There’s an abundance of storytelling books in the market. However, very few truly teach you the art and science behind storytelling.
Hence, I’ve listed the 7 best storytelling books. These books help you write better stories from day one and understand human psychology about stories.
I’ve dived deep into the crux of each book and what you can learn from each of them.
Whether you’re looking for the best storytelling books for writers, public speakers, or marketing, I’ve got you covered.
15 Best Storytelling Books in 2023
- Best Overall: The Anatomy of Story
- Best for Writers: Wired for Story
- Best for Marketing: Contagious
- Best for Beginners: Made to Stick
- Best for Business: The Storytelling Animal
- Best for Fiction: The Science of Storytelling
- Best for Public Speakers & Educators: Talk Like Ted
1. The Anatomy of Story by John Truby
The Anatomy of Story is one of the most popular books about storytelling. The author, John Truby, initially mentions that everyone can tell a story. But, telling a great story requires a deep and precise understanding of human life and translating it into a story.
The book offers an inside view of the craft of storytelling, story structure, character development, and plot progression.
The author mentions there are three crucial elements of storytelling. It includes the teller, the listener, and the story.
John mentions that good storytelling is something that the teller describes to the listener and lets them relive the story in the present. It helps understand the forces, choices, and emotions of a character within that story.
A good story consists of many parts or subsystems that move organically.
There are numerous story movements like:
- Linear story
- Meandering story
- Spiral story
- Branching story
- Explosive story
Taking an example from living things, the author mentions that a story also has a structure. Seven key steps form this structure:
- Weakness and Need
- New Equilibrium
The book also shows a few practical examples of this structure from popular movies like Tootsie, The Silence of the Lambs, The Godfather, etc.
The most important chapter in this book is ‘Character.’ Truby mentions that most writers’ biggest mistake is with their characters. They treat the hero as a different character from the other characters in the story.
Rather one must create a character web where each character is connected to another. Like a web, each character helps define the other characters in a story.
Incidentally, a good story includes various characters like the hero, main opponent, second opponent, fake-ally opponent, ally, fake-opponent ally, and subplot character.
If you’re looking for a classic storytelling book for fiction, this is what you need.
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2. Wired for Story by Lisa Cron
The next on our list of best storytelling books is one by Lisa Cron.
The author starts the book by asking a couple of important questions. They are:
Why do we love historical novels instead of history books?
Why do we watch a movie instead of a dry documentary?
It makes its case through various examples that our brain is designed to crave stories, which helps us absorb numerous lessons. Earlier thought of as a form of entertainment, but neuroscience has discovered that stories are crucial for human evolution.
The first chapter is the most important one in this book. Here, Lisa Cron talks about how to hook the reader. It’s because humans are hardwired to recognize a good story from the very first sentence.
The author mentions that you must answer four questions to tell a good story. They are:
- What is the plot?
- Who is the protagonist?
- What is the story question?
- What is the story actually about?
In the first few chapters, Cron provides important storytelling tips on developing a premise, creating well-defined characters, and building suspense and tension.
In the fifth and sixth chapters, the author lists the importance of the protagonist in storytelling. For the readers, a protagonist is their surrogate and offers a glimpse into the story and how it progresses.
Taking examples from literature, film, and television, Lisa suggests that your story must be on a need-to-know basis. As a result, the only information that must be revealed to the readers is what affects the story in the present, not in the future.
Thus, in most modern movies and TV shows, you’ll see flashback scenes that help progress the story.
Wired for Story is one of the best storytelling books for writers or anyone who can use it to develop their storytelling skills and connect with readers emotionally.
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3. Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger
Contagious takes a different approach than different storytelling books for business and marketing people listed here.
Unlike other books in this list, Contagious primarily doesn’t focus on storytelling. Rather the book’s main topic is why things go viral and the reasons behind it.
Hate to break it to you, but the fundamental reason why most things go viral is the story behind it. The book explores how certain products, ideas, and behaviors become popular and why that happens.
The author lists six principles that improve virality, conveniently abbreviated as STEPPS.
- Social Currency
- Practical Value
The important principle here is Social Currency. It’s when a select few people know about a brilliant product or a service that’s still secret to the general audience. In that case, people will talk about it because it makes them look good and gives them social currency.
Want to know what makes this book interesting? It gives recent and real-life examples to explain different concepts within the book. More importantly, the iPhone blender commercial went viral, and the book draws numerous examples from that.
Using the same explanation, Berger explains anything that can generate emotions from the audience, like awe, anger, joy, laughter, etc., has a higher chance of going viral. Thus, a blender traditionally finds its use for vegetables and fruits. But, adding an iPhone increases the commercial’s shock value.
In this book, Berger focuses on the importance of word-of-mouth marketing. It is an important tool to reach the masses in a short amount of time.
Thus, with various examples, the author explains how to use influencers, referrals, and reviewers to our best advantage and generate increased sharing through word-of-mouth marketing.
