5 Inspiring Books to Help You Become a Better Storyteller
A collection of books to inspire your inner storyteller.
1. “On Writing” by Stephen King
In this book’s forward, horror-writer King recounts how the author Amy Tan once told him that no one ever asks her about the language in her books. “They ask the DeLillos and theUpdikes and the Styrons, but they don’t ask popular novelists,” King writes. “Yet many of us proles also care about the language, in our own humble way, and care passionately about the craft of telling stories on paper.” What follows is a relatively quick read, part memoir part, writing tips, about King’s journey from aspiring writer working at a laundry service to wildly successful author battling alcoholism. He’s honest about his challenges. His writing advice doesn’t sound like advice, but life insights:
The truth is that when I’m writing, I write every day, workaholic dweeb or not. That includes Christmas, the Fourth [of July], and my birthday (at my age you try to ignore your goddam birthday anyway). And when I’m not working, I’m not working at all, although during those periods of full stop I usually feel at loose ends with myself and have trouble sleeping.
2. “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott
Lamott is such a treat to read. She’s funny in a warm and endearing way, like someone you’d want to be friends with. “Bird by Bird” is about writing and becoming a better writer. It’s also about Lamott’s son, Sam, and life and faith and jealousy and relationships. She really makes me laugh. Here’s a great passage from the book:
I think that if you have the kind of mind that retains important and creative thoughts–that is, if your mind still works–you’re very lucky and you should not be surprised if the rest of us do not want to be around you. I actually have one writer friend–whom I think I will probably be getting rid of soon–who said to me recently that if you don’t remember it when you get home, it probably wasn’t that important.
3. “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” by Donald Miller
What happens when two film producers decided to create a movie out of your memoir? You realize your everyday life doesn’t have much of a story arc — and you take action. At least, that’s what Miller does: he falls in love, bikes across the U.S. and starts a nonprofit. This book made me want to go out and do something. Miller writes:
If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation. If I got any comfort as I set out on my first story, it was that in nearly every story, the protagonist is transformed. He’s a jerk at the beginning and nice at the end, or a coward at the beginning and brave at the end. If the character doesn’t change, the story hasn’t happened yet. And if story is derived from real life, if story is just condensed version of life then life itself may be designed to change us so that we evolve from one kind of person to another.
4. “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” by Haruki Murakami
It turns out running and writing have a lot in common, according to Japanese novelist Murakami: repetition, persistence, focus. Murakami comes across as a solitary and determined character in this memoir. His writing is spare and a touch poetic. He doesn’t give specific advice about storytelling, just larger lessons about life and writing and running:
If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life — and for me, writing as a whole. I believe many runners would agree.
5. “Story” by Robert McKee
Do you remember in the film “Adaptation” when the screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (played by Nicolas Cage) attends a screenwriting seminar by Robert McKee (played by Brian Cox)? Well, McKee is a real person. His seminars are real. And his book “Story” is considered a Bible for screenwriters. You may not be interested in writing a movie script, but this book is still for you because most of the ideas and concepts are adaptable to any form of storytelling. Just a warning, though, that “Story” gets into the weeds of telling stories, like avoiding cliché, building scenes and developing a plot. It also references many movies that you may not have seen (McKee needs to update these movie examples). Nevertheless, the book is a good foundation for diving deep into storytelling and offers encouragement to storytellers:
A culture cannot evolve without honest, powerful storytelling. When society repeatedly experiences glossy, hollowed-out, pseudo-stories, it degenerates. We need true satires and tragedies, dramas and comedies that shine a clean light into the dingy corners of the human psyche and society.
Laura Elizabeth Pohl is a photographer and filmmaker who frequently works with international NGOs. You can see her work at www.laurapohl.com .