The Best Books on Storytelling

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best books on storytelling

Do you want to master the art and power of storytelling?

If your answer is no, then you should stop dreaming of becoming a successful writer, leader, or public speaker!

Using stories isn’t a magic trick that only fiction writers should worry about. If you’re a marketer or someone who does a lot of presentations, you need to learn how to use storytelling effectively.

Storytelling is one of the best ways to promote your products or services and boost sales. You have to know that humans are programmed to always seek enjoyment even in things such as marketing, so good storytelling goes a long way in compelling them to purchase your products.

And the same logic applies to almost all forms of writing, and being the caring writer that I am, I decided to gather a collection of books such as “The Art of Storytelling” that—I’m sure—will help you improve your storytelling techniques.

How to Master the Art of Storytelling

You might be asking yourself why some people tell a compelling story so easily. It might be on TV, at an award ceremony, at a business seminar, in a novel, et cetera. Wherever they’re talking or storytelling, they seem to connect with their audiences seamlessly.

a woman is reading a book intently
A woman is reading a book intently.

How do they do it? What do they know? What do they have that you don’t?

Well, there might be a couple of things in their arsenal that you don’t have, such as these:

  1. They know their audience. Good storytellers know who they’re targeting. They know their audience’s age range, interests, the platforms hosting their content, and—sometimes— socioeconomic status. This knowledge helps them determine the type of content, language, and length of their story.
  2. Share a piece of themselves.  In a way, the audience is tricked into caring and reading/listening to the whole content. By sharing a piece of themselves, storytellers make themselves vulnerable and connect with audiences. No matter the topic, fusing a personal element always works because people always want a relatable aspect.
  3. They control the pace and flow of their story. Good storytellers are always concerned about the pace and flow of their main points throughout the story. They make sure that, in their speech or any other written content, each important point is stressed in a separate section. A good storyteller usually breaks down the main topic, arranges the subtopics and supporting points logically, finds a kindling way to introduce the topic, and makes sure the story ends with a resonant touch.
  4. Blend in some tension and surprises. The audience (readers and listeners) needs to be engrossed in the story. There isn’t much excitement in a story that lacks tension and surprises. Once the story becomes boring and predictable, you’ve lost the audience. So, make sure you build in some intense patches, replete with twists.
  5. Plan the story. Whether you’re going to share the story orally or in written form, it’s prudent to have a written outline of the story. You can also make notecards with chronological bullet points summarizing the story. If you’re good at freestyling your story, that’s good for you, go ahead and tell the story straight from your head.

13 Best Books on Storytelling and More

1. The Art of Storytelling by John Walsh

The Art of Storytelling

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Telling a story, whether to your friends or presenting it to a large audience, is always a hard thing to do, but some people seem to defy this difficulty.

This book is what you need if you desire to attain the ability to hold the crowd’s attention, ‘murder’ a presentation at work, or entertain a couple of buddies listening with your storytelling.

In The Art of Storytelling, John Walsh presents invaluable tips and techniques that will help anyone present a compelling story. He draws from his experience and outlines practical methods that helped him move to become a good storyteller.

Walsh covered several aspects of presenting content including mannerisms and coming up with impressive endings.

2. The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall

The Storytelling Animal

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Can you really be good at something you don’t fully understand?

You have to comprehend a concept before you can even start thinking of mastering it. Gottschall understands that storytelling is an important part of our society—we love to hear fictional stories, go to see movies, share rumors, and immortalize people like Shakespeare.

But he also discovered that no one has tried to decrypt this wonderful attraction, this everlasting love story.

So, he set about creating a “unified theory of storytelling.” Jonathan Gottschall observes that stories help humans navigate life’s complex social problems and have the capability of changing the world for the better.

The book uses history, neuroscience, psychology, and evolutionary biology to explain how our tendency and need to put stories into almost everything have shaped everything around us.

