Best Storytelling Books: 20 Titles You Must Read

The best storytelling books will teach you what makes a great story and how you can create one. These are some of the ones you will want on your bookshelf.

Storytelling books can help you learn from skilled storytellers the techniques and processes they use to keep audiences listening. Many authors of storytelling books are well-known educators on the topic or successful writers of screenplays and picture books, so they understand what makes a story work.

You may think that you don’t need to learn the art of storytelling, but this is not true. People tell stories every day, whether on a podcast, in a business presentation, or just in a social media post. Learning how to do it well will make you more effective. The following storytelling books will be invaluable to you on your writing journey. If you are looking for something interactive to pair them with, consider some of these writing courses.  

Contents

Best Storytelling Books to Add to Your Library

Best storytelling books

If you are ready to learn how to tell great, compelling stories, you need these books on your library shelf:

Best storytelling books
Each one will help you glean new insight into how to tell or write great stories

1. Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee

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Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting
  • ReganBooks
  • Hardcover Book
  • McKee, Robert (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 480 Pages - 11/25/1997 (Publication Date) - ReganBooks (Publisher)

Robert McKee has earned international acclaim for his screenwriting workshops, and Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting condenses that instruction into a book you can hold in your hands. Some famous alumni that also learned from McKee include Julia Roberts, Quincy Jones, and David Bowie. 

The book expands the concepts you would learn in a live seminar, and some consider it the most comprehensive explanation of story writing available. It carefully delves into the way story construction and character development create the magic of storytelling. Here’s an excerpt to get you started:

“True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.” 

Robert McKee

2. Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence by Lisa Cron

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Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence
  • Ten Speed Press
  • Cron, Lisa (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 272 Pages - 07/10/2012 (Publication Date) - Ten Speed Press (Publisher)

Using the science of the brain, Cron teaches you how to write a story that captivates the reader from the very first sentence. It takes the writer beyond simply writing well and teaches them how to build a story that will keep the reader wanting to know what happens next. 

What makes this book stand out is its dabbling in neuroscience. It connects the most recent research into the brain to the story writing process to help writers apply that science to their story writing skills. This quote shows why the connection between brain science and storytelling techniques is so vital:

“Simply put, we are looking for a reason to care. So for a story to grab us, not only must something be happening, but also there must be a consequence we can anticipate. As neuroscience reveals, what draws us into a story and keeps us there is the firing of our dopamine neurons, signaling that intriguing information is on its way. This means that whether it’s an actual event unfolding or we meet the protagonist in the midst of an internal quandary, or there’s merely a hint that something’s slightly “off” on the first page, there has to be a ball already in play. Not the preamble to the ball. Not all the stuff you have to know to really understand the ball. The ball itself.”

Lisa Cron

3. The Storyteller’s Secret: Why Some Ideas Catch on and Others Don’t by Carmine Gallo 

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Storyteller's Secret
  • GALLO, CARMINE (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages - 06/27/2017 (Publication Date) - Griffin (Publisher)

Author Carmin Gallo uses The Storyteller’s Secret to teach you how to tell powerful stories that transform audiences from bored to engaged. It explores how famous influencers and Ted Talks speakers use storytelling to become global sensations. 

Each chapter of this book starts with an excellent story. The author then paints a picture of how that story was engaging, providing valuable tips you can use in your own storytelling. Here’s an excerpt: 

“The next time you face a skeptical audience, paint a picture of the villain before you introduce your product or service—the conquering hero. The villain/hero narrative simplifies the problem your idea solves and, if you use simple words, you might be surprised at just how quickly your idea catches on.”

Carmine Gallo

4. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall

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The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human
  • Mariner Books
  • Gottschall, Jonathan (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 272 Pages - 04/23/2013 (Publication Date) - Mariner Books (Publisher)

What is it about humans that makes us enjoy stories so much? That is the topic of The Storytelling Animal. This book explores how stories shape human existence, and along the way, it provides many storytelling skills that writers can pick up on.

It is among the best storytelling books because it weaves stories into the narrative to help showcase essential points. Here’s a quote from the book that shows this:

“There is a paradox in fiction that was first noticed by Aristotle in the Poetics. We are drawn to fiction because fiction gives us pleasure. But most of what is actually in fiction is deeply unpleasant: threat, death, despair, anxiety, Sturm und Drang.” 

Jonathan Gottschall

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

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Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
  • Great product!
  • Hardcover Book
  • Chip Heath (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 291 Pages - 01/02/2007 (Publication Date) - Random House (Publisher)

This book explores what factors make specific stories and ideas stick while others fall by the wayside. With a thousand stories coming at you every day, or sometimes, even more, this is a valid question as you strive to write a compelling story. 

