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 written, but none of them ask 'Why?' Why do we tell stories? And why do all stories function in an eerily similar way? John Yorke has been telling stories almost his entire adult life, and the more he has done it, the more he has asked himself why? Every great thinker or writer has their theories: Aristotle, David Hare, Lajos Egri, Robert McKee, Gustav Freytag, David Mamet, Christopher Booker, Charlie Kaufman, William Goldman and Aaron Sorkin - all have offered insightful and illuminating answers. Here, John Yorke draws on these figures and more as he takes us on a historical, philosophical, scientific and psychological journey to the heart of all storytelling. What he reveals is that there truly is a unifying shape to narrative - one that echoes the great fairytale journey into the woods, and one, like any great art, that comes from deep within. Much more than a 'how to write' book, Into the Woods is an exploration of this fundamental structure underneath all narrative forms, from film and television to theatre and novel-writing. With astonishing detail and wisdom, John Yorke explains to us a phenomenon that, whether it is as a simple fable, or a big-budget 3D blockbuster, most of us experience almost every day of our lives.
Yorke's book is yet another attempt at understanding how storytelling works. While doing so he criticises his predecessors for their lack of depth of view (rather unsurprisingly: it's a typical way of justifying one's own work). His ambition in this book is to give some "scientific" (he talks about the "physics of storytelling") or at least explanatory arguments to the structural patterns of storytelling.
His enquiry contains a few very interesting elaborations on structure symmetry: stories often can be split in the middle and the two segments (from beginning to midpoint and from midpoint to end) present symmetrical patterns. He also expands on the idea that story shapes have a fractal design: each scene in a play displaying the same pattern as the acts or as the whole play, etc. Too, he makes a few interesting comments about characters and characterisation: the conflict between their “want” and their “need”, between their “facade” and their “flaw”, and so on. He finally insists on explaining why we tell stories, and gives a few possible reasons, the most convincing one being that they are essential to our cognitive process and to our need to instil an orderly pattern into the frightening and ever changing chaos of reality.
When talking about actual storytelling structure, things get a bit muddy however. As it is known, the fundamental structure that is advocated by most former screenwriting "gurus" since at least Syd Field is that of the three acts (exposition - complication - resolution). York, however, starts out trying to vindicate the old Roman convention of a five acts structure. To support this argument, he borrows examples from Shakespeare, oddly forgetting that the divisions of Shakespeare's plays in five acts are the doing of posthumous (sometimes ill fitting) editorial decisions. And, in conclusion, he concedes that the five acts division equates the three acts division, the essential aspect being that they both have an exposition, a mid-point, a crisis, a climax, a denouement. Better still, the three acts division borrows from the waltzed mouvement of Hegelian dialectics, founding principle of the way we structure the world (perhaps even principle of how the world is structured?). Nothing new under the moon…
Yorke finally implies that these “physics of storytelling” can be applied universally to all stories… I wish! This idea clearly comes from the fact that almost all his examples are from movies, TV dramas and performing arts, which in many cases are, indeed, conventionally (explicitly or implicitly) broken into three or five parts (sometimes with a couple of intervals for the audience and the performers to rest). It could well be the case that the structural “iron laws” of storytelling expounded by Yorke and a few of his predecessors apply to mainstream cinema and TV serials. But they sound a bit too prescriptive to be true, and they would have needed to be crash-tested against a wider corpus of literary examples, especially from poetry, novels, even history.
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.
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 with years of experience working in television—pours the light of his knowledge into the dark corners of story writing for us to see, and most important, to understand the significance of variation in stories and how these differences shape narratives in film, theater, and novels. Soon, given the universality of storytelling structures, it becomes clear that these patterns, these structures, must grow out of some kind of neurological basis. And such are Yorke’s conclusions. He sets out to explain what these universal structures are and, perhaps most importantly, to answer the question of why stories work the way they do. However, faithful to Yorke's distrust of writing gurus with magic formulas, this book is less an instructional manual than a guide, carefully exploring the possibilities and recurring ideas of story through an extended metaphor of entering then leaving a forest.
For all the density of its content it’s remarkable, and worth mentioning, how readable this book is. It flows easily and draws you along like any good story should, making for a compelling tale, appropriate for anyone who tells stories or is fascinated by them.
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 out of those who, perhaps through some notable success, appear to have found a foolproof 'system'. Writers with great talent but equally crushing self-doubt are all too ready to buy into such cults but consider this: if there was a foolproof system, every book would be a bestseller, every movie a smash hit.
As Yorke points out when discussing Nassim Nicholas Taleb's studies, it isn't past blockbusters we should focus on. Every game-changing book, film or work of art is a Black Swan; something no one saw coming or had ever conceived of before. That's why they're ground-breaking. Trying to reproduce the Black Swan phenomenon is impossible because each one is unique.
Into the Woods does so much more than tell you how to write or 'succeed'. It's about the principles of story, their bedrock, their natural shape and their purpose. It's a book that, rather than hold you to hard and fast rules - no matter how reassuring such rules might seem - will set you free into the realms of story.
