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Into The Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them [Paperback]

John Yorke
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 April 2014
We all love stories. But why do we tell them? And why do all stories function in an eerily similar way? John Yorke, creator of the BBC Writers' Academy, has brought a vast array of drama to British screens. Here he takes us on a journey to the heart of storytelling, revealing that there truly is a unifying shape to narrative forms - one that echoes the fairytale journey into the woods and, like any great art, comes from deep within. From ancient myths to big-budget blockbusters, he gets to the root of the stories that are all around us, every day.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (3 April 2014)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0141978104
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141978109
  • Product Dimensions: 15 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 8,052 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Brimmingly insightful ... fresh, enlightening and accessible ... a gripping read from beginning to end (Robert Collins Sunday Times)

Terrifyingly clever ... Packed with intelligent argument (Evening Standard)

So detailed and engaging is his methodology that any consumer of books, plays, TV or films will find the experience enhanced; and scriptwriters themselves will find useful guidance - because when you know the why, the how is natural (Robert Epstein Independent on Sunday)

This is a marvellous analysis of screenwriting and, with any luck, should help a great many people achieve their dreams (Julian Fellowes, writer/creator of Downton Abbey)

Another book on screenwriting! Oh, how I wanted to hate it! I didn't. I loved it. Much of it was fresh to me. And always interesting, always intelligent and, for a writer, always rewarding (Jimmy McGovern, screenwriter, The Street and The Accused)

In an industry full of so called script gurus and snake oil salesmen, at last there's a book about story that treats writers like grown ups. This isn't about providing us with an ABC of story or telling us how to write a script by numbers. It's an intelligent evaluation into the very nature of storytelling and is the best book on the subject I've read. Quite brilliant (Tony Jordan, screenwriter, Life on Mars and Hustle)

Even for a convinced sceptic, John Yorke's book, with its massive field of reference from Aristotle to Glee, and from Shakespeare to Spooks, is a highly persuasive and hugely enjoyable read. It would be hard to beat for information and wisdom about how and why stories are told (Dominic Dromgoole, Artistic Director, The Globe Theatre)

This book is intelligent, well written, incisive and, most of all, exciting. It is the most important book about scriptwriting since William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade (Peter Bowker, screenwriter, Blackpool, Occupation and Eric & Ernie)

Part 'How-to' manual, part 'why-to' celebration, Into The Woods is a wide-reaching and infectiously passionate exploration of storytelling in all its guises ... exciting and thought-provoking (Emma Frost, screenwriter, The White Queen and Shameless)

Into The Woods is an amazing achievement. It has a real depth and understanding about story, a fantastically broad frame of reference and it's interesting and absorbing throughout. Full of incredibly useful insights, every TV writer should read the first chapter alone (Simon Ashdown, series consultant, EastEnders)

Testing the adage that "in theory there's no difference between theory and practice but in practice there is", this is a love story to story -- erudite, witty and full of practical magic. It's by far the best book of its kind I've ever read. I struggle to think of the writer who wouldn't benefit from reading it -- even if they don't notice because they're too busy enjoying every page (Neil Cross, creator/writer of Luther, Crossbones and writer of Dr Who, MI5)

Books on story structure are ten a penny but Mistah Yorke's is the real deal (Kathryn Flett)

All script-writers will want to read Into The Woods. All plots and archetypes BUSTED (Caitlin Moran)

Got to say Into The Woods by John Yorke is marvellous. The prospect of another screenwriting book made me yawn, but its terrific ... It's a great read, wise and cogent, and a must for all screenwriters (David Eldridge)

A mind-blower ... an incredibly dense but very readable tome about the art of storytelling ... Really worth a read (Lenny Henry The Independent)

I don't always enjoy books on writing, but Into the Woods by John Yorke is brilliant on story structure. (Ken Follett, author of 'The Pillars of the Earth')

In his brimmingly insightful, stimulating study of how stories work, Yorke compellingly unpicks how a whole range of films, plays, novels and fairy tales all display the same archetypal structures . . . His book, in telling scores of stories in such a fresh, enlightening and accessible manner, is a gripping read from beginning to end (Sunday Times)