3. Stories That Stick by Kindra Hall

Stories That Stick

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Business and storytelling go hand in hand, especially in an era in which you have to constantly pitch new projects and market your products in a highly competitive global market.

Through Stories That Stick, Kindra Hall presents a well-defined model from which you borrow some brilliant ideas and steps to help you tell a convincing story.

Yes, stories are great tools for all contemporary businesses—you need great stories to effectively communicate with your teams and convince potential customers, among other uses.

But… you need to know what type of stories to tell, when, and how to tell them.

Kindra Hall uses four unique stories that you can use to differentiate, captivate, and elevate.

  1. The Value Story.  For convincing customers that they need what you’re selling.
  2. The Founder Story. To persuade investors and customers, your organization is worth the investment.
  3. The Purpose Story. To align and inspire your employees and internal customers; and
  4. The Customer Story. To allow those who use your product or service to share their authentic experiences with others.

Kindra Hall is thorough, she doesn’t thinly tell you the importance of storytelling but uses case studies, company profiles, and anecdotes that are supported by original research.

This book drills readers on how to find, craft, and leverage the stories at their disposal to help their organization move forward.

4. Long Story Short by Margot Leitman

Long Story Short

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Margot Leitman! A beautiful woman who can tell a good story. Don’t be fooled though, she’s not on this list because of the looks.

This lady also happens to be an award-winning storyteller who has written for Dreamworks TV, the Hallmark Channel, and the Pixl Network. She has also performed on Best Week Ever and Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

And, you should know that that impressive resume isn’t the reason she’s on this list (well, it is, partially). It’s her bestselling, Long Story Short: The Only Storytelling Guide You’ll Ever Need.

This is a modern and practical guide to storytelling that uses a fun, irreverent, and infographic approach to lay bare the vital components of storytelling.

Telling a great story goes beyond fiction writing, and in this book, Leitman teaches the reader how they can craft a brilliant wedding toast, be a good storyteller at get-togethers and family reunions,  or deliver a powerful keynote speech.

She goes 360 with this piece of art, offering tips on content, structure, emotional impact, delivery, and other things.

This practical guide is full of Leitman’s anecdotes, relatable examples, and practical exercises.

5. Story Trumps Structure by Steven James

ry Trumps Structure

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I always say that, in fiction writing, rules are frowned upon. Apparently, the award-winning novelist Steven James is among millions of writers that recognize this.

He understands, rather than inspire you, rules of writing can constrict you and limit your creativity.

But, instead of just talking about it (like me), Steven James wrote a book on this.

Story Trumps Structure, a book that was designed to “shed those rules.” Rules on the three-act structure, rising action, outlining, and many other areas.

James tells us “to trust the narrative process to make our story believable, compelling, and engaging.” He tries to offer tips designed to debunk myths on outlines, climax, characterization, et cetera.

The book’s advice to writers? Instead of focusing on plot templates and formulas, concentrate on what lies at the heart of the story (i.e., tension, desire, crisis, escalation, struggle, discovery).

Story Trumps Structure argues that when you follow the tips in there, you’ll start to think outside the box and begin to craft the most powerful, emotional, and gripping stories.

6. The Story Factor by Annette Simmons

The Story Factor

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Annette Simmons knows the power of storytelling and guides her readers to harvest this power to persuade, motivate, and inspire in life and business.

In this book, Annette Simmons showcases her captivating writing skills, shares her wisdom and her deep understanding of the human spirit.

To influence others, one must know their own story and know how to tell it properly. She reminds us that storytelling might be the oldest tool of influence, but it’s still the most powerful.

Whether you’re trying to close a deal, get startup funds, or trying to get votes, a good story will get you results.

To illustrate all this, Simmons uses countless examples of effective storytelling ‘drawn from the front lines of business and government, as well as myths, fables, and parables from around the world.’

7. Story Engineering by Larry Brooks

Story Engineering

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A story is as good as how you tell it; therefore, good writers know they have to engineer their stories.

