5 Great Books for Every Creative Storyteller
Being a great storyteller is key to any creative work, whether its a song, still image or feature film. These 5 books on screenwriting and writing will help you learn how to craft, hone and shape a story, regardless of your creative field.
As a film editor I need to be able to quickly shape a story from the raw building blocks of documentary rushes, talking heads or a drama script. Moulding them into something that really works and developing strong storytelling skills are invaluable to my day to day work and life long career. Here are a few books I’ve found particularly useful so far.
Teach Yourself Screenwriting – Ray Frensham
The first book I ever owned on screenwriting and originally called Teach Yourself Screenwriting (now retitled: Break Into Screenwriting) by Ray Frensham is the most straight-fowrard guide to the classic Hollywood 3-Act narrative structure you could hope for. Given that I was probably 11 or 12 when I first read it, this book represents a great introduction to essential screenwriting concepts but won’t slow you down with too much unnecessary depth. A great book for any creative trying to understand simple narrative structure and a slick introduction to screenwriting. Thank you Mr. Frensham for inspiring me to get into film!
On Writing – Stephen King
This is probably my favourite book on the art, craft and life of being a writer. I’ve never been a Stephen King fan (I don’t really go in for horror) and aside from masterpieces like Misery and The Shawshank Redemption I’ve not read/seen much of his stuff. But his memoir on the craft of writing is fantastic.
A must read for any would-be writer this part autobiography, part writers manual is a genuine page turner. King’s idea that a story is like a fossil you find on the ground and slowly uncover is extremely pertinent for documentary filmmakers too. Storytelling takes patience, discipline and determination and you’ll learn what that takes from an outstanding teacher in Stephen King. Brilliant.
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years – Donald Miller
Although author Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years isn’t strictly about screenwriting it is about the story of writing a screenplay and how that storytelling process taught him to live a good story, not just imagine one. This is a great book about what makes for telling a good story as well as how to go about living one. I often recommend this book to creative friends because ultimately the best stories will come from a place ‘writing what you know’. So we had better get living a good story as life, as my wife so often tells me, is for living. Miller’s funny, moving and inspiring reflections on the process of screenwriting make for a thoroughly enjoyable read.
The Writer’s Journey – Christopher Vogler
If you’ve ever heard anything about George Lucas’ inspiration for Star Wars you’ll know it had everything to do with reading Joseph Campbell’s seminal The Hero With a Thousand Faces. (Which is a book I own, have started a couple of times and always meant to come back to.)
Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey is the kind of book a story analyst who works for Hollywood movie studios would write after digesting and working with Joseph Campbell’s core ideas that there are archetypal stories, characters and narratives which provide the basis for every story ever written, and then worked those into modern feature films. When I say its the kind of book someone like that might write, it is the book that Christopher Vogler (story analyst for Hollywood movies studios) has written. The Writer’s Journey, though a thickly detailed book, is incredibly easy to read and get to grips with. If you’re after a point by point screenwriting guide through the mythical archetype of The Hero’s Journey, this is the book for you.
Screenwriters Favourites – An Assortment of Classic Books
It would be a bit odd to have collected together a list of the best books on screenwriting and storytelling and completely fail to mention a few of the ‘classics’ on the genre. Robert Mckee’s Story is probably the most famous and recommended screenwriting bible. A thick book I own but not gotten around to reading it is considered essential reading for any screenwriter. Or you could just watch Adaptation and get three minutes of Brian Cox instead. Lastly William Goldman’s books Adventures in the Screen Trade, Which Lie Did I Tell? and The Big Picture are all considered classic screenwriters reading material.