5 Best Books About Oral Storytelling

The 5 Best Books about Oral Storytelling

As a professional storyteller I am always looking at how to improve my art and craft. I love sharing with you the best books about oral storytelling that I 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 great second best option. Especially since some of the best storytellers in the world have poured their heart, soul and years of experience in these books.

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

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 of with the basics of oral storytelling. Through practical exercises the writers coach you in preparing and telling your first story. Further on you find expert topics: gazes, silence, voice work etc., with practical exercises.

What I liked about The Storyteller’s Way

For me, this is the best book (200+ pages) about storytelling there is. ❗

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 experience of the writers, both as storytellers, but also as teachers of storytelling. At the time the book was written, both were teaching at the International School of Storytelling (Emerson College, England).

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

Some of my favorite chapters are those about thresholds, dynamics and silence. Subjects I only understood later, when I had told some more stories and came back to the book.

Every chapter ends with a short story, sprinkled throughout the book you will find at least 30 of them.

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 the place where you are in your development.

What I missed in the book

In all the book there is only one small chapter about ‘Nuts and Bolts’. I wish the authors would have talked more about their practical experiences performing for different audiences. There is a need for more ‘nuts and bolts’.

There is a lot in the book about the story, the storyteller and the interaction between storyteller and listener. I wish there was more in the book about the listeners. Their contexts (school, company, theater), their needs, their 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 talks in depth (with exercises to do) about imagery, your relationship to the story and your relationship to your listeners. Giving you the tools to better make your own 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 build 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 have preferred modes to imagine a story? How can you develop your own multi-sensory ability to imagine the scenes in a story?

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

I also really 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 gives you maps, instead of directions.

Who would benefit from Improving Your Storytelling?

This book is clearly written for the intermediate storyteller. Learn the basics. Tell some stories. Tell some more stories. And then you will understand for your own experience what the author is talking about.

What I missed in the book

I did not feel something missing from this book. 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 the spiritual, social and mystical side of storytelling. Weaving together wonder tales, personal real-life stories and observations she aims for the heart of the reader, 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 life.

Storyteller Laura Simms knows this as no other, and in this book she gives many personal examples of the power of stories and storytelling.

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

But also about the very practical telling of stories in dire circumstances. About stories that heal, stories that give hope.

Who would benefit from Our Secret Territory?

This is a book for everybody who longs to know more about the depth below the stories. Maybe you have felt and experienced what a story can do in your own life and in 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 just wish there were more people like her who would also write in depth about this subject.

Resources

The Story Factor (Annette Simmons)

The Story Factor Annette Simmons

The Story Factor is a book by Annette Simmons about inspiration, influence and persuasion through the art of storytelling. She 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

First of all, there is much newer and improved edition of this book (almost 300 pages) than the one I am holding in the photo. The main content however 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 of Doug Lipman, who is mentioned as a coach and huge inspiration to the writer, Annette Simmons. There is both theory and practical stories from the experience of the auther herself.

To walk into a boardroom and to start telling 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 kind of stories you can use.

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

Who would benefit from The Story Factor?

Everybody who would like to use stories in business or in 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

Obviously, the edition of this book that I have is from 2006. It could do with an update. And, luckily, the newest version was updated in 2019.

The book would be better with a little more practical help, like some 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 the book you find a wealth of understanding of the art and craft of storytelling. Ruth Sawyer shares her personal experiences telling stories and also 11 of her beloved stories for telling.

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.

As a storyteller myself it is very valuable to read an older book like this. Of course, most things about telling stories rings as true today as it did in 1942. She discusses forgotten themes like ‘the building of background’ and ‘the art of selecting the right story’.

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

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

Who would benefit from The Way of the Storyteller?

This is a book from a storyteller to other (wannabe-) storytellers. If you are interested in deepening your understanding of the art of storytelling, this book will make you both 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, long before the internet was born.

Why only 5 best books about oral storytelling?

I made a list of five best books about oral storytelling, because there are only five that 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 may give you as much inspiration and enjoyment as they gave me.

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