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Into The Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them Paperback – 3 Apr 2014
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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)
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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First the god things: Yorke obviously understands his topic and is able to discuss it at length and in depth. His experience in TV scriptwriting shines through and his real life exmaples are ilutsrative and incitedful.
On the minus side: He is verbose and feels quite opinionated. He will make a point; then again, and aagain, and again, almost as if constant repetition reinforces his poin. If this repetition were removed the book would be substantially shorter. At times the writing is obscure and obtuse and, althugh it was understandable it made the reading tougher. For a professional writer, I would have expected him to make his work clearer and more accessible. It was almost as if he wrote in a more 'erudite' style to give the work a gravitas it did not achieve.
The problem takes the protagonist to a new environment (literally or metaphorically); opponents may be ‘internal’ (psychological) and external; there will be reversals/ surprises/ turning points (at least two: a ‘call to action’ and a ‘realisation of consequences’, spaced around the mid-point); there may be episodic sub-goals, with sub-problems and sub-reversals using the same structure; even individual scenes follow the same setup-to-conflict-to-crisis pattern (but the first and last of these can be implicit in earlier or later action, so sometimes the scene is only the conflict).
The protagonist has a flaw and changes, which means their eventual goal may change too; but nonetheless they use their new knowledge at the final climax which resolves the original problem (or, rarely, the flaw leads to tragedy);
These structural claims are the key part of the book. But it also contains sections on: showing not telling; using psychological theories in characterisation; making the most of characters’ facades; using dialogue that tells the viewer important background (without being obvious about it); and more. And there are interesting analyses on things like the structure of TV series (where characters have to have forgotten what they learned the previous week), and the issue of why humans tell stories in the first place.
The book nods to various forms of high culture every so often, but most examples are from TV and Hollywood films. The style is somewhat buttonholing, but I was won over by the writer’s enthusiasm and wide-ranging intellectual curiosity. There are quite a few sentences like ‘We are all identical – yet we are all different,’ but often I was just beginning to speed-read when a really sharp sentence or idea brought me up short. I liked the idea of narrative structure as dialectic, for instance… It was a good read and I guess possibly useful for writing synopses and doing early structures on what’ll happen in your screenplay…