Are story-tellers born not made?

© Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been reading The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, the case notes of the recently departed neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks. It’s a fascinating book and deeply humane, dealing with the amazing curve balls our complex brains can throw at us when they go wrong.

It’s also very well written by someone who was clearly a great story-teller as well as a great scientist.

By chance I happened to catch an old TV interview with Oliver Sacks while I was reading his book and during it he talked about his propensity for story telling. He got it from his mother he said. She was such a natural spinner of yarns that she would keep the postman or milkman spellbound at the door as she told them fascinating and amusing tales – they poured out of her.

It made me wonder if being a story-teller is something people have as a natural gift or even inherit from their parents – in the same way that others are naturally musical or have a talent for mathematics.

Now, I’m a big believer in practice, and I know I have improved as a writer over the years because I’ve worked at it. But there is no doubt that I loved telling stories even as a child. Where other kids would tell jokes I would love to tell stories. I’ve never really stopped, though the stories are on paper now.

I’m not sure what drew me to story telling, what still draws me. Maybe it was my way of making sense of the world. But I do believe I had a natural flair for it, though I’m not sure where that would have come from.

Do you believe story tellers are born rather than made? What are your natural talents?

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4 thoughts on “Are story-tellers born not made?”

  1. Both! Some storytellers are born, others are made.

    Some people are naturals. At an American Indian powwow, a native American storyteller kept the crowd enthralled for an hour telling one short story after another. He was a low key sort you’d never expect it from but the stories just poured out of him.

    Personally? I’ve never been a ‘verbal’ story teller. In fact, I didn’t even know I had writing talent until a couple of English teachers pointed it out in high school. I savored their words for years but did nothing about it until I started blogging and writing non-fiction articles to make extra money a few years back. I decided I wanted to try my hand at fiction too and so, like with all the non-fiction stuff, I read and I researched and I worked and worked until I came up with a passable first book. Born? Maybe a little…the talent was there but bringing it out and sharpening it – the making – required a lot of time and effort. I’m still learning.

    1. That’s an interesting point about Native American stories Anne, that whole verbal tradition of story telling has been lost for us here, though a thousand years ago it was pretty much all we had. In those days I guess story tellers were also performers while most authors I know these days would rather let their books speak for them.

  2. I think it’s probably true there are natural story tellers, but I think you can work at it too and become good at it. I’ve never been very good at oral story telling, or any kind of oral production in fact. I’ve always thought things out with a pen, or later on a keyboard, so writing things down has been my way of expressing myself since childhood. The stories just flow more easily through my hand than my mouth. But the wonderful oral tradition of story telling has more or less disappeared although some people just have the gift.

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