Are you a writer or a storyteller? It’s a legitimate question and also one of the great mysteries surrounding successful authors. I know a number of fantastic writers who are not bestsellers. I know a few great storytellers who are not particularly good writers. When you find a combination of a good storyteller and a good writer, you have the potential for a bestseller. (I'm not going to go into the huge number of variables that could also affect sales. Some have to do with the publisher, some have to do with timing, most have to do with wild, blind luck.)
I listened to a talk by the late Michael Palmer a few years ago. The best-selling author and medical doctor was telling the story of his first novel and how the agency he gave it to told him he wasn't a good writer technically, but he understood the stuff that couldn't be taught, like emphasizing the drama. The agent told him not to worry because they could teach him the rest. And it is things like that which distinguish a good storyteller.
The examples I always use are the late Tom Clancy and my friend, WEB Griffin. Clancy’s novels, from beginning to end, told a story of conflict, often between two entire nations, which somehow encompassed politics, the military, national sentiment and occasionally a nuclear weapon. It's one of the reasons so many of his novels have been made into movies. They were great stories. He was a very good writer. But mostly he was known as a great storyteller.
WEB Griffin tells more personal stories, usually centered around a few characters, that are no less compelling. Sometimes he'll take several books to tell the arc of one character.
So ask yourself if you’re a storyteller or a writer. Does a story flow out of you or do you have to fight piece by piece to put it together? Are your books grammatically and technically correct, but no one wants to read them? Think of what would compel you to finish watching a movie. Is it action? Is it comedy? Is it high-stakes? All of that can apply to your own novel.
It's great to be a good writer, but I think it might be better to be a good storyteller.
The quote today is from one of my heroes: