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Into the Woods: A Five Act Journey Into Story

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  2,490 ratings  ·  262 reviews
Into The Woods is a revelation of the fundamental structure and meaning of all stories, from the man responsible for more hours of drama on British television than anyone else, John Yorke.
We all love stories. Many of us love to tell them, and even dream of making a living from it too. But what is a story? Hundreds of books about screenwriting and storytelling have been wri
Paperback, 256 pages
Published April 1st 2013 by Particular Books
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Gemma Hoyle While John Yorke valiantly attempts to break storytelling down to its fundamentals in terms of actually teaching you about the craft itself I would ha…moreWhile John Yorke valiantly attempts to break storytelling down to its fundamentals in terms of actually teaching you about the craft itself I would have to hands down go with McKee. 'Story' is just packed with information whereas 'Into the Woods' falls a bit victim to the vagueness it denounces. That's in no way saying it's not definitely worth reading though. I would recommend both! They're currently my top two go-to books on the subject.

Even though Yorke is at sometimes vague I especially like how he puts emphasis upon how when it comes to writing about narrative theory there's a lot of guff to wade through as well as about 101 different snake oil salesman all trying to peddle their own variations on story structure. With his invaluable personal experience he helps to give some clarity to it all.(less)

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Leonard Gaya
Jan 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
John Yorke is a British TV producer. His book is in the same vein as Syd Field's Screenplay, McKee's Story, Vogler's The Writer's Journey or Snyder's Save the Cat!. These books are essentially screenwriting handbooks, which try to surface and elucidate the hidden structure of storytelling. This sort of research however can be traced back to Campbell's studies on myth, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Propp's Morphology of the Folktale and first and foremost to Aristotle's attempt at describing ho ...more
Sep 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
The stories we choose to tell, and the ways we choose to tell them, speak who we are and how we understand our role in this world, or so Yorke tells us in his wonderful "Into the Woods: A Five Act Journey Into Story."

This book surely shed some light on my understanding of how stories work. Best of all, all the knowledge and wisdom Yorke bestows on us comes in the form of great, funny, engaging examples taken from the books and movies we all have read and watch.

Yorke—professional screenwriter wi
Joseph D'Lacey
Apr 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
With Into the Woods, Yorke has performed a service to every writer on the planet.

Personally, I found it uplifting and liberating because it encouraged me to do what has always worked best: following my own quiet, but deeply held instincts about what and how to write.

It's so easy to be swept away by creative self-doubt and the fear that, just because you're not a 'big name' in fiction or film, your work isn't good enough. That insecurity sells every 'how to' manual ever written and makes gurus ou
Aug 27, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
Like many such books that seek to provide a universal theory of narrative, Into The Woods is only able to do so by proposing one so abstract that almost any story can, when tortured enough, be said to fit within it. The author then has little left to do but repeat the same points over and over, until the reader is hypnotised into accepting the supposed genius of this system, or gives up. I chose the latter.
John Martin
Jun 15, 2018 rated it liked it
I've put this book aside after reading about 10 per cent of it. It came highly recommended, but it's a bit too academic for me. That's my failing, not that of the author who comes with a long list of achievements. The thing is I have other books on my TBR list and I need to do some culling. I've given the book three stars but remember that's only based on 10 per cent of the book! Greater minds than mine rate it much more highly. ...more
Renee Godding
Sep 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Review to come
Jan 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
It is fascinating to read John Yorke break down story to its core elements; stripping away plot, dialogue and motivation – and all other artifice and decoration – to really examine what makes stories work. Yorke pulls away at the very concept: working out how one particular component functions; then yanking away some more and examining another aspect; before holding it up to the light again and so on.