By doing what you already do best and loving every minute of it, you cannot help but bring the stories only you can tell to life. I think that may be what Mr. Yorke is telling us and I'm grateful for his message.
Putting all this aside, the book was beautifully-written, told its own unique story and oozed fascination from every page.
If there's any artistic logic or justice in this world, Into the Woods is destined to join the classics of writing theory.
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.
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 films (but then it did make me think more deeply on them than perhaps I ever have); some of what he comes up with I was unconsciously aware of but hadn’t given much thought to; while some of it genuinely made me look at things in a new light. And it isn’t it great when a book does that? When it challenges your preconceptions and makes you examine them again closely. Even if you come to the conclusion that the book’s stated theory doesn’t chime with your own thinking, it’s fantastic to go through that process of really considering an alternate view and not lazily agreeing with some opinion you probably last considered at the wise old age of seventeen.
If you’re looking for a book that tells you simply and straightforwardly how to write a screenplay, this isn’t for you – but it is still incredibly useful at a more primal and pure than that: a book to make you examine story, which does it in such a way that makes you examine and re-examine any story you’ve ever read and seen. It makes you examine and re-examine any story you’ve ever considered writing. So whereas it’s not a Ten Point Guidebook, it is a book that’s there to teach – you can tell that by the way the same points are hammered home again and again and again – and the lesson it has is a useful one thoughtfully conveyed.
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 a pretty good job of saying the same old things, but with an intriguing fresh eye. The book is cleverly structured - as the title tells you - as a five act story. This is a nifty trick; because it has a narrative arc it's a very easy read, not at all dry or academic despite being highly informative. Most fun was his concept of 'fractal structure'. A three-act story is pretty much the same as five-act or seven-act because it's all the same template, just cut up in different ways. An act has the same structure as a scene has the same structure as a beat etc. It's all the same three parts: exposition, conflict, resolution. If you're writing acts then the resolution introduces new tension which is then the start of your next act and so on. Even avant-garde and experimental works that reject this structure depend on it. You can't deconstruct what isn't first constructed.
Focusing mostly on film and television, I think it's still very insightful for novelists, or indeed poets. And interesting for anyone who likes stories (and who doesn't like stories?).
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.)
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 proposed (interesting but the gold mine of the first chunk). I will read this book again and again.
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 "rules". And to say Lady Macbeth is the antithesis of Macbeth is daft. What about Banquo, Macduff and even the king?!
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 examples, from all forms of entertainment involving the written and spoken word, Ridley Scott’s film, Thelma and Louise, being only the most prominent. To give it a touch of academic credibility he chucks in a bit of Jungian and 'pop' psychology here and there and talk of universal 'archetypes'.
But this isn’t brain surgery or even rocket science: the same impulse that drives us to see what is over ‘the next hill’ is that which drives us to find out who killed Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick – the need to know; we are curious creatures! And when that impulse becomes engaged by a well written conflict set-up our brains demand a conflict resolution: hence Act 1 - conflict set-up; Act 2 – crisis; Act 3 - conflict resolution.
And it could have made for an interesting exploration in a ‘wetter’, shorter, more engaging and less repetitive book. If I hadn’t already seen Thelma and Louise I doubt very much if the reading of this book would have compelled me to do so!
Oh, and the paperback has a horrible plain black cover that is faintly repellent to the touch.
Great guide on closing the gap between you and everything that is not you. Storytelling - born from our need to order everything outside ourselves. A story is like a magnet dragged through randomness, pulling the chaos of things into some kind of shape and - if we're very lucky - some kind of sense. Every tale is an attempt to lasso a terrifying reality, tame it and bring it to heel.
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 (maybe they're even 'fake facts'?) The author's insistence that none of the gurus / quacks have a monopoly on 'truth' is surely correct - though I did keep on thinking that he had a not-very-secret liking for Jung. Maybe I should re-read some Jung? Sadly, though, much of the text felt like a jumble of (often name-dropping) anecdotes or illustrations of the authors (undoubted) erudition. This was actually very useful for me. I'm writing something that mixes narrative - a story with developing characters - and science / fact bits. I've been worrying about how to meld them together. And I've learnt that I'm right to be worried. I'm going to have to do better than Yorke!
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 helpful for me, and I think it could be for so many other writers truly trying to understand and find freedom in structure.
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 was an experience of constant deja-vu.
This book is sooooo good. It took me time getting through the material because it's so analytical. I read quite a few other On Writing books while I read this one; they all had something great to say, but in my opinion they just didn't compare to this one. John Yorke does a great job breaking down important components of story, but he also gives theories on WHY those components are important. I can't tell you how refreshing that is. There are so many writing gurus that throw out theories but don't give you explanations to back them up. I also really loved what Yorke had to say about Writing Gurus who try to make their way the only way. This is definitely one of my top 5 On Writing books I recommend serious writers read. I especially recommended the last 100 pages. (Uch, looking through the book now, and I have a crazy amount of highlights.😂😂😂)
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 cornerstone for not only how we live in, codify and order the world around us, but as the essential tool for empathy, kindness and, therefore, our very humanity. Where other writing books offer instruction, this offers inspiration - not just to write, but to live.
