Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Storyteller or Technician?

"The Wizard of Oz" stirred me in ways I could not have imagined prior to seeing the movie. Oh, the thrill of the colorful scenes! Oh, the adventure of faraway places! Oh, the very idea of being stranded so far from HOME!

And the agony of it all.

Being lost.

Not knowing anyone.

Causing an accident upon your arrival.

And everything you try makes the situation worse.

Did you have similiar thoughts about the movie? Did you grow up fearing flying monkeys, numbing poppy fields, and the man behind the curtain?

I did.

But I was also hooked for life on the idea of reading - and telling - a great story.

Fast forward ... some years ...  and I'm telling stories - in book format. In my mind, the difference between a good technician and a darn fine storyteller have become blurred.

Writers yearn to have the power to sweep readers away to a new Oz so engrossing that time literally stops for readers. Writers seek that misty zone where Frank Baum, writer of The Wizard of Oz lives, where readers will suspend disbelief, where they are so needing to know what happens next that they will keep turning pages.

I used to believe the difference was in how one wrote, whether it was a more organized, outlined approach or a free-flowing organic approach. But now, after reading good and not-as-good stories in both lanes, I earnestly believe it's simpler than that.

For me, the difference harkens back to the actual weaving of words. Sure, writers need to have an understanding of writing craft and a storyteller's ear for timing and drama, but the word patterns themselves are what entice readers away from reality into a land of a writer's imagining.

So how does one acquire this story perfection? Are writers born with it? Can it be taught?

My answer is ... wait for it ...

Buddy Ebsen played the Tin Man in the movie
yes! A natural aptitude shoots some writers to the front of the line, but writers that work at their craft, that learn layering and hone their editorial ears, can know great success.

What's your take on this topic?

And for fun, which Wizard of Oz character do you identify the most with? Are you a Tin Man, a Cowardly Lion, a spunky Dorothy, Toto the wandering pooch, Glinda the Good Witch, or another character?

Maggie Toussaint
mystery and romance author

ps images about The Wizard of Oz are from Wikipedia


  1. I think most writers start with SOME natural talent, but, then they learn more about the craft, developing their ideas via creating great stories, using the information gleaned from other writers via workshops, social media, etc.

    I identify most with Dorothy. As a child, I always felt lost, a few steps behind everybody since I was ALWAYS trying to figure everything out. There's an explanation for everything? Right? :-)

    Yes, I'd been fearful of flying monkeys and evil witches - not sure if I could've been as courageous as Dorothy...

    1. Hi Cecelia,

      You're absolutely right! Natural talent and craft honing go hand in hand in creating compelling reads.

      And, oh my goodnes, I totally get where you're coming from as a Dorothy. I got in the habit of watching others early on, and as a consequence was at least a step behind. One day I realized I could live my life or go around imitating others. I stopped being such an observer, though I still consider myself observant. Bottom line, I learned to take my own steps and never looked back. Just like Dorothy:)

      Thanks for the visit, Cecelia!

  2. I agree with you, Maggie. A good writer has a certain ear for how to arrange words, how they sound, how they evoke a scene in the reader's imagination. Give a theme to 10 people and ask them to write. You'll have 10 different patterns of the same ideas.

    For me a good book is one where the words and the sentences appeal to me and make me love the characters. Some authors kill their stories with their slow pace, their repetitions, their use of poor verbs or continuous "was".

    As a cruise passenger told me on our last cruise when he read one of my books. "You are lucky. This is a gift from God." Yes, good writing is a talent, a gift from God. Not everyone has it. Same as a beautiful voice for an opera singer, or a sensitive ear for a a piano artist. You can improve it, but you can't create it.

    1. Hey Mona,

      I've been in a room of writers where they've done an exercise with the same character or items or image. You're right. The stories all came out different. Some were great, even in the 10 or 15 minutes of the exercise, some were so-so. It really brought home to me the importance of that inner story ear.

      Having a natural gift for that is golden, but I've learned to "hone" my hearing through time, same as you.

  3. Fascinating topic Maggie. I'm a believer that the writer has to be engrossed in their story, intrigued by their characters, and fascinated by the plot line. Why? Because the 'fun' of the combined challenge injects the drive necessary to write and edit the story over the months to its full potential.

    I always connected with the Scarecrow as he always thought things out and was looking for options to reach his goals. And, he was a good friend.

    Wishing you continued success. You're truly an inspiring person.
    Happy New Year!

    1. Hi Diana,

      Thanks for your kind words. I agree with authors needing to be immersed in the story. Once something is Fun, it's no longer Work. And make no mistake, writting a well-crafted story, for me at least, is a lot of work.

