No matter what holiday you celebrate, you should celebrate your storytelling self by giving yourself a treat! But beyond just giving yourself some new pens or a fancy notebook, this year I want you to consider challenging yourself with your gift, picking out a new genre or medium you wouldn’t usually select and giving it a chance. That’s why I’ve created several gift guides for you to help you branch out, but also treat yourself to something nice!
When determining which gift guide is right for you, I recommend skimming through my ebook for some ideas, which discusses what each medium does for your storytelling. From there, look to the different guides to see what gifts might be right for you or a friend who is looking to brand out! There’s something here for every storyteller, each gift guide hand-picked with the thought of newcomers from other mediums.
(Note: this post contains affiliate links. You can read my full disclosure here.)
This toolkit is the basic starter kit I recommend any storyteller to have! Not only does it contain gear to help you stay on track and be a successful writer, but there’s also one type of each storytelling format in the toolkit so you can learn more about other mediums.
Without a doubt my favorite book on writing, Wonderbook is the only illustrated guide to storytelling I’ve ever encountered. While you might miss the wisdom of Stephen King and Anne Lamott, what the Wonderbook does so well is inspire creativity on the page, challenging writers and storytellers to think in new and creative ways that something like a regular book cannot. If you are only going to get yourself one present this year, I insist it be this!
Even if you aren’t writing a novel, this novel planner made by Kristen Kieffer at She’s Novel is great for all writers because it makes the focus of your life on writing! I have been using this for the past year and love how it keeps me focused on my storytelling goals.
Though it’s the most expensive item in this toolkit, I highly recommend all writers invest in fitness. If you’ve read my post on how to tackle living the sedentary life as a writer, you’ll know how great I believe a FitBit is for writers. It reminds you to move and stand up, inspires you to get in 10,000 steps a day (which you can use to brainstorm ideas!) and depending on which one you get, can also wake you up gently from naps and alert you to texts and calls.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Choosing a book to recommend those who don’t read often was quite difficult for me. However, after much consideration, I elected The Grapes of Wrath as a book to start out with. it’s slow, it breaks a lot of rules of storytelling, but it’s absolutely wonderful and something you should read if you haven’t already.
The Wolf Among Us – Telltale Games
For anyone who is wary about the video gaming world, The Wolf Among Us is a great start. Available for all platforms (including Macs!), the game takes place in a noir-fantasy New York, with characters Snow White and the Big Bad Wolf (“Bigby Wolf”) working together to solve a murder mystery. Involving no other skills than typing and clicking on a computer, this game is a great start for all beginners and experts alike, especially due to its heavy focus on story. If the premise of this story does not appeal to you, there are other options to replace this video game with another Telltale game listed in my post that explains different types of games.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Screenplay
A great way for those unfamiliar with screenplays to get their feet wet in perhaps the most beautifully bound way possible. While some of the formatting may be off or not the standard for Americans, reading this script will give new aspiring screenwriters a feel for what a script should look like.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee
A classic play that everyone should read, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was short-listed the Pulitzer Prize due to its “vulgar” content. All taking place during one bizarre night, this play explores the relationships between a young couple and an old couple and demonstrates how well dialogue exists on stage.
The prose package is for those who feel they need to familiarize themselves more with literature and other written forms of storytelling that are not later made and told in a different form. This package includes short stories, a few novels, and even a book of epic poetry as well as some other books on the craft I believe will be helpful for you. If you believe you are already familiar with one area in prose, feel free to substitute other pieces you’ve been meaning to read or comment asking for other recommendations.
On Writing by Stephen King
Even if you are interested in writing literary fiction, reading up on the craft is essential for all people who want to write prose. I read On Writing nearly eight years ago yet I still implement some of the techniques King introduces in this book. Even if you hate Stephen King’s literature, I urge you to give this book on the craft a shot.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Another classic on the craft of writing, Bird by Bird offers equally as lasting advice as King does. While I haven’t actually read this book, it comes so highly recommend to me so often that I feel it would be a shame for me not to mention this book.
Chess Story by Stefan Zweig
A quick and enjoyable novella, this piece by Stefan Zweig is a great example of how to write a good character study piece in a short amount of time. Despite it’s length, the novella manages to still stick in my memory to this day and is a testament to the power of simplicity.
The Best American Short Stories: 2016
Even if you’re like me and have only ever wanted to write novels and never wanted to deal with short stories, it really is important to do them as a prose writer. Recommended in my post on why you should be writing them, I am suggesting this book once more because it is edited by a favorite author of mine and provides new readers with short stories by tons of different authors instead of just one. That way if you don’t like how one writer does it, you can go to the next one and see if you like them instead.