The best book on the subject [of storytelling] I've read, tells us everything we need to know about it. Yorke's analysis is superb (London Evening Standard)

Yorke sets out to analyse the patterns behind storytelling, explaining why the fundamentals of narrative have remained the same from Aristotle to Aaron Sorkin. A great starting point for anyone wanting to create a story (Stuff Magazine)

I've just read a book about professional writing which has genuinely helped me. It's for those who are serious about avoiding bad 'How To' books and want to raise their game, and it's more intelligent than most of the others. John Yorke's Into The Woods: How Stories Work And Why We Tell Them is a genuine game-changer and has helped me put past bad habits to rest (Christopher Fowler, Author of Bryant and May)

Into The Woods is utterly brilliant (Ed Cumming Daily Telegraph)

About the Author

John Yorke is Managing Director of Company Pictures, the UK drama independent producing Skins, Shameless, The White Queen and Wolf Hall. For many years he's been responsible for a vast array of British drama, as both Head of Channel Four Drama and Controller of BBC Drama Production. In 2005 he created the BBC Writers Academy, a year-long in-depth training scheme which has produced a generation of successful television writers. He's also worked as Editor of The Archers. John is Visiting Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars flawed 22 Aug 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
It is worth noting that, for a book about writing, written by a writer, for writers, Into the Woods is incredibly badly written. And I do mean just awful. The author adopts the tone, throughout, of an enthusiastic but hopeless missionary, trying to explain the holy trinity to a skeptical savage. Every sentence is so identical to the preceding one, each paragraph is the same as the last, so that eventually you have to read everything twice, just to extract the information from the sentence, because the cumulative effect is so boring. The book is so repetitive anyway, that you aren't sure if you've read this sentence before, or if you've just read one like it, or just feel like you have. Also irritating, in a book of this kind, is the personal opinions of the author being presented as fact, usually in the form of annoying assertions, like, 'Tarantino's achingly clever screenplay' or 'Jimmy McGovern's brilliant depiction of...' Let's all agree that value judgements are subjective, but that some things seem to be more popular for some reason. Let's work out why.

As for the content, it is varied. The book is about film and television writing exclusively. The author's ideas on story structure are interesting, and convincing in places. The book begins with an analysis of the parts of a screenplay, which offer quite little that is new to existing students of story structure, although the author goes perhaps further than others in believing that stories are broken down into parts that mimic the whole, in a process that the author likens to fractals in nature. In other words, he is an extreme structuralist. I found the author's explanation of structure, despite his dreadful prose, to be quite lucid, and insightful at times. Much to agree with and disagree with.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars FIVE STARS 14 April 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
THIS IS A BRILLIANT BOOK . A Must Read for writers and compulsive for anyone passionate, interested or involved in storytelling .
It is wonderfully written , erudite, clear, entertaining and full of love for the medium with excellent examples and ideas .
I know a bit about writing.....thirty odd years in the business ( WAKING THE DEAD) and I've read a few books on the dark art of making it happen . And this is by far the best .
And I say this having thought no one would ever better Robert McKee's "Story".
I especially loved the section of series and serials and the evolution of that and simply haven't read anything as intellectually and creatively interrogatory of Television .
No one can teach you to write but this is the sort of book which helps you convert what you half knew or thought you knew into applied practice .
At whatever stage there will be something both practical and inspiring for you . A book you can return to again and and again when you need to begin, to refresh or a kick start.
And for producers, directors, and writers of all fiction this is the map of the woods where story happens at its highest level.