Chip and Dan Heath explore the Velcro Theory of Memory and the creation of curiosity gaps, which help understand why some ideas become sticky. This storytelling book will transform the way you think about communication. This excerpt shows its importance: 

“To make our communications more effective, we need to shift our thinking from “What information do I need to convey?” to “What questions do I want my audience to ask?”

Chip Heath and Dan Heath

6. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
  • Anchor Books
  • Lamott, Anne (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 256 Pages - 09/01/1995 (Publication Date) - Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (Publisher)

In this book, you can learn how to be a better storyteller from one of the best. It’s designed to help people unearth the bestsellers and other books that are hiding within. Lamott weaves plenty of wit into her book and ingeniously uses that to engage her own readers to make them better writers.

In addition to helping you learn how to write better, Bird by Bird is just a great piece of reading. This quote from the book shows where its title came from:

“Thirty years ago, my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”

Anne Lamott

7. The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell 

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The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)
  • New World Library
  • Campbell, Joseph (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 336 Pages - 03/11/2014 (Publication Date) - New World Library (Publisher)

Joseph Campbell has been heralded as one of the best storytellers of all time. The book explores how Campbell was able to become one of the best mythologists of the 20th century. Though it is a biography and not a writing instruction book, it provides excellent insight into what made Campbell so good at sharing stories. 

By reading about interviews between Campbell and the people he inspired, you will pick up on writing tips you can use in your own writing. This quote shows that:

“Now I found it in writing sentences. You can write that sentence in a way that you would have written it last year. Or you can write it in the way of the exquisite nuance that is sitting in your mind now. But that takes a lot of … waiting for the right word to come.”

Joseph Campbell

8. The Art of Storytelling: Easy Steps to Presenting an Unforgettable Story by John Walsh 

The Art of Storytelling: Easy Steps to Presenting an Unforgettable Story
  • Moody Publishers
  • Walsh, John (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 160 Pages - 01/01/2014 (Publication Date) - Moody Publishers (Publisher)

If you’re looking for a step-by-step guide to writing or telling a great story, this is it. The author once struggled as someone with a stutter, then moved on to become a master storyteller. His writing aims to teach the reader how to tell a good story, whether to children at home or an audience in a book club.

Much of the focus of this particular book is on verbal storytelling in the public speaking realm, but you can apply the same ideas to your written stories. About the book, Goodreads says:

“Whether you’re telling bedtime stories to your children or Bible stories to a congregation, this book will take your storytelling to a new level.”

John Walsh

9. DataStory: Explain Data and Inspire Action Through Story by Nancy Duarte

DataStory: Explain Data and Inspire Action Through Story
  • Duarte, Nancy (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 240 Pages - 09/17/2019 (Publication Date) - Ideapress Publishing (Publisher)

DataStory teaches you how to use story frameworks to communicate something that’s often not engaging: data. This is one of the best books for people who need to make presentations because it helps them learn how to shape data into something people want to listen to.

Learning how to tell a story with data is vital in the modern age because we have data bombarding us at all times. This book is a must-read for business presenters. Here’s a quote that shows her approach:

“A designer is an emerging synthesis of artist, inventor, mechanic, objective economist, and evolutionary strategist.” 

Nancy Duarte

10. The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby

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The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller
  • Faber Faber
  • Truby, John (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 464 Pages - 10/14/2008 (Publication Date) - Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Publisher)

This work is one of the great books on storytelling because it is a step-by-step guide. The Anatomy of Story is the first book from the screenwriter for works like Sleepless in Seattle and Shrek. While it does focus heavily on screenwriting, it also touches on other aspects of storytelling. 

Trudy’s writing focuses on providing a valuable guide to what makes stories work. His success as a screenwriter provides the foundation, and this quote shows how he goes about the presentation of the information:

“Audiences love both the feeling part (reliving the life) and the thinking part (figuring out the puzzle) of a story. Every good story has both.” 

John Truby

11. Contagious: Why Things Catch On, by Jonah Berger

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Contagious: Why Things Catch On
  • Simon Schuster
  • Berger, Jonah (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 256 Pages - 05/03/2016 (Publication Date) - Simon & Schuster (Publisher)

One of the first books you should take a look at if you want to learn how to write a better story is Contagious: Why Things Catch On, by Jonah Berger. Why are people so interested in certain topics? How can you communicate that idea in a way people want to pay attention? Do you want to learn how to make your audience move with your words?

This is a book that gives readers a great insight into how you can get an idea to stick in someone’s head. Then, once that idea is inside someone’s head, you can use it to weave a story. One of the basic techniques you need to learn about storytelling is to show, not tell. This book will explain how to do that.

If you want your message to spread quickly, this is the book to do exactly that. 

“We need to design products and ideas that are frequently triggered by the environment and create new triggers by linking our products and ideas to prevalent cues in that environment. Top of mind leads to tip of tongue.”

