Top 10 BEST Books for Aspiring Narrative Designers
Writing for video games is an entirely different field than traditional writing. While the art of narrative design and video game writing is still growing, here are some of my top picks that every aspiring narrative designer should read.
1. & 2. The Game Narrative Toolbox and The Advanced Game Narrative Toolbox: these two books are the textbooks of narrative design in the field today. Written by exceptional narrative designers who have worked on a variety of IPs, these two books cover everything - from the basics of the pitch and developing game design doc to adapting existing IP and how to create consistent lore. Slightly technical, but these texts should be the go-to's for anyone who is serious about learning what a studio's narrative department is responsible for.
3. Slay the Dragon: Writing Great Video Games: this fantastic book is a perfect guide to how storytelling differs from traditional methods of writing. With engaging exercises, this book focuses on the form and craft of video-game story, and teaches how skilled narrative designers can balance the art of storytelling with the science and tech of level design in a variety of genres, from level-centric games to MMOs.
4.Video Game Storytelling: What Every Developer Needs to Know about Narrative Techniques: while this book is aimed toward developers who also want to craft strong stories in their games, this book suits any new game writer, particularly those who want to write for smaller or indie studios where their role might overlap with other technical aspects of the field.
5. Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction: this book is fantastic for those who enjoy writing (or playing) interactive fiction games such as walking simulators like Gone Home or What Remains of Edith Finch. Even better, this book is a great guide to understanding how to use Twine, an interactive fiction program great for early game writers to use on portfolios.
6. Game Feel: A Game Designer's Guide to Virtual Sensation: while this book can be utilized by anyone on a studio's team, narrative designers may gain an extra level of expertise from this work. By detailing how to create more immersive experiences in all aspects of the design process, this book teaches writers how to make their dialogue and world building more effective from start to finish.
7. The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design: this book is another fantastic overview of what it takes to create a video game from a narrative and production perspective. With an overview of the high-level aspects of production to discussing the roles of everyone on the team, this book provides insight into how the writing and production side of a AAA game is produced.
8. Game Writing: Narrative Skills for Video Games: a perfect book for narrative designers looking to ensure they can write across genres. This collection of essays discusses aspects of narrative design that are otherwise overlooked in game writing texts, such as localization, writing comedy, and dialogue engines. The text version reportedly has printing errors, so the kindle is the better option.
9. Quests: Design, Theory, and History in Games and Narratives: admittedly a rather large and academic text, this book made the list because it does a fantastic job of discussing the theoretical, historical, and practical aspects of quest design. Anyone who wants to truly master quest design as a narrative designer would benefit from the immense amount of knowledge pressed inside this book.
10. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration: a best-seller about the foundation of Pixar and the studio's unique approach to creativity and inspiring their teams, this book isn't quite a guide to narrative design, but still serves as an interesting look into how large studios can function. An inspiring and informational read for anyone looking to learn more about the history of major creative studios.
While this list does contain affiliate links which help me maintain this site, each and every one of these books has helped me become a better narrative designer, and I highly recommend each one of them!