This book is excellent if you want to write great stories or non-fiction and make them go viral through word-of-mouth or social media.
4. Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Made to Stick is another must-read storytelling book that takes a similar approach to Contagious. The book discusses why some ideas stick and are memorable while others fall off.
Like Contagious, Chip and Dan Heath list six principles for creating content that sticks into people’s minds. They are:
Chip and Dan have cleverly compacted the six principles in the acronym SUCCESs. Instead of Simplicity, they wanted the first principle to be “Core” and reordered a few other principles. It would make the acronym CCUCES, which in the authors’ words, would make it “less memorable.”
The authors focus heavily on storytelling ideas that help most ideas, things, products, and services stick into people’s minds.
However, to make your message stick in people’s minds, it must be clear and concise, making it easy to remember.
Other than storytelling, the Heath brothers enlist the importance of using vivid imagery and analogies. You can use these things to make complex ideas more relatable and easier to understand for your audience.
I totally recommend it as a must-have storytelling book for marketing.
5. The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall
The Storytelling Animal starts with an interesting experiment.
For the experiment, a group of monkeys was caged with a computer for a week. It is based on a statistical theory that if you lock a monkey with a typewriter, the monkey would eventually create a perfect reproduction of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
The monkeys weren’t able to write anything other than gibberish. However, in this book, the author writes about a fictitious supermonkey with a storytelling mind.
Gottschall starts the book by mentioning that stories have a witchy power. Whenever you open a storybook, watch what happens to your mind. You start reading it instinctively, and the storybook transports you into a different world.
The book’s initial part primarily revolves around professional wrestling and how one company, “WWE,” developed its business around it.
While professional wrestling seems very similar to real combat sports; however, storytelling is what sets it apart from other sports.
Unlike other books about writing compelling stories, The Storytelling Animals enlists what makes stories compelling.
Our quest for stories also makes us vulnerable to conspiracy theories, false advertisements, and myths. As a result, stories have incredible power to change your life and the world too.
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6. The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr
If you want a book that teaches you about fiction storytelling straightaway, then The Science of Storytelling is for you.
The book considers popular writing and storytelling concepts and backs them with neuroscience.
Within the book, Will Storr explores different layers of storytelling through the four chapters. They are
- Creating a World
- The Flawed Self
- The Dramatic Question
- Plots, Endings, and Meanings
From the first chapter, Storr focuses on starting your story right. Most stories start with an unexpected change, and as a storyteller, you must create a world your readers can visualize. The author has listed numerous pop culture examples to prove his point, focusing more on The Hobbit and Star Wars.
Storr gives examples from various scientific studies of how our brain perceives stories and how the world around us influences them.
One popular experiment is demonstrated during the 1910s in Soviet Russia. It is when filmmaker Lev Kuleshov showed an expressionless person in different scenes to an audience. While the actor didn’t exhibit any emotions; however, the audience perceived the sadness or thoughtfulness through the surrounding environment. As a result, the audience made stories in their mind where none existed.
With such examples, Storr explains that stories are part of a human’s survival instincts. It helps us understand the world around us.
In the second chapter, the author goes deep into character development. While a character with no flaws seems enticing; however, it’s a recipe for disaster.
More importantly, a character’s flaws are prominently linked to its belief. Thus anytime you read a story, it’s important to get into the character’s mind to explore its faults.
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7. Talk Like Ted by Carmine Gallo
Have you ever watched Ted Talks videos and wished you could talk like that? If yes, then Talk Like Ted by Carmine Gallo is the right book for you.
The author has done a scientific analysis of hundreds of TED presentations and numerous interviews with TED speakers. The final result is Talk Like Ted, a powerful public speaking guide.
With the learnings from TED speakers, the author breaks down the public speaking secrets into 9 points.
- Unleash the Master Within
- Master the Art of Storytelling
- Having Conversation
- Teaching Something New
- Deliver Jaw-Dropping Moments
- Lighten Up
- Stick to the 18-Minute Rule
- Paint a Mental Picture
- Stay in your Lane
These 9 pointers are divided into three parts: Emotional, Novel, and Memorable.
Gallo compares Ted Talks with Dale Carnegie’s book “The Art of Public Speaking.” He mentions that Ted Talks are like Dale Carnegie of the Twenty-first Century.
Hence, other than stories, visual aid is also an important concept to effectively communicate your story.
With storytelling, Gallo also focuses on practicing how you tell the story. Several TED speakers do around 200 hours of rehearsals before delivering the final presentation.
If you’re looking for a storytelling book for public speakers and educators, this should be in your list.
Final Verdict: Best Storytelling Books in 2023
I hope this article helped you learn about the best storytelling books.
I made sure to dive deep into the book and list what you can learn from it. I hope you find it useful and pick one that interests you.
If you can’t decide yet, get started with The Anatomy of Story.
Let us know in the comments which storytelling book you would prefer for inspiration or improving your skills.