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What is a Master Storyteller?


Guest rusticmonk86

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Guest rusticmonk86

What is a Master Storyteller?

Is it defined by complete bodies of work? Could it be Stephen King's more than ample blueprint of a band of brothers/close friends, who conquer their past, a demon, a clown or an alien? Is it through a writer's ability to completely enthrall your suspension of disbelief by creating an entire alternate reality; like J. R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis and Frank Herbert in The Lord of The Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia and Dune? Is it defined by style? By charecter development; like Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 100 Years of Solitude? By setting the scene, like Jack London does in such excruciating detail?

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Maybe it's just defined by the existence of people who like to hear or read the stories. Storytelling is an old art, something that we've been doing since we could talk, I suspect, entertaining one another with tales, whether made-up or true.

I don't think you have to have any set amount in sales, or even any sales, to qualify as a master of this. What you do have to have, I'm not sure how to measure, except that people keep coming back for more, asking or demanding more, of whatever it is that you're doing. Which would allow a lot of leeway, I realize, as there are JO storytellers at Nifty who are read by many avid fans...maybe they are master masturbatory-tellers?

Some writers frighten us with their story-telling (Poe, Stephen King, Bram Stoker), some make us laugh (Garrison Keillor, Mark Twain...George Carlin?), some make us cry or feel love or...whatever. Maybe those cookie-cutter romances like Harlequin or grocery-store check-out aisle romances are a kind of mastery, even if of a sort of lowbrow level of English usage, since people seem to keep buying them as fast as they can be printed.

Are only writers who write above a particular level of English usage masters? American newspapers are traditionally written on a fourth grade reading level, generally said to be because of the low level of literacy. Do our own vocabularies sometimes work against us?

You know, some vaunted stories are more than a little bit tedious or repetive, Finnegan's Wake takes a certian amount of energy to finish, in my opinion...and maybe the only reason anyone does is so they can SAY they read it!

I do think creating whole entire fictional worlds is a special talent, one I particularly admire in Tolkien or Lewis, for instance. But is it required? Is a story less masterful because it appears in our ordinary world the way all of Anne Tyler's subtle masterpieces do?

Personally, I'd vote more for character than settings but I'm not sure either could stand alone. I think people like to read about people (or else animals or other non-humans that SEEM like people) and that characters are what makes anything masterful. Still, you have the Illiad and the Odyssey, masterful storytelling that has lasted so many centuries and driven by BOTH vast panoramas AND unforgettable characters working through difficulties. Maybe that's another key, working through problems, what they call 'conflict', even if, as with Anne Tyler, it is subtle and deceptively ordinary.

Some people say there are only a few stories out there, told in an infinite variety of ways. I don't know if that's true or not, but I know when I love something, or some writer. What makes one a master and one a lesser light, I honestly have no idea, despite the many, many lit classes I've endured (and taught).

Kisses...

TR

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In my mind a Master Storyteller is one that capture thier audience over and over and over again. He/She is a Master of this art, being able to spin a tale on a whim and keep it until it's completion. Hmmm, I think a good example would be Shahrzad from the Arabian Nights tales. She is so masterful at storytelling that she saves a kingdom, a sultan, and herself from uncertain doom.

Capture your audience, tame thier souls, make thier fantasies seem real for brief moments in time. I think once one can do that, then they are at the very least on the road to becoming a Master Storyteller.

-N

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What is a Master Storyteller?

Is it defined by complete bodies of work?  Could it be Stephen King's more than ample blueprint of a band of brothers/close friends

Stephen King is NOT a good writer normally. He can be (the Four Seasons book) but mostly he is a hack (Cujo plus anything recent). It's sad because although he's talented it's absolutely wasted on him.

Also, with few exceptions you will get arguments on everyone you put forth. People have tastes and what I think is a great story, you may hate. I think Tolkien is unassailable whether or not you like his work, and perhaps some others (Twain comes to mind).

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Literary elitism aside, Stephen King IS a good storyteller, that's why people buy his books, and why Hollywood makes movies of them. I know that some people whose books sell aren't good storytellers, but they don't have the devoted fans that King does. I used to know a girl who read nothing BUT Stephen King, she was otherwise unliterate. Just amazing to me.

He does, usually, tell a good story. Doesn't that make him a master of it? People telling and retelling his stories, rereading them? A storyteller does need an audience, I'd guess, whether his audience lived back during the last Ice Age or now, between Ice Ages, and standing in line for a latte. Storytelling is a kind of entertaining, maybe the original kind. If people are enthralled by someone's stories, aren't they a master? If not, what makes a master storyteller?

TR

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Blanket statements serve no purpose other then to offend others - especially in matters of personal taste. Much of art is personal and internal. That's why so much of it exists in so many different forms. You don't have to like it all, but one should be respectful of other's opinions even when they disagree with ours.

Jamie

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WBMS:

We all have different tastes.

What do you think makes a master story-teller?

Well you have to tell a good story (concept). King CAN do that. So can many authors. Sadly just because you can tell a good story doesn't make you a master story-teller. If it was just coming up with ideas, King would pass but that isn't enough.

I also think that the story needs to be communicated well. I can prove this. Look at all the stories on Nifty and see how many good ideas you see that are backed by absolute shit behind it. I'd never actually write an author and say "do the world a favour and never try to write a story again" but a few of those people REALLY deserve it which says a lot if they have a good concept and it's still done so badly as to be unreadable.

Grammar, Syntax, Diction, Punctuation are important to writing but they have ZERO bearing on who is a master story teller. You can tell a story verbally, without writing, so as much as I hate bad grammer it doesn't matter here.

Personal tastes do matter, but you can allow many authors and rule many out based on technical merits. Lastly, you do have to consider the audience. Colfer is a great storyteller for kids, but not necessarily adults (for example)

My two cents since you asked.

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I think the mark of a master story-teller is the ability to make your reader live in your tale for the duration of the reading...and sometimes beyond that. When the reader experiences the tale, and cares about what happens next, that's mastery.

cheers!

aj

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"Literary elitism aside, Stephen King IS a good storyteller, that's why people buy his books, and why Hollywood makes movies of them."

To extrapolate heedless of the validity of doing so, I would point out that Reality TV must be good television, since so many people watch it, and the industry keeps making them. :twisted:

What I truly feel is that a master storyteller is someone who can make ANY situation into a story which is listened to or read by an enthralled audience. I know someone who can make an ORDINARY drive to a meeting seem like an adventure you would hate to have missed. But he cannot spell, seems unable to recognize grammar much less use it, and has difficulty in choosing the correct words to make a point. To him, paragraphs are more a geometric phenomenon to make the page look balanced than anything required by the story itself.

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The word "Master Storyteller" doesn't really mean much.

It is all subjective.

It's like the guy who doesn't know art but he knows what he likes.

For instance, I think that Joseph Conrad is great but other critics think that his stories and novels are "sea stories".

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Of course it is subjective. Every story, every painting, every piece of music, cooking, architecture is subjective. God help us all when the art of storytelling becomes objective. It would be about as exciting as reading the dictionary, or a service manual.

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BTW, I write an absolutely terrific service manual. I've done it for work, and I cover the slightest detail, exactingly. :roll:

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  • 3 weeks later...
Stephen King is NOT a good writer normally. He can be (the Four Seasons book) but mostly he is a hack (Cujo plus anything recent).

You and I have had this disagreement before, W (if you don't mind me using your first initial), but I think King is still capable of being a very fine writer.

I'd point to the recent Dreamcatcher (2001) as an example that King's skills haven't quite deserted him. Also, anybody who can crank out masterpieces like Carrie, 'Salem's Lot, The Shining, and The Stand ain't exactly a hack. Lesser works like It, Shawshank Redemption and Green Mile are pretty damned good, even though they may not quite be classics.

But I started really disliking some of his stuff like Cujo, Christine, Pet Sematary, and several others from the 1980s and early 1990s (when King admits he started having a big problem with drugs and alcohol, which he mentions in his book On Writing). I found all of those to be terribly disappointing.

Still, given that the guy has -- what? -- 40 best-selling novels, I'd say at least a half-dozen of them are bona fide classics. As far as I'm concerned, none of us are worthy of even sharpening King's pencils. To me, King does fall under the category of "Master Storyteller," as do few contemporary authors.

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Re: Stephen King.

I've read only one of his books, IT, and though I thought he went too far (ick) in a couple of places, he proved he could convince the reader he was in the story, it was "real" enough, and he proved he can make observations about the good, bad, odd, and puzzling in human nature.

I've seen a few movies of his books, including the excellent Stand By Me.

One of my college roommates had a nightmare while reading IT and I ended up waking him, he was so agitated. We talked about the whole thing. Since he was a smart guy, but not overly prone to letting his imagination get him carried away, I take that as an example of how well King can write a story.

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WBMS is gonna shit his pants when I pull out Stephen King's reply.

WBMS isn't afraid of Mr. King. I would gladly tell him what I think to his face. WBMS isn't afraid of any author, musician, or any celebrity. In fact, WBMS, has been known to be very opinionated to the face of several famous actors, authors, and musicians.

Being opinionated doesn't involve being unkind. However Mr. King is a terribly lazy author IMHO and I will gladly tell him so. Anybody who can churn out Four Seasons and then also churn out Cujo is lazy. Mr. King should be ashamed for letting Cujo out. Anyone here could do better.

Hmph. Bring on Mr. King. And tell him the other RBR gang ain't going to protect him from me. He'll know what I mean. :twisted:

Do I sound angry? Yeah. Talented people shouldn't be lazy. It's sad :(

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This discussion has moved to one of those philosophical areas where there?s lots of room for disagreement ? the critical evaluation of art. In addition there arises the secondary issue of art produced for it?s own sake or for profit? And is there some how a demarcation that says art produced for cash isn?t as good as art produced to advance the craft.

Historically many artists never received the monetary remuneration they deserved in life. We all know Mozart was buried by the city in a pauper?s grave. Yet years after these artists demise their work receives great acclaim or sells for phenomenal amounts of money. I often wonder what Van Gough would say if he knew the record art prices his works fetch, when during his lifetime he couldn?t sell any of them.

All successful cash earning artists produce work that doesn?t always meet high standards, but it?s how they make their living. Many a famous or talented actor will take a part in a movie or sitcom not to advance the ?art,? but because they getting big bucks to do it. The same goes for authors, screenplay writers, painters etc. I?ve seen more than a few interviews of movie stars who freely admitted that they took certain parts because the price was right ? is that disingenuous? Maybe, but than I think of the many every day people who work at jobs they hate producing work for which they get paid. And that dislike of the job many times causes them to put out less then 100% effort. Yes, when anyone is paid for something they should always put forth 100% and produce the best they can, but does that really happen in reality?

How many of us who post on this site would refuse the generous offer of a publisher who after perusing the works on AD offered us a contract. Would the offer of that money suddenly diminish the quality of the work? Would we be ?sell-outs? to the art?

How many painters struggle to sell their paintings every day, yet along comes Thomas Kincade who has been able to produce work, sell it on QVC and make a very good living? Is his stuff better or worse because he gets decent money?

I think that one has to look at the entire body of work any artist puts out (especially if they have a long history). The work of Humphrey Bogart, Steven King, Picasso, Sean Connery, Hyden etc. has to be viewed in its entirety and in point of fact sometimes can?t be fairly evaluated until the life of the artist ends. Definitive evaluations often don?t come until years after the person?s death. Some artists who were lauded and famous during their lifetimes have been panned years after their demise while others who were ignored become venerated. And once an artist achieves a statue in the ?sacred pantheon? are they beyond criticism. Is every piece of music that Bach ever created an unqualified masterpiece? I?m sure some would say yes, but I suspect he had his off days. He certainly produced a fair amount of music on demand for various aristocrats ? for cash.

I?ve read in these forums where some people praise J K Rowling and call her a great writer ? it?s certainly a matter of opinion. Her initial goal in producing the Potter books wasn?t to create great literature ? a fact she freely admits. It was simply to feed her family and earn a living ? something pre Harry Potter she struggled at. Once she ends the Potter series I?ll be interested to see if she continues writing, and if so what she writes. She has more money then the Queen of England at this point so maybe she?s met her goal and will hang it up? time will tell. At this point even if she produces something less then stellar her reputation with Scholastic is solid and they?ll pony up the big bucks to publish it. Sometimes in art luck can play a significant factor.