Jonah Berger, Contagious: Why Things Catch On

12. Ego in the Enemy, by Ryan Holiday

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Ego Is the Enemy
  • Untouched. New Book.
  • Hardcover Book
  • Holiday, Ryan (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 256 Pages - 06/14/2016 (Publication Date) - Portfolio (Publisher)

This is a book that would make a great read for just about everyone; however, many of the lessons can be directly applied to storytelling. Throughout the book, Ryan Holiday will clearly explain the concepts he is using. That way, you can get an inside look at how he structured his own book, figuring out if these lessons can be applied to the stories you want to write.

He does so by telling us historical stories about people we already know. Therefore, he is telling stories about people, using situations where you already know the ending. Because you already know the ending, you can see where the story is going and how he gets there. Then, because he tells stories in interesting ways, you can learn more about how to apply those lessons to the stories you want to share. This will make you become a better storyteller. 

Of course, you will also learn how to put your ego aside and focus instead on the subject at hand. 

“When success begins to slip from your fingers—for whatever reason—the response isn’t to grip and claw so hard that you shatter it to pieces. It’s to understand that you must work yourself back to the aspirational phase. You must get back to first principles and best practices.”

Ryan Holiday, Ego Is the Enemy

13. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert B. Cialdini

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Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised Edition
  • Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
  • Must read book
  • It is made up of premium quality material.
  • Robert B. Cialdini (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Of course, you want people to pay attention to the store you tell. At the same time, you might want to convince them to come around to your point of view. In that case, you will need to persuade them to see things your way. That is where this book comes in handy. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert B. Cialdini, will teach you how to not only tell a story but also convince people that you are right. 

The book focuses on psychological principles you can apply to your stories. How do you phrase things to grab the attention of your reader? How can startling them of the surprise get them to pay closer attention? How can you word your sentences in a way that you convince them to see things your way? Then, you can convince people to take action. That is how you can write a beautiful story.

Consider learning how to influence and persuade your readers with basic psychological principles in this book. 

“The truly gifted negotiator, then, is one whose initial position is exaggerated enough to allow for a series of concessions that will yield a desirable final offer from the opponent, yet is not so outlandish as to be seen as illegitimate from the start.”

Robert Cialdini, Influence

14. Start with Why, by Simon Sinek

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Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
  • Portfolio
  • Sinek, Simon (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 256 Pages - 12/27/2011 (Publication Date) - Portfolio (Publisher)

The next book that can help you improve your storytelling techniques is called Start with Why, Simon Sinek. This is a book that can help you take advantage of something called the Golden Circle. The focus is on helping people and companies accomplish their goals, but the lessons can also be applied to storytelling. 

In essence, the book itself is one long story. The book will take you on a beautiful tale, helping you find ways to improve your overall life. By the end, you will learn about interesting techniques that can be applied to just about every part of your life, including storytelling. Then, you can put the lessons into action, finding ways to improve your storytelling. 

You can learn how to get people inspired, pushing them to take action. This is an important part of storytelling. 

“We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe. Their ability to make us feel like we belong, to make us feel special, safe and not alone is part of what gives them the ability to inspire us.”

Simon Sinek

15. Delivering Happiness: A Path To Profits, Passion, and Purpose

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Delivering Happiness
  • Grand Central Publishing
  • Hsieh, Tony (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 272 Pages - 03/19/2013 (Publication Date) - Grand Central Publishing (Publisher)

Sometimes, the best way to write a beautiful story it to tell one of your own. That is exactly what Tony Hsieh does in this book, titled Delivering Happiness: A Path To Profits, Passion, and Purpose. In it, he explains how he started a company, grew it, and ultimately sold it for more than a billion dollars to Amazon. Along the way, he shares insights into his life, advice on how to start a business, and how to negotiate an amazing deal.

Because he tells such a beautiful story, you get an inside look at how to tell one of your own. How does he captivate the reader the entire way? How does he frame his life so that people are interested in what he has to say? Learn more about what makes his story so interesting, and see if you can apply some of these lessons to your own stories. Even if you aren’t telling your own life story, you can still apply the principles to other stories you want to share.

“I thought about how easily we are all brainwashed by our society and culture to stop thinking and just assume by default that more money equals more success and more happiness, when ultimately happiness is really just about enjoying life.”

Tony Hsieh, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose

16. Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son, by George Horace Lorimer

As the title suggests, the book focuses on stories that a self-made merchant wrote to his son. In essence, the merchant is trying to communicate important lessons not only in business but also in life. He hopes that his son will follow in his footsteps.

Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son, by George Horace Lorimer, is an important book for storytellers to read because it serves as a source of inspiration. If you want your readers to leave inspired, you need a good example to follow. The letters in this book inspire people to go into business, and you may be able to apply the lessons to your stories. Of course, the book also comes with a few life lessons you might be able to apply to other areas of your life.