Some of what he comes up with I already knew as, I think, would most consumers of books, TV and
Nick Imrie
Feb 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, writing
How to structure a story is a topic that's pretty much been covered. It's all just footnotes to Aristotle, right? In fact, it's been so covered that there are a great many writers who indignantly swear that they won't be constrained by stuffy old prescriptions on how to structure. You'll notice those writers are still writing pretty well structured stories - almost as if it were an inevitable consequence of how humans understand the world and not just a bunch of arbitrary rules. ;)

So Yorke does
Liz Fenwick
Jun 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I have said before that the right 'writing craft' book has a way of falling into your hands when you need it. I bought Into the Woods two years ago and it has sat on the shelf. Last week I picked it up and each page has provided me with clear insight in the story writing process. For the novel writer I would say that the first 2/3s of the book is the more useful but all of it is clear and interesting. The later third of the book, particularly the summing up is more about defending the theory pro ...more
May 27, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction, theory
Meh. Much filler. Wow. Very reachings. Such vapid.
(And I like JY's actual stories, too! And the overall 'learning your craft won't kill your yoonique special snowflake genius, honestly' direction is one I'm totally behind. But lord what a philosophically hollow, cobbled-together disappointment of a book.)
May 16, 2013 rated it it was ok
Most people should be aware that, as humans, we love a good story: the success of W.H Smiths, champions of the ‘yellow backs’, and Amazon attest to that fact and what the author has done here, is to trace the development of the story through history from Aristotle to the present day. He is an experienced TV producer and should know his subject inside out. He illustrates his thesis, which, basically is that all stories conform to a three act structure (even those written in five acts) with exampl ...more
Oct 01, 2013 rated it it was ok
For a book partly about how to write, this is very poorly written. There are far too many grammatical and other errors, including sometimes simply the wrong word used.
There are some interesting points but some of them are very obvious (eg you need conflict for a dramatic scene to work, well yes!)
Some of the points don't work at all, especially the analysis of Waiting for Godot and the film No Country for Old Men. Both these two works are ground breaking precisely because they DON'T fit the "ru
Book: three stars
Swedish translation: zero stars
Jul 30, 2017 rated it liked it
There are some good points about writing great stories in this book.
I especially liked the ideas about acts and even scenes acting as fractals of the structure for the whole piece. And I think that the concept of the first and last acts functioning well as mirrors for each other is good too. The phrases 'rubber ducky moment' and 'jumping the shark' are fun - and these concepts are, clearly, to be avoided.
The 'graphs' though add nothing other than, perhaps, some impression of pseudo-science (may
Brandon Will
Oct 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: on-writing
This is hands down the best book I've ever read on story and structure. The guy is a maniac with encyclopedic knowledges of where structure comes from, how it's evolved, what that means, how it can be used. He's absorbed McKee and Murdock and Field and Campell and pretty much every other writing guru you can name -- for anyone who also consumes that stuff, it's fun on that level alone, his insights into these various schools of though, and playing them off each other. This book was majorly helpf ...more
May 13, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Interesting treatise on how stories work and how they are built. Useful in terms of offering insight and terminology for someone like me who obsessively watches TV shows and occasionally dabbles in academic Film Studies.
My biggest complaint is that this book was really, really repetitive. Ironically, Yorke makes the claim that the constituent parts of movies etc. mirror each other and repeat the same patterns, like in a fractal. The same can, unfortunately, be said for this book, as reading it
Mary Catelli
Sep 08, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: how-to-write
Pretty standard analysis of story elements, covering areas that I have seen covered in others. Takes an unwarranted pose of superiority to other such books
Tom McInnes
Jul 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
I've read a bunch of these books over the last 15 or so years and this is probably the best written, most entertainingly referenced and generally easiest-going. The five-act structure isn't anything like as revelatory as Syd Field's 'sequences', but what sets this one apart is its final chapter. Where other books of this ilk usually conclude with a section on how to format or package up your screenplay to get it bought, this one reframes everything discussed in previous chapters as basically the ...more
Apr 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
A fascinating and well researched book into the how and why we tell stories. You don’t need to be budding writer or media student to appreciate Yorke’s insights into the world of narrative structure and what makes a good story work. A great read for an inquisitive soul or avid readers alike.
G.M. Burrow
Oct 04, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: film, writing
Meh. You can’t write about “why we tell stories” and leave out God. The most credit Yorke gives God is to say “oh, God used to be the story we told ourselves to explain stories, but we outgrew him.” Hogwash. So the whole point of the book fails. As for the mechanics of story structure, characters, and dialogue, I’ve read numerous better books about each. Yorke is stuck up and blind and wordy.
Vin Gardner
May 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Stories are the backbone of what we love and believe. They make us fall in love with people, characters and brands. They allow us to understand the past, comprehend the present and give us a hint about the future. Most importantly, stories instigate emotion. They’re the stuff of life. Into The Woods by John Yorke gives a deep understanding of what stories are all about.