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.
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.
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, antithesis and synthesis. The protagonist or world is in a state, he/she/it is confronted with a problem and as a result you have new protagonist or/and world.
Think about what makes a good film. Exceptional actors? It contributes. Decent cinematography? Also helps. IMAX? Certainly not. It’s the story, of course. Try watching To Kill A Mockingbird, Chinatown, City Of God and Transformers. You’ll see what makes them great stories. I really hope you frowned in the last recommendation.
Hip-hop music is now the most popular music genre in the world. I argue that one of its success factors is that you can fit incredible narratives inside each rap song. Think Stan, Dear Mama and C.R.E.A.M.
Storytelling is pretty much everywhere in our everyday lives. For example, it can help you write a better CV. Make it super descriptive and run the risk of sounding like every other candidate. Tell a story about an initiative that you took in your last job which brought a certain result and it can really stand out.
Stories are the reason we meet up at the pub. They allow us to heal from the past and rehearse for the future. They even help us write better Instagram captions. Storytelling is a lifeskill that changes our perspective on how we see and tell our own experiences. Into The Woods will give you a good kickstart on it.
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 novel. Yorke makes the usual comparisons with myths, legends, folklore and contemporary drama, delving into Homer and Greek legend to explain the enduring nature of narrative, and, by comparison, the success - or failure - of all modern storytelling, from The Godfather to Eastenders, with wonderfully concise yet detailed chapters on developing plot details and making your characters work. I truly recommend this to anyone looking for a really good introduction to this subject - far easier to read and digest, imo, than the usual, fashionable recommendation of Joseph Campbell's 'Hero with a Thousand Faces'.
Reading Into the Woods by John Yorke for the second time. As the subtitle states, "How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them." I'm this go round to be worthwhile so far. I'm on page 123. Now finished reading Into the Woods for the second, possibly third, time. It's a very helpful book explaining how to write a story.
Jag läste den här som kurslitteratur vilken bland annat innebar att jag inte läste den i kronologisk ordning. Istället läste jag de kapitel som var relevanta för tillfället och avslutade med att läsa de kapitel som jag inte läst när jag behövde boken till kursen.
Det gjorde också att jag inte läste kapitel 1 först, vilket faktiskt är en fördel. Yorke framstår som väldigt pompös i början där han mer eller mindre säger att han är den enda som har kompetens nog att skriva en sådan här bok, och att alla andra böcker är skräp.
Huruvida alla andra böcker på ämnet är skräp kan jag (och vill jag) inte uttala mig om, men det är tydligt att Yorke kan sitt hantverk, och jag hade stor behållning av de kapitel som hörde ihop med den kurs som jag läser. Särskilt delarna om dialog.
En nackdel, för mig, var att mycket av texten var fokuserad på tv-serie och filmer, och särskilt då serier som jag aldrig sett (exempelvis Eastenders som jag inte sett ett enda avsnitt av, och faktiskt inte är särskilt sugen på att se heller) och rent generellt är urvalet väldigt brittiskt. Men, exemplen fungerar ändå och tydliggör hans exempel.
Jag skulle säga att boken är mer inriktad på de som skriver manus än vi som skriver skönlitteratur, och som någon som mest skriver Fantasy så saknade jag exempel från "min" genre, men det är fortfarande en bra bok för den som vill lära sig mer om skrivande. I slutänden blev det så att jag valde att köpa den här boken efter att jag läst den, eftersom jag känner att den är ett bra referensverk att ha tillgängligt. Däremot kommer jag nog aldrig läsa om hela boken, och den fungerar sämre att läsa pärm från pärm.
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 and need stories anyway? One suggestion is that it reassures us by helping us to create order out of the random chaos of existence but other ideas are explored too. I would have liked a bit more on the oral origins of story telling and some enlightenment about non-western traditions but this was a wonderfully educational book for me. Perhaps it could be for you too? In case you're interested, here is a link to a podcast interview with the author:
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, but that it's a fundamental part of the human mind. In other words, our ancient myths fit the same structure because it's the way human minds have always made order of things we learn. "A story is like a magnet dragged through randomness," he explains.
This was an entertaining read, peppered with enlightening anecdotes from Yorke's illustrious career at BBC and drawn from his wide familiarity with novels, plays, movies and television programs. He does goes a bit overboard with this at times - completely lost me when he tried to point out the same archetypal structure underlies Jackson Pollock and Mondrian.
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 Louise, The Godfather, Hamlet, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, The Wire, Eastenders, Cinderella, and even Grand Designs. Yes, Reality TV is storytelling with cheaper actors. Worth a read, and a re-read. Bears comparison with my other favourite book about books and storytelling, Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots.