Storyteller vs. Writer

So, last night I came across Ladyboss: The Jackie Collins story. It’s a documentary available on Netflix right now. For those that don’t know, Jackie Collins was THE romance writer of the 1980s. Her books were soapy and sexy and scandalous because she wrote about her real world experiences which included life in the Hollywood scene. Which Jackie knew intimately.

Jackie was the younger sister of actress Joan Collins famous for her roles in Dark Shadows and Dynasty. Jackie was a teenager in 1950s Hollywood and starred in several B movies before eventually getting married. She was always writing, but it wasn’t until her second marriage that she was encouraged to publish anything.

Jackie’s first marriage was tumultuous. Her husband suffered from depression, and eventually committed suicide. When Jackie remarried, her husband found her manuscript, and encouraged her to publish it. Her first book, The World Is Full of Married Men, was published in 1968. Jackie wrote about sex openly, and created female characters that were strong and sexy and not afraid to be both.

In the documentary, one of the points brought up multiple times was: Jackie was not a great writer. But, she said, she wasn’t trying to be. She was, however, a great storyteller.

That made me think: what is the difference?

I’ve talked about the book I read last month which was called News of Our Loved Ones by Abigail DeWitt. The writing was beautiful, but I found myself thinking the story lacked something. I wanted to know more about the characters and there just wasn’t enough. She would mention something, but then not go into detail about it.

But then she had really beautiful prose that made me keep on reading.

I think she’s a perfect example of someone that is a great writer. Lyrically, she’s brilliant. But is she going to write a shocking page turner that keeps you on the edge of your seat? Probably not.

In comparison, the modern Jackie Collins is probably Sylvia Day. She writes The Crossfire series. Smart, sexy romance novels. The storytelling is good. You keep on reading because you constantly want to know what happens next. But is it lyrically pretty? No.

But both are still done well. We need books like News of Our Loved Ones to remind us how lovely literature can be. And we need books like The Crossfire series to shock and entertain us.

I don’t think either one means that one author is a better writer. They are both different ways of storytelling. Some books are made to focus on prose. Some books are made to focus on plot. And both are okay.