Not every painting, story, book, album, or performance an artist does is steller ? that?s the nature of the human condition, but examined over time does the good out weigh the schlock ? for me that?s the ultimate test.

And then finally ? as I have stated before in other posts ? it often comes down to the likes and dislikes of the person experiencing it. We all live in different houses, wear different clothes, paint our walls different colors and enjoy different things. Does my like or dislike of something make it right or wrong? Hardly! We?re all opinionated ? that?s not a bad thing, but we need to temper our opinions with an understanding and respect for others.

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WBMS is gonna shit his pants when I pull out Stephen King's reply.

WBMS isn't afraid of Mr. King. I would gladly tell him what I think to his face. WBMS isn't afraid of any author, musician, or any celebrity. In fact, WBMS, has been known to be very opinionated to the face of several famous actors, authors, and musicians.

Being opinionated doesn't involve being unkind. However Mr. King is a terribly lazy author IMHO and I will gladly tell him so. Anybody who can churn out Four Seasons and then also churn out Cujo is lazy. Mr. King should be ashamed for letting Cujo out. Anyone here could do better.

Do I sound angry? Yeah. Talented people shouldn't be lazy. It's sad :(

So: I'm not sure what this, and previous posts concerning Mr. King, have to do with defining "The Master Storyteller"? Perhaps we can more on topis by defining what exactly a Storyteller is, and then concentrating on what a master of storytelling is. It might be more useful to quote, and reference, classical works of literature than later literature, contemporary, or modern writers' works. But then again, maybe these are just the ignorant words of a college student...

-Naiilo

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The thread wandered off on a tangent for a while, but appears to be meandering back on topic.

Hey, any artist (painter, writer/poet, musician, actor, ...) would love to get paid for his/her work, and even more so, would dearly love to make a living solely based on that work. However, few, even the best, can do that, and sometimes mediocre artists make it big and sometimes great artists do work that is not their best. That can sometimes be to please a patron or a publishing house or other entity. Yes, art and its practice are not perfect.

My mother advised her art students who wanted careers to get college courses in business skills so they could manage themselves and have marketable job skills too, to ensure the best chance that they'd be able to pay bills, put groceries on the table, a roof over their heads, and all that necessary, mundane stuff.

-----

As to what makes a master storyteller, it's this, to me, most simply:

If you can lose yourself in the story, have it feel real, and forget the world around you and your troubles, while you're in the story, that's a master storyteller. If that means spending a weekend reading a book you can't put down, or a few amazed hours watching a movie or series or theatre play, that's a master storyteller. If you are still thinking about it days, weeks, years after, that's a master storyteller.

Does it have to be great art, high philosophy, anything like that? Not necessarily, though it probably will have some. But it has to be "a good yarn," entertaining, with at least something that engages your brain and your adrenaline, and perhaps other body parts from time to time, for various reasons. (Not just "those" body parts, either. Geez. But occasionally, those too.)

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If you can lose yourself in the story, have it feel real, and forget the world around you and your troubles, while you're in the story, that's a master storyteller.

Yeah, a few of the books on writing that I've read have stressed the need for us to write a story that practically "hypnotizes" the reader and puts them in a dream-like state.

I'm sure any of you who've read a really fine novel have been so immersed it in, when a friend comes up to try to talk to you, you kind of shake your head as if coming out of a dream, and go "wha? Huh?"

A writer who can do that is doing a reasonably-good job. I dunno if it's "master-storytelling," but that's the desired effect.

Last quick comment: some of the scenes I've written myself were so vivid to me, I feel like they're actual memories of something that really happened in my life, or a (very high-budget) movie that I've watched. I can only think of half a dozen instances where this happened, but the moments really felt powerful and emotional to me. My readers have often cited those same scenes as jumping out at them in the story, so I like to think those approached (but probably didn't quite hit) the so-called "master-storyteller" level.

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