Raw Talent or Learned Behavior?

I’m fickle.

Last night I had my post written for today.  For some reason, I didn’t schedule it to post, figuring I would post it this morning.  Along the way, I got sidetracked by another blog.  Good thing I’m fickle, because I now have another, more urgent topic to discuss.

The Art of Story-telling.

Okay, not that I know anything about it, but it is a topic I feel strongly about.  And it’s Kate’s fault that I waffled from my previous post, fell in love with this idea and am now sharing it with you.

She said, ” I think I write because I’m a story-teller at heart.”

This statement sums up, for me, how a writer finds his/her voice.

I always say voice is something a writer has.  You can’t buy it in the book store or find it like a penny on the sidewalk.  Ebay does not sell it, and mapquest won’t help either.  Voice is something you have or you don’t.  According to me, that is. 

According to everyone else, “When a writer finds his voice, he will know.”

I absolutely agree.  But I think we look for it in the wrong places.  We look for it in style and try to emulate what worked for other writers.  But I don’t believe it can be found in POV and story arc.  Nor can it be found in good writing mechanics, characterizzation and conflict.  Those are simply the by-products of good story-telling.

To me, voice is the difference between telling a story and story-telling.  It is the difference between a perfectly executed song and a song with soul.  It is the art of expressing the story from within.

To quote Kate, voice comes from being a “story-teller at heart.”

Which is not to be confused with passion.  I can have all the passion in the world for the written word and still not have the soul to lay it bare in that magical and spell-binding way.

Some things are just inherent.  Like comedy, for example.

I suck at telling jokes.  My timing is off and I mess up the punchline.  This is telling a story at it’s worst. 

Good comedians like Billy Crystal and Robin Williams feel the power of the joke deep inside them.  When it comes out, they don’t have to work for it.  The magic is there.

That is the art of story-telling.

So, thanks to Kate and my inherently fickle nature, I have created a loaded post for those in the writing industry.  Your input will be valued as we explore the art of story-telling.

Do you believe there is a magical component to story-telling?  Or, can a great story be told with good mechanics and attention to detail?  Is voice something that can be learned/taught or is it an intuitive, yet elusive talent? 

Is there even a difference between the two?

20 responses to “Raw Talent or Learned Behavior?

  1. I think the really great authors are true storytellers. It’s just a part of who they are. I believe that without it you can be good but never really reach a pinacle of greatness. Mark Twain was an example of a truly wonderful storyteller.
    I can appreciate the ballet or opera all I want, but I know I couldn’t get up there on stage and be amazing. Great post and happy Friday!

    • Lisa,

      I agree. Writers can write compelling, good novels. But those who cross the line into greatness have an inherent ability to pour magic onto the page.

      Thanks for weighing in. Hope your weekend is wonderful!

  2. You are so right. Voice I think is inherent and can’t be helped. It is in you and has to come out.

    blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

  3. jmartinlibrary

    I think you can either naturally stumble onto your voice, or you can work like a maniac until it develops. Either way, it’s worth it.

    • Jenny,

      I agree that practice is a huge part of honing. Talent is not enough if determination, motivation and hard work do not follow. Likewise, voice can be nurtured and coaxed.

      And yes, once you find it, hold on with both hands. No matter how you found it, it’s the most precious thing we have as writers.

      Thanks so much for sharing your take on this.

  4. Cat, loved your post…to me being a story teller is different from being a writer and thus not the same as finding your voice. Your voice is a written device that can be learned IMHO. Story telling is an art that is also learned but is an oral art rather than a written one again IMHO.

    I come from a family of story tellers, we can keep you enraptured all night but as far as writing most wouldn’t even try and then the effort to find one’s voice is a killer. I have been working on in for years. I have finally found my voice after a long, long quest but getting it down on paper is still a challenge but I can tell you stories out the yin yang.

    In my world at least these are different qualities and I wish that having the ability to tell stories helped my voice in writing but alas for me it has been a wash.

    Ciao Bella,


    • Ardee-ann,

      That is a very enlightening perspective and very astute. Voice is the presentation in which we tell our stories–whether oral or written. Yet I’m still not convinced that the magic of story-telling is only confined to oral renditions. I think really great writers can, and do, get the magic down on paper in the same way a story-teller does around the bonfire.

      You gave me a lot to think about. Thanks for that!

  5. I think there is a difference between raw talent and learned ability. I’ve been critting both in academia and out for a long time, and I think I have a pretty good “ear” for natural talent that needs time to learn and also for learned writing without much talent. When the two come together, you get something magical, especially when the writer is passionate about the story he or she is telling.

    • Barbara,

      You wrote I what I feel much more eloquently than I did. There are always so many variables that it’s hard to talk about writing and talent in concrete terms.

      I don’t dispute the level of hard work needed write well and get published. Nor do I discount the natural ability some people have, but never fully develop in the process of writing. I think the magic occurs when both of those merge. To me, it is much more than simply telling a story. It is art.

  6. Talent and practice. It takes both.

    I’m with you and Kate. I feel less of a writer and author, and more of a storyteller.

    I will add this: Good writers write. Great writers confess.

    There’s a difference.

    – Eric

    • And of course, you write it so much more succinctly.

      I could shoot free-throws all day long and get as many through the hoop as any basketball star–if I practiced hard enough. But I will never have the flair of Michael Jordan!

      Thanks for weighing in!

  7. This has got to be my fav blog of the week…maybe month! “Good writers write. Great writers confess.” Turly magical words for the storyteller who writes but does not always compile and structure in a traditional way…LOVE IT!!!

    • Jeanna,

      Eric always has a nugget or two tucked into his comments. He’s on my sidebar, digging with worms, if you’d like to check out his blog. I find him refreshing, funny and provocative.

      That’s what I love about blogging–meeting so many interesting people with so many wonderful perspectives.


  8. Story telling is magic. I’ve learned a lot about story-telling and voice from reading aloud to both my kids and to the students in my class. There’s a rhythm to a good story, and I think the same applies to voice. 🙂

    • Jemi,

      I agree. Reading out loud is a great way to feel the story. I think great works have that same feel even if read silently. They just have a certain cadence that absorbs the reader.

      Great point.

  9. Semantics may be arguable (i.e., story-telling versus telling a story) but there’s no denying art is involved. In the medium of words, being a true artist requires a gift and that gift is evident in the presence of voice and rhythm. I think it’s possible for a writer to learn to use words well but I don’t think we can “learn” voice. We either have it or we don’t, although maybe when we think we don’t have it, it’s simply because we haven’t found a way to recognize it.

    It all sounds very complicated but I suspect if we write from the soul with total honesty, whatever voice we have will be evident.

    • Carol,

      That’s one of the most perfect and poetic descriptions I’ve heard. So maybe the question isn’t finding voice so much as recognizing that it is already there.

      Thanks for the input!

  10. I was catching up on my blog reading when I found this post. Thank you so much!!!

    I’m a much more aural person than I am a visual person. I kind of hear the cadence of words when I write and it helps me do some of the technical things more naturally. So, I think being aural really helps me find my character’s voice and being a story-teller helps me know how to draw a reader along.

    I’ve done a good bit of studying and I think I’ve improved at voice and story-telling, so while innate ability is a part of being a writer, I think there’s a lot you can learn if you’re determined.

    Thank you again! You gave me a real thrill with this post! 🙂

    • Kate,

      There is no denying that hard work compliments talent. When the two work together, magic can happen.

      Thanks for sharing your experience with this.

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