They’re human. You’re human. Connect.

And consider; when you work to the written page you can’t hear your audience or see them or get a feel for how they’re reacting as a live storyteller can. So you have to know your audience. What they want to read, what they’re looking for when they read. How to engage them.

It’s a challenge to get your readers, your ‘audience’, to become a part of your story, to understand it and connect with the characters you create, but that’s what you’re here for, right?