There are too many books on storytelling. The real issue is how many offer much value compared to the hours it would take to read them. For most, not so much. Read as many as you can. Pick what’s useful and move on to the next.
Some books are richer or more helpful than others. I have only read a few in my life, so, in this case, I am limiting my recommendation to experience and the value you will get. For those who want to become better at storytelling, there are only four books I will recommend to you.
But the title says 8.
Well, yes, we will get to that.
8 Books on Storytelling You Should Start With
It’s one of the best books on storytelling ever to exist. It’s practical, detailed, and helpful. It takes you from fundamentals (anatomy of conflicts and finding story ideas) to advance (character development, point of view, and atmosphere).
It’s like going to an academy or a workshop. You have to study and do the assignment at the end of each chapter. Ultimately, you understand fiction or novel writing more than the average individual.
After understanding the concept of storytelling and you have started writing, what else should you learn? If you say editing, then you’re catching up pretty fine.
Sol Stein was one of the best editors of his time, and he put this book up for you to learn how to refine your prose so it delivers the main intent of your prose –– to give readers a beautiful experience without getting out of their bed.
Stephen King is one of the most prolific authors that ever exist. His books are long. Some are thousands of pages, and many have become bestsellers. He has something to say about how he writes and the mindset that helped him achieve the things the average writers dreamed of.
The book is divided into three: his childhood, his writing career, and an incident that almost killed him. The last part is one of the most suspenseful pages I have ever read, and it made me understand why he is good at horror. Once you start reading the pages where things are about to go wrong, you will be hooked till the end.
4. Save The Cat
I have read this book and understand the beat sheet by hand. I used to write for most of my clients as a ghostwriter. The book has an excellent approach to planning a movie and increasing the chance of making the whole script as engaging, compelling, and sellable as possible.
The four books on storytelling I recommend above are enough for anyone who wants to start telling stories, either as a marketer, filmmaker, or novelist. I would have listed other popular books on storytelling, but the value you get won’t match the effort and time you will spend to finish them. You’re better off writing, getting reviews, reading real fiction books, and studying them.
For scriptwriters, Save The Cat will help you study and analyze scripts. It analyses movies like Legally Blonde, Gravity, Miss Congeniality, and Four Christmases as case studies. You just have to download the script, watch the film, and read the analysis.
For novelists, Writing fiction is your guide. It uses as many stories and classics as possible. The excerpts are included in the book and analyzed in detail.
The next thing I will recommend is to study actual stories and scripts. Read a book and check the analysis on the internet. It will help you better. My review section on this blog focuses on breaking down ideas from novels and short stories. So, the rest of my recommendations are real books and what you should pay attention to.
5. Handmaid’s Tale (Understand Theme)
It’s both a literary fiction and an apocalyptic tale. It’s heavily thematic, and its topic revolves around women’s oppression. Once you finish it, check online to read reviews or listen to the author talk about the concept of the story. You will understand better what themes mean in fiction writing.
Check my summary of The Handmaid’s Tale.
6. East of Eden (Understand Character Development)
East of Eden is one of my best books of all time. It’s intelligent, profound, and moving. It’s a bit historical and a bit philosophical without being boring. After reading it, search online for an analysis of its characters. You will learn a lot about character development, especially since you have taken the time to enjoy the book.
Every writer should read MORE of the best fiction books of all time instead of hundreds of ‘best books to help you learn and become skilled at storytelling.’ In your top ten, read East of Eden.
Check my analysis of East of Eden.
7. A Song of Ice and Fire (Understand World-Building)
Remember Games of Thrones. You have seen the series. Read about Winterfell and Westeros. You saw the Dothrakis and the Unsullied. But those were all part of world-building and planning. You may not understand the map and culture just by watching the tv series, but the book is a lot in this regard. So, pick A Song Of Ice and Fire. That’s the first book in the series.
If you want to know what are the best books to read to improve your storytelling and social skills, become a fiction reader. Read novels as you can. Your non-exist social skills will emerge when you meet other people who love the same books. And it will improve as you interact with people who love reading.
8. Things Fall Apart (Understand ‘Setting’ and how to represent culture and history)
Fiction can be the true, unbiased representation of the culture and effect of political decisions, like a critique that isn’t explicitly criticizing.
Things Fall Apart teaches you about the Igbo culture and represents it in’s truest form. It tells you about the history behind cultural norms and how it grows to become what it is. Yet, it’s not a historical narration, but the story of a man called Okonkwo, the first visit of the white men, and how the Igbo’s reacted to the invasion of their land, first with delight and then with horrific dissatisfaction.
After reading, you realize the book is more about culture and perception. Why would a man kill a child he adopted? How do the Igbo elders organize a court-like system of hearing two sides of a disagreement and passing appropriate judgment?
So, those are the best books on storytelling you should read whether you’re a filmmaker, gamer, or novelist. These recommendations will help you understand the intricacies of the concept. If your story is not working, you can reverse the whole thing and figure out what’s not working — the most important skill most storytellers don’t have.
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