Particular Books £16.99
Review: Into the Woods, By John Yorke
Why it's always the same old story
Saturday 06 April 2013
Books about how to write for TV and film are ten-a-penny, and all too often outlandishly prescriptive: character A must experience incident B on page 12 and the like. John Yorke's entertaining read, while useful as a lesson in screenwriting, has a higher purpose: by presenting a convincing hypothesis that all narratives, from The Odyssey to The Killing, share a single, unifying structure, he seeks to explain why stories are written as they are.
First, he has to cover the basics. A former Channel 4 head of drama and controller of BBC drama production, Yorke has the pedigree to offer his own thoughts on these matters, but he draws on sources from Aristotle to Aaron Sorkin to show us such building blocks of story as protagonists, forces of antagonism, inciting incidents, crises, and climaxes.
All the while, however, he returns to his central question: why is there a consistent narrative pattern – of thesis, antithesis, synthesis; of flaw, challenge, resolution – whether we are watching a drama, a documentary, or reality TV (and yes, X Factor holds to the same configuration as Hamlet)?
Spoiler alert: Macbeth murders Banquo; Jason Bourne learns the truth; Michael Corleone shoots the police chief. And what connects these moments? Yes, they are climactic, but they also happen almost exactly halfway through. Similarly, Yorke points out, crises come two-thirds of the way into a piece, and plots offer a mirroring configuration: in The King's Speech, for example, first George VI makes a dreadful speech, refuses to talk to anyone, and rejects the help of Lionel Logue; and in the final act, he seeks out Logue, insists he has a voice and makes a brilliant speech.
Time and again, these constructions present in such a systematic way that it cannot be dismissed as serendipity. So what's going on? Yorke's conclusion is far from new: that story structure is driven by a need to make sense of the world. Yet 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.
Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The BBC has just done more to eradicate ‘terrorism’ than all our wars since 9/11
- 2 Dog thinks owner is drowning in lake, dives in and tries to pull him out
- 3 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 4 Chilling drone footage captures Auschwitz ahead of 70th anniversary of liberation
- 5 Narendra Modi: Indian Prime Minister wears suit with pinstripes that spell his name to meet Barack Obama
Ed Sheeran texts Noel Gallagher to offer him tickets after that Wembley Stadium rant
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
Taylor Swift banned from Triple J Hottest 100: Fans react to epic #Tay4Hottest100 defeat
Mortdecai becomes Johnny Depp's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Last Tango in Halifax, review: Can we ever really move on from Kate?
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd
Leaked documents show Ukip leaders approve NHS privatisation once it becomes more 'acceptable to the electorate'