Stories aren’t about providing a moral lesson at the end or teaching something. Stories are about change, transformation. Thesis
Maya Panika
Sep 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
As former Controller of BBC Drama and head of Channel Four Drama, John Yorke knows his stuff, and he makes a great case for thinking of narrative in Shakespeare's five - rather than the currently almost ubiquitous - three act structure. He sold me on the concept: it's radically altered the way I think about the way stories work.
This is, as you'd expect, a very well written, highly readable, academic book about creative writing and story structure that reads as easily and entertainingly, as a nov
David Kerslake
Jul 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book was recommended to me by a friend and so I downloaded a kindle sample to see what it was like. I was soon hooked. It was so interesting to read about the points of similarity that occur in the structure of all stories in books, film and on TV. I can't say it was anything I'd paid any attention to before, so the whole thing was something of a revelation to me.
My favourite Chapter was 22 which has the intriguing title 'Why'? Why do these structural similarities exist and why do we want a
Jan 21, 2021 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: storytellers
There have been many books that attempt to draw a connection between modern storytelling structure and archetypal myths. What BBC producer John Yorke sets out to show us in Into the Woods is how all stories share the same underlying shape - from The Epic of Gilgamesh to reality TV programs. Apparently all the writing and story structure gurus are essentially teaching the same model.

According to Yorke, the reason this model keeps appearing is not that our story structure is influenced by myths,
David Evans
Jul 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
My son will only read non-fiction books. he asks, “What’s the point of novels?” The answer is in this non-fiction book. We need stories in order to make sense of, and come to terms with, the awful reality of the world. The way that seemingly disparate tales can be broken down into their component parts, beats, fractals which are then amplified and multiplied to become scenes, acts and satisfying stories is expertly argued and accompanied by insightful examples from works including Thelma and Lou ...more
Brian Kohl
If you're interested in narrative structure or any other academic element of storytelling, you can skip Christopher Booker's SEVEN BASIC PLOTS, Snyder's SAVE THE CAT, and all the creators who say story structure is for saps, and go straight to Yorke. In classic narratologist style, he one-ups everyone else by explaining why they actually were saying what he's saying. But I think he's correct. A well-researched labor of love, and all the more entertaining because it comes from the dubious source ...more
Jul 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Inspirational. I've looked long and hard for a book on story that isn't a "how to" but a why - and this is it. This won't tell you how to write a screenplay or novel, but it will help you to understand why people tell stories and what those stories mean psychologically. It tells you why we need them. And in doing so it will help you write any story in any way - even non-traditional narratives like journalism or documentaries. For John Yorke they are all part of the same human hunger for meaning ...more
Michal Sventek
Jun 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A must-read for anyone interested in story structure and storytelling, especially those who've encountered Joseph Campbell before and would like to learn more, from the practical standpoint. Yorke goes through many examples and cites all the interesting authors who've already touched the topic - he's well read and experienced. It shows. You'll get much more than just your money's worth if you go with this one. 5/5 ...more
Ellie Carr
Jul 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
A wonderfully clever and well informed book, littered with references to TV and film to give arguments some substance, including some classic Eastenders quotes. The later sections of the book are probably the most enjoyable, as Yorke begins to hit upon the truth universal to both stories and people-when you stop changing and growing and simply stagnate, you're finished. ...more
Nov 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
The great thing about this book is how its author, instead of going down the same superstitious path as Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung and alike, refrains from trying to find some supernatural explanation for the story structure. Instead, he discusses how the patterns and story arcs that can be found in fiction and myth follow a logical course, and consequently are natural byproducts of rational chains of cause and effect. An enlightening book for anyone who is interested in fiction and storytelling ...more
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