But what is in this story engineering?

Story Engineering goes deeper into story dynamics and looks at things that contribute to form and function. The book teaches how to effectively combine six core competencies, namely concept, character, theme, story structure (plot), scene construction, and writing voice.

Brooks believes that the way these six specific aspects of storytelling “combine and empower each other on the page” affects the potential of the story.

Plotting plays a huge part because it’s usually the first solid step, but when all six core competencies are done artfully, storytelling flourishes and flows sweetly.

8. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

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This is another interesting book on using the art of storytelling to influence others. It’s always a battle for survival on the sociopolitical terrain, so people come up with different ideas to improve our lives and the lives of others.

Some ideas thrive, others die.

But, if you fail to make your ideas stick, you’re stuck!

In this book, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath lay bare the dynamics of ideas that stick and explain how we can make ideas stickier.

They recommend techniques such as applying the human scale principle, using the Velcro Theory of Memory and creating curiosity gaps.

Made to Stick is designed to transform the way you communicate and it uses several real-life examples to drive the point home.

9. Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder

Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need

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As the title suggests, this book is a guide for screenwriters; however, screenwriting is part of creative writing, so it’s a great tool for other creative writers too.

Not only will it teach you how to build up a story, but come up with your characters, design a believable plot, and draw your audience in.

Even if you’re not a screenwriter, you will still learn a couple of things on the art of creating stories, learn how to make your ideas more marketable, and have fun while learning these things.

10. How to Tell a Story: 1 Book + 20 Story Blocks = A Million Adventures by Daniel Nayeri, Brian Won

How to Tell a Story: 1 Book + 20 Story Blocks = A Million Adventures

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Learning new things ought to be fun! If you agree, then this is the perfect book for you.

Daniel Nayeri and Brian Won decided to add fun games to the process of learning new skills and improving storytelling and creativity.

How to Tell a Story is a guide to the principles of creative storytelling, covering essential elements like conflict, characters, motivation, dialogue, theme, and the climax.

You learn and master all these basics of storytelling using the book’s exercises and games, with prompts and games inspiring you to roll the blocks and spin a tale.

After all, what’s creativity without fun?

11. How to Write a Dynamite Scene Using the Snowflake Method (Advanced Fiction Writing) by Randy Ingermanson

How to Write a Dynamite Scene Using the Snowflake Method

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Ever heard of the snowflake method of writing? The snowflake method of fiction writing follows the concept of a snowflake: a snowflake grows from its central core and grows outwards in all directions, eventually forming additional branches that make it bigger and whole.

This method was invented by author and writing instructor Randy Ingermanson, who also happens to be the author of this book!

How lucky are we?

Randy says that the secret to writing a “dynamite novel” is your ability to write a “dynamite scene.”

Once you craft one terrific scene, you can craft a hundred others, and hence come up with a terrific novel.

This book is designed to teach you simple bestselling principles of writing a powerful scene or improving scenes already in your novel.

I already did an article on the Snowflake Method, read it here.

12. Understanding Show, Don’t Tell: And Really Getting It by Janice Hardy

Understanding Show, Don’t Tell: And Really Getting It

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The cardinal sin in fiction writing is ‘telling, not showing,’ and it’s only fair that someone decided to write a book on how not to commit this sin.

Not only is the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule important in fiction writing only, but it is also equally important in other real-life storytelling situations.

But you can’t always show; sometimes, you have to tell.

In Understanding Show, Don’t Tell: And Really Getting It, Janice Hardy takes an in-depth look at prose, talks about when telling is the right thing to do, covers the aspects of writing that aren’t technically telling, and uses examples to clarify how telling words change the prose.

Janice designed the book to help you distinguish when to tell and when to show, spot the usual red flag words, understand why one single rule doesn’t apply to all books, determine how much telling is acceptable in your writing, and improve stale or flat prose in your writing among other things.

