there are storytellers among us

I remember asking my English professors when I studied creative writing if they thought writers were born, not taught. Their answers rarely varied. People can be taught to write, they allowed, but some are born with the knack and sooner or later they must write. Nowadays, I’d rephrase my question, but I expect they’d give me the same answer. I wonder. Can you teach storytelling?

Every now and then I come across someone that is not only a natural born storyteller but a darn good writer as well. I discovered a new one just a few weeks ago in fact. His name is Gary Carden and he lives in his native town of Sylva in west North Carolina. He writes a blog in which he mostly reviews his most recent book “finds” at Gary’s Holler Notes and he also hosts a website, The Tannery Whistle, in which he writes about a number of things and where you can see how multi-talented (he paints, too) Dr. Carden is. You can also read some of his stories about his childhood.

For weeks I’ve been planning to introduce him to my readers here in Wintersong, but wasn’t quite sure the best way to do it. He gave me perfect lead in an email today when he told me about a clip from one of his plays that had just been uploaded to YouTube. It’s a scene, less than 5 minutes long, from NANCE DUDE, from a true story that took place in western North Carolina almost one hundred years ago in which a 65-year-old woman, Nance Dude was found guilty and sentenced for the willfull death of her 3-year-old granddaughter. It’s a gripping, one-woman drama performed by Elizabeth Westall in June of 2009 at the Performing Arts Center in Highlands, North Carolina.

I’m sure you’ll enjoy watching it; it may even whet your appetite to learn more about the historic murder conviction of Nance Dude, aka Nancy Ann Kerley.

6 thoughts on “there are storytellers among us

  1. Personally,
    I don’t think storytelling can be taught. Maybe there are storytellers who need someone to “validate their parking ticket” and maybe a “Masters in Storytelling” from someone like ETSU (endorsed by the holy city of Jonesborough) will give them confidence. Any time I hear anyone lecturing on “How to Tell Stories,” I get my back up. I occasionally conduct workshops myself, but I tend to emphasize resources rather than “technique.” I also feel that good storytelling is spontaneous. In other words, you don’t memorize a story. You simply open your mouth and start talking.
    The fact that a storyteller does not memorize or subject his story to some kind of template will give the speaker a vital advantage. I can always tell if a storyteller is talking “off the top of his head” because his story has a vitality that it might not have otherwise.

    • The comment about the template tells me why I dislike so much mainstream fiction, especially romance. It’s too formulaic and predictable. But I do think there’s a big difference in storytelling live and storytelling in writing. I think people who write can certainly be taught better technique in their written storytelling.

  2. I agree with Gary. I think the craft of writing can be taught, but just like with painting, you need that something extra to make the work into art instead of illustration or design.

    Hope you are staying cool out there.

    • For me that extra something is passion for the art, no matter what that art is, writing with the pen (or word processor, like me), or painting the story with a brush or other instrument. If the passion ain’t there it becomes formula, and passion is missing in formula.

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