9 Books on Storytelling You Absolutely Must Read
This post is a list of my favourite books on storytelling. The first few in the list are my top picks and highly recommended to all storytellers. There is also a list of honourable mentions that are worth checking out.
In each case, I have provided a convenient link to Amazon where you can instantly pick up the books and see for yourself how useful they are. Full disclosure: Some of them are affiliate links that help me to run my free storytelling newsletter for you.
My Top Favourites
This is a list of my all-time favourites that I absolutely implore you to try out. Regardless of whether you’re writing your next novel, screenplay, or are just fascinated by the storytelling process, you cannot miss out on these foundational texts.
On Writing, by Stephen King
On Writing is part memoir, part exploration of the craft of novel writing, all from the master of the craft. King combines devastatingly funny personal anecdotes with bitingly effective writing tips that you cannot afford to miss.
This is my favourite and most recommended book on storytelling, and I cannot emphasise enough how much of an influence he has been on my own writing.
Structuring Your Novel, by K. M. Weiland
Structuring Your Novel is one of the most essential books out there for anyone wanting to create a story of any kind. It walks you through every kind of possible story structure, each one’s comparative merits, and Katie strongly argues the reasons why story structure is so critical.
Katie has been a big influence on my writing on storytelling, she’s a huge Marvel and Star Wars fan, and is also one of the funniest people in the writing space! Make sure to follow her on Twitter and Facebook—she posts more frequently to the latter.
Creating Character Arcs, by K. M. Weiland
Creating Character Arcs is actually the first book I read of Katie’s, and it’s all about how to make your character arcs as effective as possible. She explores all the different types of arcs, giving excellent examples in each.
Perennial Seller, by Ryan Holiday
Perennial Seller is Ryan Holiday’s exploration into why some works last hundreds of years, and some barely last a week after they’re launched. He shows that it’s the stories that touch on timeless aspects of human nature that last the longest, not ones that buck the latest trends.
Think of it this way: Your story is held in the hands of someone in another country, 30 years from now. What translates? I use this test on any kind of work I create, whether it’s a post or one of my books.
The Hero with a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell
The Hero with a Thousand Faces is where Joseph Campbell famously coined the ‘Hero’s Journey’ or ‘monomyth’ that inspired blockbusters like Star Wars, the Matrix, and so many more stories of immense significance.
While his work may come across as quite weird at times, with stories about talking snakes and flesh-eating rituals, Joseph Campbell is probably the most influential storyteller in modern history—that is not an overstatement, I implore you to give his works a try.
The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell
The Power of Myth explains why movies and mass cultural events are actually a manifestation of humanity’s need for mythologies. Modern sagas like Marvel’s The Avengers and the Star Wars franchise are more related to ancient myths than you might think.
How to Write Dazzling Dialogue, by James Scott Bell
From its rather generic title I was surprised at the amount of storytelling wisdom contained in How to Write Dazzling Dialogue. Bell writes that dialogue is your first, best opportunity to ramp up your story's conflict, which in itself can be the fastest way to improve it.
Plus it's only 135 pages so it's a quick read, densely packed with timeless storytelling advice. Definitely check this one out!
These next books are also staples for many in the storytelling business. They offer fresh techniques for writers of all levels and are worthwhile reads. However, I have criticisms of each that mean they do not make it onto my all-time favourite list. They’re just my personal opinions though, so don’t let them discourage you from giving them a try.
The Anatomy of Story, by John Truby
The Anatomy of Story is a journey through the different techniques available to the storyteller. This book is good for gathering fresh perspectives on different types of story and why they work.
My only criticism of Anatomy is that it’s very long and forms an excruciatingly detailed dissection of each part. If that’s for you, or you’re a film student at university who needs that level of detail, this book will be of particular use.
Into the Woods, by John Yorke
Into the Woods is a five-act journey through the storytelling process itself, why they work so well for us, and the impact they have on culture. It is an interesting exploration into the ancient mythologies and human psychologies that have driven storytelling throughout the ages.
My main criticism of Woods is that I personally dislike the ego-centric style in which John Yorke writes. He uses the “I” pronoun too many times for my liking and has too much of a self-congratulatory tone. That’s just my opinion though, you may not mind that at all. I just find it quite irritating in a non-fiction book.
Story, by Robert McKee
Former actor Robert McKee wrote Story to take readers on a journey through the story process, how aspects work, and quite a lot of examples through the history of books and movies. It is geared more towards the movie business, so if you’re writing screenplays then you won’t want to miss this. The audiobook is also recommended, as it’s delivered in McKee’s clear and confident speaking voice.
My only criticism of Story is that I find it too linear a journey through the story process, with an over-reliance on term definitions. Personally I hate term definitions in non-fiction books, I strongly feel that any term or concept should be simple enough to the point of being self-explanatory.
Further books? Leave a comment!
So that's the list of books I most often recommend for advice on storytelling. Do you have any other books you'd like to recommend? If so, I encourage you to add a comment below. Especially if it's an undiscovered gem or if it's a book that helped you with writing but wouldn't normally be thought of in that sense.
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Posted on: 8th July, 2018
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