Written for grown ups by the man who knows.
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37 of 48 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Snake Oil 9 April 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is a disappointment.
Relentlessly repetitive, it takes five acts to describe a one-scene story.
A harping, irritating prose style forever exclaiming how 'simple' and 'clear' things are, and forever promising some great insight into storytelling yet delivering bland obvious-isms. And the same ones over and over and over again.
If you've ever wondered how British television drama became thin, bland, predictable in its patterns and empty of idiosyncrasy or living characters, it could just be that this one man, John Yorke, is responsible... and now he wants everyone else to know how to do it.
More annoyed than I otherwise might be because of the claims the publicity makes that this is something different. Well done Yorke/Independent, you got 10 out of this sucker.
It's a cynical, massively padded, repetitive, strident, dull, pale, thin ghost of Booker's Seven Basic Plots from which, as far as I can tell, it takes a very great deal.
Seriously terrible, and not to be taken seriously by anyone who loves beauty, depth, idiosyncrasy or originality in their stories.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Purchase for Screenwriters 10 April 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I'm lucky enough to have attended John Yorke's lectures in the past, and this book is as inspiring and clear as he is in person. Comprehensive, wide-ranging, iconoclastic, and admirably clear-eyed, this makes dramatic structure feel logical and instinctive. It consolidates all of the theories and approaches to dramatic structure - from Aristotle to Joseph Campbell to Blake Snyder - into one, simple, absolutely persuasive story shape. This is an intelligent and extremely well-written book which also has the merit - unlike every other book of this kind - of being written by someone who is not just an excellent theorist, but an actual current practitioner; John Yorke has made hundreds of hours of TV and is still working at the heart of the industry. I cannot recommend this book strongly enough.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Structural Straightjacket 8 May 2013
By The Wolf TOP 100 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The premise that stories have an archetypal structural underpinning is hardly
a new one. Carl Jung's thoughts on the existence of a "collective unconscious"
were well mapped-out in the early part of the last century and remain tantalising
despite their somewhat romantic assertions. Jung of course claimed an empirical basis
for his research and John Yorke seems affected by the same delusion when it comes
to the central thesis of his book 'Into The Woods : A Five Act Journey Into Story'.

Mr Yorke starts from a position of certainty with regard to his proposal that all
stories conform to a structural (and immutable) foundation of three and/or five "acts"
and subsequently spends the best part of three hundred pages laboriously repeating his
hypothesis until we are numbed into submission. In many ways, however, his narrative
seems opposed to what truly makes the difference between good writing and great writing :
imagination, spontaneity and innovation. The limitations of such an overwrought and
reductive model are ultimately stifling. A five thousand word essay would have sufficed.

As a refreshing alternative do read Bruce Chatwin's marvelous book 'The Songlines' (1987).
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Into The Woods & Onto the Bookshelf
Incredibly readable and totally credible. Quite simply, a 'must own' for anyone interested in Storytelling.
Published 5 days ago by F. Perillo
4.0 out of 5 stars Once upon a time in a wood near you
This is a book about stories and how they are constructed. Specifically, it is about what makes a good dramatic story for film and TV programmes. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mac McAleer
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
Really interesting book. Well structured and informative. Arrived unmarked and is now well annotated and has lots of markers in.
Published 1 month ago by Helen Barclay
5.0 out of 5 stars If you only buy one book on story structure - get this!
As someone who has been writing novels for that last thirty years, I found this a worthy successor to those story structure masterworks by Joseph Campbell and Christopher Booker. Read more
Published 1 month ago by John Joyce
4.0 out of 5 stars Essential
Essential for any you and aspiring writer, or creative. Opened my eyes the world of stories and script writing. A must read
Published 2 months ago by Tarrick Benham
5.0 out of 5 stars 5-act, 3-act structure for novels, films, and how stories work
Well written and mostly accessible, this is an interesting and informative read. Mostly not heavy, but has its moments. If you write fiction, read this book.
Published 2 months ago by Deb
5.0 out of 5 stars Top Class!
Constructive and precise it like having all the screen writings answers in the palm of your hand.

Best 10 I've ever spent.
Published 2 months ago by Jp
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading
Clear, concise and compelling. Possibly the best book on screenwriting and storytelling ever and currently one of my favourite books
Published 3 months ago by Leslie A. Lee
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing and insightful
There is not shortage of screenwriting self-help books online, and yet each seems to offer similar advice all told in a sort of cloying, annoying, pally tone. Read more
Published 3 months ago by treesponge
5.0 out of 5 stars great book about story structure
A great book about structure and the meaning of art. Some wonderfully inspirational sound bytes, and lots about movies, too .
Published 3 months ago by Caroline Lawrence
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