Paradise Lost by John Milton
Though by no means for everyone, Paradise Lost by John Milton is what first got me into epic poetry. An imagining of Genesis, this piece is likely the most accessible to new readers because the story of Adam and Eve is so familiar. It’s only twelve books long, and when read with patience and attentiveness it proves a cinematic and engaging read, each main character complex and interesting (Hello, Satan) despite Milton’s inclination to find women, for the most part, inferior. The version I recommend you has also been edited by a former professor of mine, someone who worked painfully to ensure the notes were helpful.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath, mostly known as a poet, writes a brilliant coming-of-age novel that has remained a favorite of mine since high school. Her command of the English language is absolutely amazing and her novel exists as the female equivalent to Catcher in the Rye. Though depressing at times, this book is great for anyone who wants to see how writers can manipulate and play with language.
If you feel intimidated by the craft of screenwriting but are interested in learning to write them, this gift guide is for you. Since most scripts are available free online, this guide includes several books on the format and craft of writing screenplays. Don’t forget to compliment this guide with my post on how to learn screenwriting as a newbie.
Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman
The first book on screenwriting I’ve ever read, Adventures in the Screen Trade still remains my favorite book on the craft because of how well it articulates structure without drilling rules into readers’ heads. Additionally, Goldman inserts a draft of his script Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and goes over how he improved the script, giving new screenwriters not only a script to read but a mini lesson on the craft with a tangible example.
Writing the Pilot by William Rabkin
If you read my post on how to write a TV pilot you’ll know how essential I believe this book is to helping screenwriters learn how to write for television. Unlike feature writing, which can mirror the structure of a short story or novel, television writing is its own beast. Rabkin articulates incredibly well why certain television shows are successful and I guarantee after you read this you’ll be able to watch a TV pilot and determine whether or not the show will last long term or not.
If you want to write movies, you’ll have to not only read scripts but also see more movies and none offers a better start than this movie about screenwriting written by Charlie Kauffman. One of the few screenwriting auteurs in the business, Kauffman is known for his ingenious storytelling and is a master at using the visuals for a film to tell a story. His other film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, is one of my all time favorites.
The Grand Budapest Hotel script by Wes Anderson
If there ever was a director who could master the visuals of a film, it’s Wes Anderson. While some people turn their nose up at him, he’s an alumni from my university and a man who loves to break a lot of rules in screenwriting. His films evoke a style that are unmistakably his own and define what it means to tell a story via images. While this film is not my favorite of his and I would not suggest anyone incorporate these many characters into a first script, it’s the most easily accessible script and demonstrates his attention to details.
Bicycle Thieves (Criterion Collection)
Like with literature, as someone who wants to write film it’s important to look to the classics to see how they established what we know today. Bicycle Thieves is one of my favorite films and has been copied over and over since. An Italian film with a lot of history, it’s a great film to start off your Criterion collection with, a company that restores old films. With each film there is either a booklet of helpful information or extra information on the disk so you can ensure you know all there is to know about the film before you watch it.
Given that playwriting is so much more flexible than screenwriting, the trick to understanding the craft involves reading the classics (surprise!), with a bit of Aristotle in the mix. Be sure to read up on why playwriting is unique from the other mediums too, something that is often hard to grasp when just reading plays instead of seeing them.
Poetics by Aristotle
Just like aforementioned classics in the other guides, Poetics examines the Greeks, the quintessential “first” playwrights, and dramatic elements known to theater and storytelling in general, making it a great book for those looking to start writing plays but also for storytellers in all forms. While Aristotle’s emphasis on plot may seem dated, when learning the bases of theater and the structure of tragedies, comedies and epics, the Poetics does a great job explaining the difference.
Hamlet by Shakespeare
Whether you think you can read Shakespeare or not, it’s my deep belief that everyone needs to read at least one Shakespeare play, especially if they want to be a playwright. After learning about the difference between comedies and tragedies from Aristotle, Shakespeare can teach you about character. In fact, you can learn a ton about character just from a single Shakespearean sonnet, so you can imagine what you can learn in a full-length play. If you are worried about having trouble with Shakespeare, I even have a guide on how to read the Bard’s work on your own time to keep you going!
Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neill
Winner of the pulitzer prize (he won it four times total) O’Neill’s autobiographical play is an example of the writer’s master of the human voice, an essential skill in playwriting. While other plays of his offer more stylized dialogue that are worth looking into if you enjoy this piece, Long Day’s Journey Into Night is arguably the most accessible and entirely worth of its praise.
