The Journal: “Natural” Storytellers

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* “Natural” Storytellers
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quote of the Day

“This is how I came to begin thinking about story-first worldbuilding.” Kelsey Allagood at Writer Unboxed

“Natural” Storytellers

While poking around the web this morning I came across “Your Guide to a Weekly Creativity Time.”

In that post, James Scott Bell says John Gilstrap is a “natural storyteller.” I couldn’t agree more. But Mr. Bell goes on to say that he himself is one of the “other writers” who “have to dig in hard ground to find, stimulate, and coax ideas. Then take the good ones to the workshop [critique group] and figure out the best way to develop them into stories.” Then he asks those who read the post to comment on what type of storyteller thay are.

Wow. I’ve never thought of writing in that way. Naturally, I have a theory.

First, yes, of course I am a natural storyteller. So are all of you, and so is Mr. Bell if only he would trust himself. All of us were making up stories long before we were even aware of that group of symbols we know now as the alphabet.

And yes, a two-year old making up stories IS exactly the same thing as a person later in life writing short stories or novels. The only difference is that the 2-4 year old hasn’t yet been taught that making up things from his/her own creative subconscious is “bad” or that nothing good can come of it. That only with a lot of conscious thought and input from a lot of others can you deliver a story that is entertaining.

But the fact is, you as an adult CAN tell entertaining stories just as you did when you were a toddler. You only have to learn to let go of the fear and believe in yourself again, as you did before the world got its well-meaning claws into you and told you all the things you can’t possibly do by yourself.

Writers who believe they “have to dig in hard ground to find, stimulate, and coax ideas,” have chosen that path by buying-in to the myths. Either that or they’re far too invested in the drama of what it means to be a writer. Writing isn’t some elevated “calling,” folks. It’s just how the more fortunate of us make our living.

But writers who compare writing with the labor-intense digging in hard ground were taught at the beginning that’s the way to do it. And unfortunately most humans will not change or grow until the fear of stagnation outweighs the fear of moving ahead into the unknown. Sadly, most choose stagnation and never realize the freedom and joy of writing into the dark.

And Mr. Bell himself illustrates that point.

Early in his post, he cites Dean Koontz’ How to Write Best Selling Fiction:

“He has a section in there on finding story ideas.” One of those ideas was to

“Write narrative hooks. Just sit at the keyboard and type hooks (first lines) until ‘you find one that is so intriguing that you simply must find out what happens next’. One day Koontz wrote: “You ever killed anything?” Roy asked.’

“He had no idea who Roy was or what he meant. But he sat there looking at it and it came to him (‘out of my subconscious mind’[emphasis added]) that Roy should be a boy of fourteen. From there his imagination started chugging and he wrote two pages of a conversation between Roy and a boy he named Colin. When he was finished he knew the book was going to be about the duality of human nature (good and evil), that Roy was the villain, and that the book would be fast-paced and suspenseful. Indeed it was, and became an early bestseller called The Voice of the Night.”

Mr. Bell himself wrote the passage above in his post. Yet somehow the significance of Koontz’ advice elduded him both back when he read it the first time and again when he posted this article.

Instead of fully embracing Koontz’ wisdom and stepping into the light as a writer, Mr. Bell receded back into the confines of his shell, which he carefully constructed of various and sundry safety nets: outlining, revision, “workshop” (critique group) input and rewriting.

He even constructed an explanation: That he simply isn’t a “natural storyteller.” That he has to “dig in hard ground to find, stimulate, and coax ideas.” Wow. What rarified air.

I’m glad I’m not that special. After a few false starts, I’m currently re-reading the last Wes Crowley Gap novel to get myself back into the flow of Wes’ ongoing story. (Duh. I should’ve done that a month ago.) When I reach the end, I’ll begin writing the next book in the series.

And I won’t be “digging in hard ground, attempting to coax” anything, even a story from a stone with a hammer and chisel. I’ll just write a hook, then an opening, then the next sentence and the next and the next. And roughly two weeks later I’ll have five novels in the Gap series where there were only four before.

I can do this not because I received some blessing that’s rare or unavailable to others, but because I embrace the joy and freedom of writing off into the dark. And so can you.

Talk with you again later.

Of Interest

See “Aphorisms for Thirsty Fish: The Lost Writings of Wu Hsin” at

See “What Matters Most” at

See “The Easy-ish Way to Create Believable, Unforgettable Fictional Worlds” at Still too much conscious thought, IMHO. Parts of the world are part of the story, and other parts aren’t. Just write it. If your POV character notices it, write it down. If s/he doesn’t, don’t.

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 970 words

Writing of WCGN 5: Carmelita Ramos (novel)

Day 1…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX

Total fiction words for November……… XXXX
Total fiction words for the year………… 623282
Total nonfiction words for November… 8550
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 187040
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 810322

Calendar Year 2021 Novels to Date…………………… 13
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… 1
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 3
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 66
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: In this blog, I provide advice on writing fiction. I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. To be crystal clear, WITD is not “the only way” to write, nor will I ever say it is. However, as I am the only writer who advocates WITD both publicly and regularly, I will continue to do so, among myriad other topics.