If you want to see a beautiful example of how you can Inspire your readers, take a look at this title. 

“Some men learn all they know from books; others from life; both kinds are narrow. The first are all theory; the second are all practice. It’s the fellow who knows enough about practice to test his theories for blow-holes that gives the world a shove ahead, and finds a fair margin of profit in shoving it.”

George Horace Lorimer, Letters From A Merchant To His Son

17. The Art of Seduction by Robert Greene

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The Art of Seduction
  • Every bit as essential as The 48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction is an indispensable primer of persuasion that reveals one of history's greatest weapons and the ultimate form of power.
  • Robert Greene (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 512 Pages - 10/07/2003 (Publication Date) - Penguin Books (Publisher)

Some of the most famous people in the world have learned how to seduce their audiences. That way, they can make their audience believe what they wanted, do what they wanted,  see things from their point of view. If you want to learn how to write a great story, you need to do the same thing. After all, your audience is not going to read your book from start to finish unless they find it interesting. One of the ways to do that is to seduce it.

Of course, the book is also a great story on its own. Even if you don’t want to be seduced by the author, you will still get engrossed in a beautiful story. Robert Greene shares his story in a unique way, and The Art of Seduction contains a variety of lessons that you can apply to your own stories as well.

Seduce your audience, captivate them along the way, and share a beautiful story with the lessons from this book. 

“Desire is both imitative (we like what others like) and competitive (we want to take away from others what they have). As children, we wanted to monopolize the attention of a parent, to draw it away from other siblings. This sense of rivalry… makes people compete for the attention.”

Robert Greene, The Art of Seduction

18. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Meditations
  • Aurelius, Marcus (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 146 Pages - 11/01/2018 (Publication Date) - CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (Publisher)

Marcus Aurelius was a famous leader of the Roman Empire. Even though much of the book focuses on keeping yourself physically well, he also discusses his leadership strategies, masterfully weaving a story about his life. You might want to apply some of his storytelling techniques to your own work. He holds your attention, makes his story applicable to your life, and gives you insight into how he ran an empire.

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

19. Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo

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Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World's Top Minds
  • St Martin s Press
  • Hardcover Book
  • Gallo, Carmine (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages - 03/04/2014 (Publication Date) - St. Martin's Press (Publisher)

Most people have heard of Ted Talks, and some people listen to them religiously. In a TED Talk, you need to entertain your audience for 15 to 30 minutes. Therefore, you have to be a good storyteller. It only makes sense that many of the lessons of entertaining in a TED Talk can be applied to storytelling. Check out this book by Carmine Gallo and see if it improves your storytelling!

“The first step to inspiring others is to make sure you’re inspired yourself.”

Carmine Gallo, Talk Like TED

20. Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers To Persuasion and Captivation By Sally Hogshead

Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation
  • Hardcover Book
  • Hogshead, Sally (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages - 02/09/2010 (Publication Date) - HarperBusiness (Publisher)

To tell a great story, you need to fascinate, persuade, influence, and captivate. This book, by Sally Hogshead, can help you do that. If you want to hold the attention of your readers, your stories need to mean something to them personally. This book can help you figure out how to do that in your stories. 

“Of the seven triggers, this is the most nuanced, and perhaps the most difficult to achieve. Mystique invites others closer, without giving them what they seek.”

Sally Hogshead, Fascinate

A Final Word on the Best Storytelling Books

If you are creating a reading list about storytelling books, these ten need to be on it. Each one will help you glean new insight into how to tell or write great stories. From story structure to the human psyche, they touch on every aspect of a great and impactful story.

Some of these are new books, and others are well-known classic works, but you will find each of them brings fresh insight to your writing and presentation skills. So stock your library with a few of the titles, and get reading about the art of storytelling. You can also check out this article packed with useful writing tips for beginners. You’re never too experienced to remind yourself about the basics.

FAQs About the Best Storytelling Books

What is the best storytelling book?

In a recent article on Forbes, Jesse Scinto, a professor from Columbia University, stated “The Storytelling Animal” by Jonathan Gottschall is one of the best storytelling books of all time.

How can I be a better storyteller?

To be a better storyteller, you should learn from people who are already good at it. These book recommendations will help you:
1. “Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting” by Robert McKee
2. “The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller” by John Truby
3. “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life” by Anne Lamott
4. “The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human” by Jonathan Gottschall

Are there any other books I should check out if I want to become better at telling stories?

Yes, you may want to check out “Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence” by Lisa Cron, “The Storyteller’s Secret: Why Some Ideas Catch on and Others Don’t” by Carmine Gallo, “The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human” by Jonathan Gottschall, and “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. You might also want to check out Bird by Bird.

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