      What a great choice of character - the Scarecrow. He was a great character for being able to use both sides of his brain - the intellectual side and the empathy/emotional side.

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. Deb Dixon uses The Wizard of Oz in her "Goals, Motivation & Conflict" book and workshops. I think we all root for Dorothy because her goal (get back home) is universal. It might not be "home" but it's getting where you want to be.
    Terry's Place

    1. Hi Terry,

      I love Deb Dixon's book. I can't tell you how many times I draw out those GMC boxes and make sure that folks have goals, motivations, and conflict. As soon as I stall out in a scene, I know that one or more of those needs "oiling".

      I'm such a homebody. It would terrify me to be thrown to the four winds like Dorothy. I need to be home and to have my things (& my people) around me.

      Thanks for the comment!

  5. I'd like to be the good witch. The story works because it follows classic Hero's Journey structure that resonates with readers on a deeper level. It's also great storytelling, because one adventure happens after another. And then you have the distinctive secondary characters, and the quest for a way home. It works on many levels.

    1. Hi Nancy,

      I can easily imagine you glowing with white light! And I appreciate your analysis of why The Wizard of Oz works on so many levels. This large of an adventure is the type I best prefer to have -- in my armchair!

      Thanks for the visit.

  6. The Wizard of Oz is my mom's favorite movie, and I grew up watching it, looking forward to it showing on TV because mom made it a big family night party. I've often wondered about reasons readers love and get excited about a story, even when it's painfully written, versus ones with lovely style but just don't seem to resonate. I think you're right - it's all about the weaving of words, both free-flowing and formal structure, and as a writer trying to achieve the best of both.

    1. Hi Melissa,

      I'm so glad you stopped in for a visit. And I love how your mom made viewing of The Wizard of Oz such a family adventure. She knew a lot about building community and reinforcing the concept of home.

      I think about why things work probably way too much. I've also noticed that people in general are inclined to point out other's flaws. For instance, after a splendid concert with 2 sour notes, that's all you'll hear about, the mistakes.

      A reviewer recently commented that I had more than one character in a book say "not hardly", which to her was an unusual response, but is quite commonplace in my southern world.

      That's one of the challenges for writers: readers come from all backgrounds and walks of life. They come with different expectations and different needs. It's a wonder the right readers find the right authors, ya know?

  7. I agree, a wonderful movie and story on many levels. I have been writing for 10 years and lucky to find publishing homes. I'm still learning how to add depth to my characters. Writing is a challange, but a fun one. I'm a layer-er. If there is such a word. Plot first, then on rewrites, I keep layering. Every additional layer helps.
    Great post.

  8. Both the book and the film continue to fascinate children and adults. The first time I saw the film I was frightened by the wicked witch. Margaret Hamilton was superb in that role. The acting by the entire cast was exceptional. The cleverest part was moving from the reality of black and white film in Kansas to the bursting of color in OZ.

  9. I'm terrified to this day of flying monkeys. I had the movie here a few years ago to show to my grandsons--the older two were 8 and 7--and the 8 yr old screamed and ran around behind my recliner when the flying monkeys were on. He'd inch up behind me and grasp my shoulder and peek, but squat back down covering his ears. The other one lay on the floor looking up at the tv and hardly batted an eyelash.
    Probably, I'm Auntie Em in the movie--don't know why.
    Writing is not easy, but some write more easily than others. Now writing something good and wonderful and exciting to read is really hard. And I'm not sure everyone can learn how to carry this off. Some write very flat and dry and emotionless, like they're on remote control telling what happens. Just not a good fiction writer--great at non-fiction, maybe, because the book reads like non-fiction. Haven't you seen this? I wonder, how did they get this published?
    "Wait" is good advice--but there again, some believe they can go right out and write a bestseller. No amount of waiting works for some.

  10. Hi Maggie, this is a question with no easy answer, which is the kind of question I like. ;-)

    It varies by reader, by author, and by genre, I would say. Readers are grabbed by different things. Some will ignore bad writing if the characters are strong enough. Others don't need deep characters if the writing is pretty enough or if it's spicy enough (look at Fifty Shades - bad writing, lots of shock value, big seller).

    Yes, I think most can learn to write in an appealing way if they work at it. I've enjoyed seeing several writers I know grow at their craft and I can tell they're the ones who care about the Story itself as well as the Craft. Others are born with the talent but don't bother to try to sharpen it. I think, and hope, the best of the crop will be those both born with the talent AND who have worked hard at it. You can have one or the other and be successful enough, but both makes for a long-lasting body of work.

  11. Oh, and I relate most to the scarecrow. He always tries to think things out even while he feels lacking in the brains department, and he's a scarecrow who really isn't all that scary but he gets the job done when he tries hard enough.


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