Storytelling vs Plotting

Do you know anyone really good at storytelling? I’m not talking about writing a novel, but just telling a story to a group of friends. Some people have natural instincts about what will keep their audience engaged. They know what information to leave out until the last minute. They know what to emphasize and when to use hyperbole. In high school I was not this person. My personal stories were uninteresting. But after a good deal of observation, I’m proud to tell you that I have learned how to make my own odd adventures entertaining to other people. Why is this important?

It has come to my attention recently that plotting and storytelling are two very different things. Some authors plot their novels. (For the purpose of this blog post, “plotting” refers to a very structured outline method). Other authors tell stories. Now, I’m not going to come right out and say that one method is better than another. But I prefer one method to another.

I know authors who plot vigorously and are quite successful. They know all the elements that a story needs and they insert them strategically into their story to yield the best outcome. This is probably the smart and safe way to write books. When you count on proven methods and statistics of what readers like, you are a bit more assured of gaining a following. But there is also such a thing as a wild story, that does not heed the rules and yet still manages to entertain. I tend to gravitate toward the unpredictable, the emotional, and even the unbalanced. It’s like the difference between traditional and abstract art. If you follow the rules for traditional painting, and you practice a great deal, you can be pretty confident that you will portray the scene you are painting, and viewers will appreciate it.

I am not much of a plotter. I follow the tones and colors of my story. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about plot. My stories often include intricate plot. But I focus on the emotional journey of the characters. I write by instinct. And this instinct has been painfully developed over the past fifteen years. I love it when I find it in other authors too.

What about you? Do you have a preference between plotting and storytelling? Can you tell the difference? Sometimes I read a book or watch a movie and I can almost see the outline the writer used. (I hate that)

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