Ep. 98: Storytelling vs. Telling a Story


In this episode, Leslie and Clark critique “Vermillion Dusk & Crimson Dirt,”an as yet unpublished horror short story by Lane M.M. Whitens. They talk about storytelling vs. telling a story and framing stories. They also discuss -LY adverbs, and facts relevant to the story.

Leslie and Clark are taking questions for the 100th episode of the podcast. If you have a burning question about editing or storytelling, submit it here

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Show Notes 

Our appetite for story is a reflection of the profound human need to grasp the patterns of living, not merely as an intellectual exercise, but within a very personal emotional experience.
— Robert McKee


Editorial Mission—Assess Storytelling vs. Telling a Story

The key is that you can’t have emotions through telling the story, only through storytelling. Review the critical moments within your scenes. Check to see that you are "in scene," that is allowing the reader to experience what’s happening and feel the emotions you want to share. Transitions can be told, that is conveyed through exposition.  


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Editing Advice to Our Author

Dear Lane,

Thank you so much for your submission! You’ve chosen so many great elements for your horror short story. The narrator who delivers the tale, the other characters, the small-town and isolated woods, and the events of the story are a great setup for this spooky tale. 

Our main recommendations sound like a lot, but mainly it’s revising the framing story and spending more time in scene than summary. These elements are interwoven, so we tackle them together.

In the episode, Clark talks about storytelling versus telling the story. What he’s getting at is that we are hearing about the story through the narrator rather than experiencing it through action, dialogue, and description. The problem with this is that some of the most exciting parts of the story happen offstage. For example, I would love to see the scene when Tammy’s ghost visits the narrator in his bedroom. And how does he explain about knowing where her body is? 

Your framing story has the narrator telling us about how he discovered what happened to Tammy. But it’s not clear what the context is for this, and sometimes it’s not clear from what vantage point in time he’s telling us, which makes it a little confusing. It’s a good thing to keep the reader guessing, but they need one element to hold on to through the story that makes sense, a sort of anchor. So, we suggest giving it a little more structure. One idea was to open with a scene in which the narrator is telling Chuck about what he knows. You could tell this from the current narrator’s POV or try it from Chuck’s POV (consider experimenting with both?). (You can keep it open-ended. You don’t need to show whether Chuck believes him, but you could.) 

If you decided to try this structure, you could open with a scene and use telling or summary to transition between scenes in the present and in the tale. You could experiment with when and how to reveal facts to the reader so that the “other shoe” doesn’t drop until you’re nearing the end of the story. 

We also think you could go longer with this story depending on how you want to develop it. It’s a big story that you could expand if you feel pulled in that direction. We’ve made suggestions for you to consider here and in the episode, but these are only examples of possibilities. 

Consider the use of –LY adverbs to determine are they necessary to convey meaning or contribute something to the character’s voice. Err on the side of cutting them to find verbs that would be stronger. 

Thanks again for your submission and for trusting us with your words!

All the best,

Leslie & Clark

Inline Critique