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
Another great play by a classic playwright, Death of a Salesman is told through a series of dreams and memories in the span of 24 hours. It focuses on loss of identity and a man dealing with changes in society. Besides that, there is not much more to say besides that if you haven’t read a play by Miller, you absolutely need to add him to your list this holiday!
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Perhaps my favorite of all the playwrights listed, Williams could stand alone as a master of titles. Later turned into a film starring Marlon Brando, this play focuses on Blanche, a girl who recently moved to New Orleans to live with her little sister Stella and explores themes such as a woman’s dependence on men and the disappointment of reality in comparison to one’s fantasies. Once again there is not much more to say given that the premise is simple and the timelessness of the play comes from the characterizations and the dialogue, so I must ask you to take my word for it and give it a read!
One Flea Spare by Naomi Wallace
Completely different than the rest of the plays listed, Wallace’s One Flea Spare is another favorite of mine, perhaps because of its magical realism-esque content. This play was suggested to me from my playwriting teacher who believed the work emulated similar aspects of my style. It does a great job blurring the lines between what is real and what is fake, a common theme in modern theater.
Undoubtedly the most expensive medium to take up, video gaming yields tons of rewards in terms of replayability and introduces storytelling in a way like never seen before by combining every aspect of storytelling listed above. While many people still don’t take video gaming seriously as an art and see it as an activity for lazy people, once you give video games a chance you’ll be able to appreciate just how much work and art goes into a majority of video games. (Though of course, like all mediums, there are incredibly bad video games, but don’t let those speak for all the other ones!)
Rules of Play by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman
Though more like a textbook, this book on video game writing is timeless in its advice, something that is surprising given how often technology and games are so often changing. This was the textbook we used in my video game writing course and it has a wonderful focus on storytelling that you can also use for analog games as well.
Totally free and therefore completely omitting you of any excuse to not get this, Steam is one of the best places to find games, especially older ones at super low prices. All of the games I am listing here are available on Steam and even if you have a Mac there are still plenty of games to get your hands on. If you love The Wolf Among Us in the Storytelling Toolkit you can find all the other Telltale Games on Steam plus tons of other indie games to support!
Though the first game of Portal is short and worth the fun, Portal 2 is a great game for new players as there is no quick time shooting but the camera is first-person which gets you used to that perspective. You won’t miss much having skipped the first game of Portal and with actors like J.K. Simmons and Stephen Merchant guiding you through, the entire story remains wildly entertaining. Additionally, though I have my link directing you to Amazon, I highly recommend you use Steam to download the game. I only have it linked to Amazon in case for some reason you are averse to Steam.
The Last Of Us
The only game I’m listing that is not available on computers is The Last Of Us. The winner of tons of awards, this game is a great introduction to third-person games with its straightforward narrative and beautiful graphics. If you like post-apocalyptic zombie tales, then you’ll need to add this one to your list, especially now that they’ve recently announced a sequel!
Bioshock: The Collection
If you are a fan of literature and doubt the merits of video gaming, you must look to the Bioshock franchise. Recently remastered for PS4, the first game is influenced highly by Atlas Shrugged and tells a beautiful and terrifying story in a city underwater. The other game by Ken Levine, Bioshock Infinite explores the same universe, but this time in the sky. If you are deterred by combat, don’t worry you can play this game on “easy” mode and still enjoy the two fantastic stories created by Levine, one of the best video game storytellers of our time.
The Witcher 3
If you own a gaming console or a PC computer (sorry Mac owners!) you need to play The Witcher 3. Though for new gamers this might be a lot to take in, for anyone who has played other video games, and specifically RPGs, you must add this to your collection (I will say this everyday until I die). It defines the endless possibilities of storytelling in video games, every single side quest and main quest mission surprising players in new ways. There is motivation to explore the world with hardly any “fetch quests” and it is perhaps the only game where I have never once had a moment where I was bored or getting through a quest just for the sake of it.
Of course, if you really have it in your budget to treat yourself this year, I recommend none other than the PS4 slim. In addition to playing games, it also plays Blu-Ray DVDs and works like a smart TV. If you have a high-powered PC computer, then I wouldn’t recommend this. But if you own a Mac like me, a PS4 is a much cheaper option than buying an additional gaming computer and opens up a whole new world of games for you to play (like the Witcher!!)
I hope I have provided you with a new gateway to other mediums and can’t wait to see what you decided to treat yourself to! Keep this list on hand incase you decide to branch out again. You don’t need the excuse of the holidays to immerse yourself in a new story.
Did you treat yourself to any gift guide? Let me know below what you are treating yourself to! Or if you need other recommendations I’ll happily supply them below!