The Story-maker’s Medium

Story-making is an art, and the storyteller is an artist. Like the painter or the sculptor, the true storyteller strives to craft a thing of beauty from a particular medium. Rather than using marble or paint, the storyteller works with words. There are often many words to choose from, but he knows that each word is unique, that no two synonyms are the same. If he is to tell his tale well, if he is to convey to his reader the proper imagery and emotion, he must choose the right word, even as the painter must choose the right color. There are many shades of blue with which to paint the sky, but only one will give the image the right mood and spirit.

Storytellers and poets are word-painters, as all masters know. S. D. Smith, author of the wonderful Green Ember series, calls them “tale-spinners”1 and “wordsmiths.” In a beautiful poem on the subject he says,

“The Forge, for smithing,

Words. 

For hammering away,

At tales. 

Fashioning new worlds,

With old words.”2

Our very language bears witness to this link between speech and story. For instance, our verb “to tell” is related to the Danish equivalent, which is “tale,” and according to H. A. Guerber, our verb “to say” comes from the Old Norse word “saga.” “Saga” usually refers to an epic tale of Old Iceland,3 but it was also the name of the Norse goddess of history. Daily Odin would visit her in her “crystal hall of Sokvabek, beneath a cool, ever-flowing river, to drink its waters and listen to her songs about olden times and vanished races.”4

Notes:

  1. S. D. Smith, The Green Ember, chapters 18, 23, 25, and 44.
  2. Read the full poem here.
  3. The Merriam-Webster dictionary gives a more complete definition: “a prose narrative recorded in Iceland in the 12th and 13th centuries of historic or legendary figures and events of the heroic age of Norway and Iceland.”
  4. H. A. Guerber, Myths of the Norsemen: from the Eddas and Sagas, Chapter 2.

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