Monday, August 19, 2013

Two Kinds of Writers by Valerie Comer

Valerie Comer
Hey, writers! Annette here. Last week, our guest discussed pantsters vs. plotters. This week, let's look at the writing process from another angle entirely, shall we? Welcome Valerie Comer with her insightful perspective on two types of writers and the effectiveness of critique groups for each type.

Two Kinds of Writers
by Valerie Comer

There are two kinds of writers in this world, and I'm not talking about plotters and pantsters! 

I mean those who are natural storytellers and those who instinctively know how to craft good prose (hereinafter known as writers—which, yes, I know is confusing…) 

I hear about people who rewrote their first novel twenty times and then sold it. This is a foreign thought to me. My first novel had lousy bones. Sure, there were some really good scenes and dialogue in it, but it wasn't worth saving. 

Any guesses on whether I'm a storyteller or a writer? Yup, writer, through and through.

I theorize that most of those who rewrite the same manuscript dozens of times to get it right are primarily storytellers. They may or may not know their entire plot before they start. Either way, they instinctively apply cause-and-effect as they write. Their stories may be camouflaged by stilted dialogue, stifling description, and lengthy soliloquies, but the core is solid. The craft of writing can be learned and applied. 

If all you have is pretty words and no story? The outlook is different. I'm a good writer. If all you read is a few paragraphs or a scene I've written, you'll probably agree. But if you sit down to critique a first draft of mine, you'll soon find that the story just doesn't hold together. Characters act against their personalities. Logic may fly clear out the window. 

Are you familiar with the art of M. C. Escher? Relativity is one of his most famous drawings of impossible reality. Go have a look at it. I'll wait. 

This drawing perfectly represents my first draft writing and, I suspect, that of others who are not storytellers. How so? Each segment of Escher's work, taken by itself, makes sense. It's only when you put them all together that you find it implausible. 

To take my theory one step further, let's talk about critique groups, which seem to be standard for aspiring writers. Each submits a chapter a week (or month), often during the first draft phase. If you're a storyteller, this may work for you. The bones are there. You simply need help polishing the prose. 

If you're primarily a writer, this exercise is futile. Each scene (or chapter) looks relatively good on its own. What you need help with is the over-all picture, which is difficult to gain when your reader gets small chunks over a long period of time. The best situation for you—and me—is a critique partner who will sit down and read your entire novel (second or third draft—fix what you can, first) in just a few days and comment on the whole project as well as inevitable line edits. 

Which are you, a storyteller or a writer? Does my theory resonate with you?  


Raspberries and Vinegar
Valerie Comer is an author with a dedicated writing site at To Write a Story. She teaches the basics of planning, plotting, writing, editing, publishing, and marketing fiction through blog posts as well as a free course via email. She writes Farm Lit where food meets faith, injecting experience laced with humor into her novels. Raspberries and Vinegar, first in her Farm Fresh Romance series, released in August, 2013. 

Learn more at: 

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  1. Yep. I am a writer. I can tell a story but I didn't realize I am more writer until a friend read my book and started pointing out themes and overarching goals in the story.

    But when it comes to telling a story, I am most natural telling a story on myself.

    Sigh. Need to read this again after more coffee.

  2. Definitely a storyteller: love to hear them and love to tell them. And yes, your theory does make sense. I hear the story as dialogue and it's very hard for me to describe a scene, add action beats and movement well enough to make it real.

    So glad that I've got ACFW (where I met you), My Book Therapy and all my writing friends to help me learn the craft of writing. Great insights, Valerie!

  3. I'm a writer, but I still rewrote my first story a hundred times. Now that I'm on my fifth novel I rewrite less, but I still don't quite understand why you think writers rewrite less than storytellers. How do you ultimately get the pieces to fit together except by rewriting?

  4. I'm glad to find my theory resonates with a few people (even early on a Monday morning!) It took me a while to realize that, while most of us have a disaster staring back at us when our first draft is completed, there are different sorts of disasters!

    I'm headed in start work on a second draft today. How did that random character get in there, anyway? She isn't needed! Now I have to chop her out of dozens of scenes. Sigh.

  5. Hi, Katherine!

    First, remember this is just my theory, and it could be disproven. Even here, today.

    I don't think writers rewrite less than storytellers, but they definitely (in my theory, anyway) rewrite in different ways. A storyteller's core tale is in there. It may be sparse and lacking in subplots. It may be bloated and filled with pages and pages of description. It may be too technical or too verbose or too "essay-like." The key is that the story thread itself makes sense. The plot works. Their rewriting is to either add to it (first example) to flesh it out more into a story, or to chip away the parts that muddy the tale (second example), or to create flow that suck readers in (third example).

    In my theory, writers struggle with plot, with seeing the entire scope of the story. Many of them see the disasters they've created (perhaps a mash-up of unlikely genres, or characters who change dramatically in each scene to fit the current needs etc) and feel that it would be easier to write something new than to fix the old. (See my comment in the post about Escher.)

    You obviously saw more in your first first draft than I did—something that made it worth it to you to rewrite it however many times it took to get right. I didn't. Maybe my route to publication would have been faster had I dug in at that time, but I'm not sure. I learned what I could from each manuscript and moved on.

    To address your final question: "How do you ultimately get the pieces to fit together except by rewriting?" I do rewrite. Some of my novels have seen 5-6 complete overhauls, to say nothing of tweaking passes. If I didn't rewrite, I'd never have a story I could be proud of—all I'd leave behind are a pile of messes.

    But some revisions are so different from the initial draft as to bear little resemblance. Why? Because I'm still searching for the STORY. The heart of the tale.

    Am I making any sense yet? ;)

  6. Interesting topic, Valerie, and you've got me thinking about it. I'm not sure how I'd describe myself. I rewrite as I go (and afterward) and try to plot as much as I can beforehand, but appealing details always come to me, after the book is done. Does that make me a storyteller?

    1. (Delete that rebellious comma.)

    2. LOL, I'm not sure what that makes you, Sandy! Besides a rebel, that is. Which comes easier, the story parts or the crafting parts?

    3. Yeah, that comma got away from me.

      Probably the crafting parts are easier, but that may be a question for my CPs. I can get the big parts of the story. It's the scene-by-scene details that make me struggle.

  7. I've never thought of that before, but it makes sense. Like Angie Arndt, I have a hard time describing a scene. Most of my story comes out being 'told' rather than 'shown'.

    A theory of mine is that a story isn't ready to be shared until after the second or third draft, period. I don't feel comfortable sharing them until after I've done as much as I can to to them before I share them.

    1. I agree HEARTILY Joy. They didn't give me a long enough blog post to cover that thought as well (I have opinions about so many things lol). I really don't believe in crit groups while writing first draft. The story becomes the group's story, not the writer's. The voice becomes homogenized and doesn't stand out.

      At the VERY least, I, like you, need to go back through my completed manuscript once or twice to fix all the stuff that *I* can see now. Why waste someone else's time on something I can fix? I need those partners badly for the stuff I can't see on my own.

      Thanks for weighing in.


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