Writer Defined

Posted by on February 4th, 2011 at 12:01 AM

Play it again, Sam. The writer-artist controversy still lurks. The more I ponder it, the more I wonder what everyone means by writing. The meaning of drawing is plain enough: Drawing means making pictures, either with pencil or with ink using pen or brush. No room for disputation there. A person is an artist if he or she does either (or both); but if neither is done, the practitioner cannot, perforce, be an artist.

But writing is another kind of cayuse. As the term is being ridden these days, it apparently can mean any of the following: (1) concocting a story, (2) contriving a plot, (3) stringing words together across a page, (4) forming sentences with words, or (5) inventing dialogue and captions to suit actions and incidents depicted in pictures.

As long as the definition of writing and, therefore, writer is as fluid as this, we will have confusion and contention about who is doing what. Jack Kirby, for instance, could legitimately claim to have written the Fantastic Four because he invented personalities and a story with a plot; Stan Lee can lay an equally legitimate claim to having written the same title because he scripted speech balloons and caption blocks. Both are correct. Neither is fibbing. But unless we define what we mean by writing we cannot say with precision what either actually did.

Herewith, my precedent-setting solution. Some definitions.

A story is a sequence of events: First A happened, then B happened, then C happened, and so on. A person who invents a story is an author.

A plot is a sequence of events in which the causes of the events are identified: First A happened because B happened, then C happened because A happened. The key language in a story is “and then”; the key language in a plot is “because.” A person who invents a plot is a plotter. (No, not a plodder.) Most authors are plotters, too.

A person who strings words across the page is a typist.

A person who makes sentences out of words is a writer.

A person who makes sentences and words for speech balloons and captions is a scripter.

To return to my Kirby-Lee example, we might say (if the credits I’ve given are correct) that the Fantastic Four was created by Kirby, who was apparently the author and plotter and artist, and Lee, who was the scripter.

One last term: storyteller. I’m reserving that one for the person who creates the visual narrative — that is, the one who breaks the story down into sequential panels and determines the size and shape of the panels and the visual elements that go into them. Sometimes the storyteller might be the author; sometimes, the artist. It depends upon how complete (or “full”) the verbal version of the story is. If it includes directions to the artist about how to depict scenes, actions, persons, then the person who creates the verbal version of the story is also the storyteller.

On the other hand, if the visual narrative is left entirely to the artist, then the artist is also the storyteller. Like Kirby.

Having solved that controversy, I think now I should rest.

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