13. Putting Stories to Work by Shawn Callahan

Putting Stories to Work

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‘Shawn Callahan is a master at storytelling, and one thing about learning from a master of a certain craft is that it instills confidence in the student.

That’s why this book is such an engrossing piece of art, written by the award-winning author and business storytelling specialist.

Putting Stories to Work will help you master business storytelling and achieve extraordinary business results.

Shawn is a pragmatic individual, and he serves a clear process for mastering business storytelling, challenging the myth that storytelling has no place at work and reminding his readers that sharing stories is part of human nature.

He also recognizes that storytelling is one of the most powerful influencing things. Whoever harnesses this natural superpower can easily boost your business.

Other great books on storytelling

What Makes Storytelling Effective For Learning?

a piece of paper with words about story telling on it
A piece of paper with words about storytelling on it.

1. Stories stick

Stories are easy to remember and this makes storytelling more impactful, especially for young learners.

Naturally, telling stories is part of us; therefore, when learning involves well-told stories, a huge portion of the lesson is remembered.

When a teacher just presents bare facts and figures, the lesson is less likely to be remembered than if taught as part of a story.

2. Storytelling is engaging

It is easy to connect with learners using stories because good stories create a sense of connection.

Stories evoke imagination, thereby enabling the listener to add their own bits, making them more open to learning.

Good stories come with multiple facets and meanings. This means that many ideas can be told in a short presentation, making stories an economical way of gaining new knowledge, thinking, and influencing listeners.

3. Storytelling caters to the needs of many learners

In almost every group of students, you will discover that there are different types of learners.

There are visual learners (those who work best with videos, diagrams, illustrations, etc.), auditory learners (the ones who learn best through lectures and discussions), and kinesthetic learners (who learn best by doing stuff, experiencing, or feeling).

And the good thing about storytelling is that it has elements that work for all these types. Storytelling evokes mental pictures, which are good for the visual learner, the words and the storyteller’s voice are good enough for auditory learners, and emotional connections and feelings that the story evokes are good for kinesthetic learners.

Storytelling In Marketing and Copywriting

marketing plan mind map storytelling, context, social media and content
Marketing plan mind map: Storytelling, Context, Social Media and Content.

Usually, stories are designed to have depth, a lot of flesh, and last a while, and they can be adapted to produce brilliant copy.

Although good copy has to be short, snappy, and straight to the point, a good story—that shares those qualities—could work magic for your copy.

If you can weave in an irresistible story that speaks to your audience and draws them in, you can have good copy. All you need from good copy is seduction, and what better way to seduce than tell them a story?

Storytelling makes your reader imagine (it makes them imagine using your product or service), and then it makes them want it badly enough and finally calls them to action.

Next thing you know, they have paid for it.

In TV ads and other forms of advertising, stories always work magic, and they don’t have to be as short as in copy. As I have already said, human beings are storytelling animals, and if a story is good enough, it will give you a following and make you money!

How to use storytelling in copywriting

Final Words on Best Books on Storytelling

Telling stories is one of the most effective means that leaders have to influence, impart skills, and inspire.

I have shared a couple of reasons that make storytelling so effective for learning, but there are more—I was just trying to be economical.

Stories forge connections among people, and between people and ideas. Stories carry a lot of elements such as culture, history, science, moral lessons, and more.

Storytelling is as important in fiction as it is in our private lives and the business world, so I’m not exaggerating that one must learn how to harness it or get used to failure.

Besides “The Art of Storytelling” and the others listed above, there are more books out there, most of which did not make this list simply because I have not read them or I was trying to be concise.

If you want to conquer the world, you have to read!

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Jessica started off as an avid book reader. After reading one too many romance novels (really... is it ever really enough?), she decided to jump to the other side and started writing her own stories. She now shares what she has learned (the good and the not so good) here at When You Write, hoping she can inspire more up and coming wordsmiths to take the leap and share their own stories with the world.