The 5 Best Books about Oral Storytelling (by a Professional Storyteller)

As a professional storyteller, I always seek ways to improve my art and craft. I would love to share with you the best books about oral storytelling that I have found.

Just to be clear: oral storytelling is an art from before the time of books. It is best learned live, in workshops, performances, and coaching.

Books are a tremendous second-best option, especially since some of the best storytellers in the world have poured their heart, soul, and years of experience into these books.

Let me tell you which books about storytelling I return to repeatedly.

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💡 As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. I get a little percentage whenever you buy something after clicking one of my affiliate links. Thanks!

The Storyteller’s Way (Ashley Ramsden, Sue Hollingsworth)

The Storyteller's Way Ashley Ramsden Sue Holllingsworth

The Storyteller’s Way by Ashley Ramsden and Sue Hollingsworth starts with the basics of oral storytelling. Through practical exercises, the writers coach you in preparing and telling your first story. The rest of the book covers expert topics such as gazes, silence, voice work, etc., with practical exercises.

What I liked about The Storyteller’s Way

This is the best book (200+ pages) about storytelling for me. ❗

Even after more than ten years of telling stories, I regularly pick up this book to look something up.

The book is rooted in the writers’ experience as storytellers and storytelling teachers. Both were teaching at the International School of Storytelling (Emerson College, England) when it was written.

The book is both deep and understandable. It is filled to the brim with practical exercises.

Some of my favorite chapters are those about thresholds, dynamics, and silence. I understood these subjects only later, after telling some more stories and returning to the book.

Every chapter ends with a short story; at least 30 are sprinkled throughout the book.

Who would benefit from The Storyteller’s Way?

This book is for everybody who wants to tell stories. Whether it’s your first story or your 222nd story, the book will speak to you at your current stage of development.

What I missed in the book

The book has only one small chapter about ‘Nuts and Bolts.’ I wish the authors had discussed their practical experiences performing for different audiences. There is a need for more ‘nuts and bolts.’

The book contains much about the story, the storyteller, and the interaction between the storyteller and the listener. However, I wish there was more about the listeners, their contexts (school, company, theater), needs, and wants.

Resources

Improving Your Storytelling (Doug Lipman)

Improving Your Storytelling Doug Lipman

Improving Your Storytelling by Doug Lipman is a book for those who want to go beyond the basics of storytelling. It discusses imagery, your relationship to the story, and your relationship with your listeners in depth (with exercises to do), giving you the tools to make better choices.

What I liked about Improving Your Storytelling

The book (200+ pages) delivers on its promise to go beyond the basics.

Example: It’s basic knowledge that stories are built out of images. However, in this book, Doug delves deeper. He asks and answers questions like: What do we mean when we talk about images? How do different people perceive them? Do people prefer to imagine a story in a particular mode? How can you develop your multi-sensory ability to imagine the scenes in a story?

The book is written in unambiguous language, generously sprinkled with personal anecdotes of the author that show what he has just explained.

I also like that he focuses on giving you frameworks to make your own decisions, instead of telling you ‘the right way’. It’s a book that offers you maps instead of directions.

Who would benefit from Improving Your Storytelling?

This book is written for the intermediate storyteller. Learn the basics, tell some stories, and tell some more stories. Then, you will understand what the author is talking about from your own experience.

What I missed in the book

I did not feel something was missing from this book. I would have liked it to be even longer, though. 🙂

Resources

Our Secret Territory (Laura Simms)

Our Secret Territory Laura Simms

Our Secret Territory (The Essence of Storytelling) is a book by Laura Simms about storytelling’s spiritual, social, and mystical side. Weaving together wonder tales, personal real-life stories, and observations, she aims for the reader’s heart so that the reader may reach their listeners.

What I liked about Our Secret Territory

Stories can profoundly touch us, move us, and change our lives.

Storyteller Laura Simms knows this as well as anyone, and in this book, she gives many personal examples of the power of stories and storytelling.

She writes about dreams, the invisible, stories that shake you, and stories that give light. About the role of the storyteller in this world. About the depth below the words.

It is also about the practical telling of stories in dire circumstances—stories that heal and give hope.

Who would benefit from Our Secret Territory?

This book is for everybody who longs to know more about what happens beneath the surface of stories. Maybe you have felt and experienced what a story can do in your own life and the lives of others. In this book, you will find more that touches your heart.

What I missed in the book

I didn’t miss anything in the book. I hope more people like her will also write about this subject in depth.

Resources

The Story Factor (Annette Simmons)

The Story Factor Annette Simmons

The Story Factor is a book by Annette Simmons about inspiring, influencing, and persuading through storytelling. Simmons asks and answers questions like: What stories do you have to tell? What stories are there? How can you use this ancient art in modern business and government settings?

What I liked about The Story Factor

This book is a more recent edition than the one I am holding in the photo. However, the main content is still the same.

Most of the books about storytelling in business are either about marketing or are filled with an enormous amount of fluff and few practical suggestions. Not this book.

The style of the book is the same as the earlier discussed book by Doug Lipman, who is mentioned as a coach and massive inspiration to the writer, Annette Simmons. There are both theory and practical stories from the author’s experience.

Walking into a boardroom and starting to tell Little Red Riding Hood might not be the greatest idea. But what stories do you tell in a business setting? Annette gives you an overview of the six kinds of stories you can use.

She discusses at length what stories can do to influence people and how you can use them in different ways. She does not shy away from more difficult audiences, like in the chapter ‘Influencing the Unwilling, Unconcerned or Unmotivated.’

Who would benefit from The Story Factor?

Everybody who would like to use stories in business or government would be wise to read this book. The same is true for everybody who seeks to influence people to effect change.

You don’t need any storytelling skills to benefit from this book. On the other hand, this book does not teach you much about how to tell a story.

What I missed in the book

I have a 2006 edition of this book. It could use an update; luckily, the newest version was updated in 2019.

The book would be better with more practical help, like schemes or clear summaries of what to do.

Resources

The Way of the Storyteller (Ruth Sawyer)

The Way of the Storyteller Ruth Sawyer

The Way of the Storyteller is a book by Ruth Sawyer, first published in 1942. In it, you will find a wealth of understanding of the art and craft of storytelling. Ruth Sawyer shares her personal experiences telling stories and 11 of her beloved stories.

What I liked about The Way of the Storyteller

The book (300+ pages) is written in a beautiful style. You can almost taste her older English sentences. It is not difficult to read, though.

It is precious for a storyteller to read an older book like this. Of course, most things about telling stories are as valid today as they were in 1942. She discusses forgotten themes like ‘the building of background’ and ‘the art of selecting the right story.’

She does not shy away from her failures and mistakes while sharing her experiences in becoming and being a storyteller. She learned from them.

The 11 stories in the book are diverse and, with some effort, well suited for telling. I tell one of them myself and hope to tell three others someday.

Who would benefit from The Way of the Storyteller?

This book is from a storyteller to other (wannabe-) storytellers. If you want to deepen your understanding of storytelling, this book will make you enjoy and ponder.

What I missed in the book

The stories included in the book are great, but they are not the easiest ones. Two or three stories for absolute beginners would have been a welcome addition.

Resources

  • Ruth Sawyer lived from 1880-1970 before the internet was born.

Why only the five best books about oral storytelling?

I made a list of the five best books about oral storytelling because only five make my heart beat faster. Of course, that has to do with taste, and taste is personal.

These books are all worth rereading. I wish they could give you as much inspiration and enjoyment as they gave me.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy my blog about the best folktale collections.


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