Is storytelling an art? Like singing, dancing, acting, and other forms of performance art, it originated as an oral tradition before writing in any sense came into being. However, it is just as much a craft as those other forms because the use of specific tools enhances the basics. As clay is to the potter, letters form words to draw pictures, elicit emotions, transfer knowledge, and memorialize moments in time for future generations.
Now, before anyone starts to jump up and down on my head for equating art and craft, let me explain. Better yet, I’ll let Harshad Dubey make an excellent comparison between art and craft on Quora.com. The part that stands out to me is:
“Art is a result of a person’s innate talents whereas skill in craft can be acquired with experience. Craft forms can be called skilled forms. In craft, more practical thought is needed whereas in Art, it is the emotions that make a perfect creation. Art is more related to aesthetics.”
This question can be one of those debates that sound like, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” In the end, does it really matter? I’m certainly not going there!
These Days We Have Many Tools to Enhance Our Writing
So is writing an Art or a Craft if we use software tools (as craftsmen or women use tools) to check our spelling; our grammar? If we as Artists use these tools to format our words for emphasis? We can even dictate our speech and have it transcribed to written text, to be formatted later.
In the age of Shakespeare, he and others like him used words as the basis for others to elicit emotions or educate, all in the name of entertainment. They didn’t have modern tools, so was his Craft an Art? Shakespeare was truly a master of his craft. For a similar perspective on this, watch this TED talk on Youtube by Laura Morelli.
As a pragmatist, I’ll use whatever works in my writing because I consider all writing to have one common goal: To Persuade.
To list just a few of the different types of writing today, let’s start with Fiction.
“No matter what type of fiction or non-fiction, the author seeks to persuade the reader to keep turning pages to find out what happens next.”
You may quibble with this statement, but hear me out. Many devices can persuade through suspense, red herrings, intriguing facts thrown in from nowhere, love, hate, locale. This is the art of storytelling. In the end, the author must persuade the reader the time invested was worthwhile emotionally or factually. The author must persuade the reader to suspend their disbelief and buy into the images, the emotions, and the possibilities the author presents.
To an even greater extent, persuasion applies to Marketing (Copywriting, Direct Response Copywriting). One of my favorite devices in Marketing is embodied by the old joke:
“Do you know how to keep an idiot in suspense? No? Okay, I’ll tell you later.”
In Fiction, it’s the Art of Suspense but in Marketing, it’s a Craft. You’ve seen it hundreds of times on the web where the video script reader tell you every so often that they’re going to tell you how to do something in just a couple of minutes but first … Then after many more testimonials and “facts”, you’ll be shown the credit card form to sign up. All of this makes up the story.
Then there’s Technical Writing where the author uses facts, images, details, a table of contents and an index to persuade the reader that all their questions will be answered in this easy-to-use, handy-dandy manual of operation for setting up or fixing your brand new gadget. Why? Because you, the author, are persuading the reader that you are an expert! You lay out and/or describe the parts or tools, you define how they fit together or are used and finally congratulate the reader on keeping their sanity while persuading them that those leftover parts are just spares.
If the Art of Writing is an Innate Talent, It Is Also a Talent That Can be Developed Further.
Like any good craftsman/woman, having the right set of tools, the ability, and willingness, to practice and become skilled in the use of those tools, is key to developing an artist’s or craftsperson’s full potential.
And what is the chief ingredient in the art of great writing? The ability to tell a great story. That is what keeps the reader engaged and turning pages. No story: no book. When translated to the screen, the story is paramount. No story: no script, no film.
Having said all that, what kind of writing do I engage in? As pragmatic as I am, let’s go with, all kinds. As an artist, I prefer Fiction. As a craftsman, I’ll go with D) All The Above. Final answer.