“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world.” — Robert McKee
If you’re reading this, you already know the power of storytelling, and you want to harness that power for yourself, to become the greatest storyteller you can be and get your ideas out into your world.
But WANTING and DOING are two very different things.
That’s why I’ve compiled this list of handy-dandy “five best” story-writing books to help you learn the craft of storytelling, which you can then apply to all the novels, short stories, and anecdotes you write from here on out.
Without further ado, here are the books:
Story Genius by Lisa Cron
Story Genius is one of my favorite books of all time, not to mention the number one book I go to when I’m recommending fiction writing books. Perhaps one day I shall find a book that surpasses this one in terms of quality and usefulness, but so far, that day has not come yet.
Learning to write a good story often feels like trying to draw a human face, when you aren’t an artist. You KNOW what it’s supposed to look like, but for some reason, when you actually try to do it, it doesn’t work, and you’re not sure why.
The reason is because you don’t really know what makes a story. It’s not a collection of plot points. It’s not even a particular underlying structure of beats, or any set of particular writing strategies (even though the other books on this list will talk about that, it’s not unimportant, it’s just that you need to get THIS MAIN POINT down first, before those other things become useful).
In Story Genius, Cron explicitly teaches what the main point is (hint: it’s called “the third rail”) and then takes you through the construction of one of her student’s stories to illustrate each point and step in the story-creation process. Cron’s teaching style in this book is clear, logical, well-organized, and eye-opening.
In short: This book was invaluable to me, and I hope it will help you too!
Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody
“You can’t bend the rules until you know what the rules are.” — Jessica Brody
Based on the original Save the Cat! screenwriting how-to guide by Blake Snyder, Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat! Writes a Novel expands on Snyder’s ideas…for novel writers.
If you’ve already read Save the Cat! this novel-writing spin-off version won’t give you too much more in terms of fundamentals, but it gives much more relevant real-life examples of the concepts for novel writers.
Kind of like how it’s all good and fine to learn general “language learning tips” from polyglots, but if you REALLY want to master ONE particular language, it helps if you focus on a teacher who specifically teaches THAT language, because then that teacher can show you the ins and outs of the unique aspects of that language (tones? characters? gendered pronouns? conjugations?) that the more jack-of-all-trades teacher can’t comment on.
The Save the Cat! concept goes over the nine fiction genres that exist (Yep, Snyder classifies ALL of fiction into these nine categories) and then talks about the underlying structure of each of these genres, how they work, and how to use these ideas to plot your own story.
If you have a more analytical mind, and like to see roadmaps/beat sheets of how story skeletons work, this is the book for you!
Wired for Story by Lisa Cron
Using discoveries from neuroscience and her own experience as a writing teacher, Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story shows aspiring novelists WHY stories are so powerful and HOW to actually write a great story (Hint: it may not be what you think it is).
Cron begins by showing how stories help us survive and evolve and prepare for the future. Then she talks about how to hook readers with your story, how to focus on your main point, how to create those powerful emotions in your reader, how to three-dimensionalize your main character by delving into his deepest desires, and more.
If Story Genius is the nitty gritty “trees” of Cron’s writing process, Wired for Story is the broader “forest,” but it still includes several practical tips and makes a great companion for Story Genius.
Long Story Short by Margot Leitman
“Find the recurring theme in your life, then look for the extremes.” — Margot Leitman
As Margot Leitman tells readers in Long Story Short, you are immune to your own life. It may seem boring to you, but to others, it’s fascinating. Your own life is a mine of awesome story ideas, if you know where to dig, and how to polish what you come up with.
Leitman’s book isn’t just theorizing or philosophizing on telling your own story. She jumps right in with practical exercises you can use immediately to discover stories from your own life.
I enjoyed reading this book, and thinking through the exercises. More importantly, it made me think about how much of our own identity and life experience comes from the stories we tell about ourselves…to ourselves. Telling stories really is not a casual entertainment thing. It can determine your health, happiness, and life.
So if you’ve never tried to tell your own stories, use this book to kick off your story discovery process. As Leitman says, you don’t have to start out as a good writer to be a good storyteller. First, focus on the process 🙂
Naked, Drunk, and Writing by Adair Lara
“There’s a naturalness, an honesty, to personal writing that I like. It stops argument.” — Adair Lara
Naked, Drunk, and Writing was referred to me by a former writing coach. It’s an irreverent, easy-to-read book on the art and craft of writing memoirs.
Side note: Personally, I think all fiction books are, in a manner of speaking, memoir. Even if they’re set in a fantastical world and the characters experience crazy adventures that their creator never even dipped her little toe in, the emotional experiences they have, the insights they come up with, are all real events in the writers’ life.
But back to the book: Writing teacher Adair Lara teaches the fundamentals of writing, editing, and publishing your personal essay or memoir, organizing her thoughts in easy-to-follow steps, and including helpful examples to illustrate each point.
Even if you’re into writing fiction rather than memoir, I would recommend giving this book a read. Because, as Lara points out, memoir writing is a lot like writing fiction. So, make of that what you will 😉
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