4 Must-Read Books on Storytelling

Stories are the way in which we teach moral lessons, keep an audience engaged in what we’re saying, and convince others to pursue a course of action.

books on telling stories

In the business world, where time is short, and you need to make a point quickly the favorite device is the anecdote. These short stories help others see your point of view.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in a meeting where all of the evidence is pointing towards a clear path when someone, usually someone in a senior position, offers up and anecdotal counter-example.

You want to quit smoking? Why? My grandfather smoked a pack a day and he lived till 92.

And that’s all it takes. The meeting is over. All the evidence in the world doesn’t matter anymore.

This simple anecdote now has everyone ignoring the evidence and statistical distribution and focusing on the grandfather.

The problem is stories don’t really encourage us to think. They make it easy to overlook evidence, fall prey to cognitive biases, and generally encourage bad decisions.

Stories are an important weapon to have in our arsenal.

As someone trying to persuade others, you can have all the facts you want but if you can’t tell a story people won’t listen.

In response to a question recently, Demian Farnworth, a writer at copyblogger, offered up four books copywriters should read to improve their ability to tell a good story.

He spends his day writing stories and highly recommends you read these four books if you want to learn how to tell better stories.

  1. The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, by Noah Lukeman.
  2. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip and Dan Heath.
  3. How to Write a Damn Good Novel: A Step-by-Step No Nonsense Guide to Dramatic Storytelling, by James N. Frey.
  4. Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maas.

“As you’ll notice,” he writes, “these have nothing to do with copywriting. That’s okay. The discipline of storytelling translates exceptionally well over industries. What you learn in these books you can use in your sales copy.”

And sales copy is just a fancy way of persuading people to come around to your point of view. Just make sure you’ve done the work.

Over to you …

What books have you found that improve your ability to tell a story?

Share your ideas in the comments.

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  1. says

    For salespeople, managers and executives who spend time influencing others, whether they be customers, shareholders or internal business teams, I recommend Mike Bosworth’s and Ben Zoldan’s book: What Great Salespeople Do: The Science of Selling Through Emotional Connection and the Power of Story.

    The book provides a simple note-card system for building different types of stories. Another key aspect of the book differentiating it from others in the “storytelling” genre is the chapters on empathic story-listening.Tending to another person’s story and really listening is the key to connecting, influencing and inspiring others.

  2. says

    When I started writing fiction professionally, I read Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies for Fun and For Profit because it was the only thing they had at the Denver Public Library. It’s fantastic because Block talks about life as a professional author. I learned more about writing so that people will actually READ you, in those pages than reading any of the books you listed. I highly recommend this book and, of course, Stephen King’s On Writing.

  3. says

    As someone who speaks about storytelling a lot (and has been pounding the pulpit for marketers and organizations to start telling stories) these are great resources but it’s more than just the mechanics of a story that are important. Business stories (stories told by a business to influence or connect with their customers) are different. Yes they have the same narrative constructs (i.e., Freytag’s triangle) but they are not written for the sheer joy of telling a story like a fiction writer would do. They are told with purpose. They are intended to connect and engage the reader so that follow-up communication is more received. That means that the story has to be about the customer (not about the product or company). That means the story has to offer the customer some value (it can’t just be narrative fluff). Take a look at what Coca Cola did to their website (www.coca-colacompany.com).

    Here are a few resources/thoughts on storytelling for business:


    And here is a presentation I have given quite a few times about how businesses can make their stories better (and why they would want to tell stories in the first place):


    P.S. I don’t monetize my blog. I derive no benefit other than fostering discussion and conversation by including links to my blog in this reply.