Week 19 – Storytelling: Five Unusual but Essential Books

“Humans have an extraordinary thirst for knowing how things work and why. Storytellers excite these instincts by creating worlds but stopping short of telling readers everything about them.”

Will Storr

Anyone who sets out on the internet to find the best books on screenwriting and storytelling usually ends up with the usual suspects. These are I would say:

  • Alessandra, Pilar: The Coffee Break Screenwriter
  • Aronson, Linda: The 21st Century Screenplay
  • Booker, Christopher: The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories
  • Campbell, Joseph: The Hero with A Thousand Faces 
  • Chamberlain, Jill: The Nutshell Technique
  • Field, Syd: Screenplay
  • Hague, Mihael: Writing Screenplays That Sell
  • Hunter-Johnson, Claudia: Crafting Short Screenplays That Connect
  • McKee, Robert: Story
  • Seger, Linda: Making A Good Script Great
  • Snyder, Blake: Save the Cat
  • Vogler, Christopher: The Writer’s Journey
  • Yorke, John: Into the Woods

But I would recommend five other books worth reading:

Jean-Claude Carrière / Pascal Bonitzer: Exercice du scénario / Praxis des Drehbuchschreibens / Práctica del guión cinematográfico. A book that is different in every aspect. I already talked about this book extensively in Week 18. Keep in mind: No English version until now, only the original French, a German and a Spanish one.

Paul Verhoeven: Jesus of Nazareth.

„I first heard about the Jesus Seminar when I moved to Los Angeles in 1985. Founded that year by Robert W. Funk, the Jesus Seminar was a group of scholars and theologians who wrote papers and met twice a year at a four-day conference. The central question they asked themselves was: What did Jesus really say or do? … I joined the seminar in 1986. … In analyzing the New Testament, I try to make use of similar dramaturgical and narrative insights. Filmmakers deliberately apply dramatic effects to keep audiences spellbound, and they know how to recognize these techniques in the creative work of others. The Gospel writers were not so different: They, too, were storytellers who used their narrative skills to captivate their audiences. When you look at the New Testament as a well-crafted text, it is easier to determine which details, metaphors, and narrative threads were added to enhance the Gospels’ dramatic effect and—perhaps more importantly—which were altered or even deleted because they were controversial, unpalatable, or politically dangerous. … Of each and every event described in the Gospels I ask myself: Is this really possible? Could a human being have walked on water? Could a person who had been dead for days be brought back to life? Could a woman have been impregnated without sperm? Then as a filmmaker examining the Gospels, I apply a cinematic test: If I cannot imagine that an event described in the Gospels is real—in other words, if I think the scene could only be shot by manipulating the images or using special effects—I don’t believe it happened.”

We talked about Michael Rabiger already in Week 3 and learned how to play the CLOSAT game as a creative tool for developing story ideas. But this book has much more to offer. It’s actually one of the rare film related books dealing only with our topic! Just get it!

You could describe this book as an attempt to outline a theory of storytelling. While doing this Gottschall shows us how storytelling has evolved, from the past to the present. On the way he uses the latest research in neuroscience, psychology and evolutionary biology to show us why and how storytelling has changed. All in all a wonderful and inspiring book.

A book about the writer’s craft and the way Stephen King thinks and the way he actually works. Probably the most interesting and surprising thing for me is that conflict plays only a minor role for him at the beginning – that he usually starts with a situation from which the whole story develops. (Like e.g. in >Needful Things<, >Dead Zone< and >Shining<)