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Review: “Into the Woods” by John Yorke

This profound and practical book may be the penultimate work about story structure you’ll ever need (I’m working on a new reference book that could conceivably count as the last).

“Into the Woods” opens with a comprehensive, historically-sweeping and impressively concise overview of the evolution of story structure in Western civilization that ranges from classical and obscure authors to current film and TV. Yorke also presents a compelling argument that Freytag, Joseph Campbell and all the Hollywood screenwriting gurus* are all orbiting the same fundamental story template which Yorke boils down to:

1. Home
2. Woodland, Day
3. The Forest
4. The Road Back, Night
5. Home Again, Changed

Yorke has an Englishman’s erudition, breadth of knowledge and an articulate style of writing (and thinking) that Americans can only drool over. “Into the Woods” is also witty. I particularly enjoyed Yorke’s teasing Charlie Kaufman’s rejection of ‘traditional structure’ coupled with clear demonstrations of all the ways in which Kaufman’s ‘alternative’ structures follow the standard template exactly.

Yorke incorporates many excellent quotes too. I particularly enjoyed: “A neurosis is a secret you don’t know you’re keeping” (from critic Kenneth Tynan) and “Oh darling, [structure is] just two or three little surprises followed every now and again by a bigger surprise.” (from literary agent Peggy Ramsay).

The book deals with every major issue of story and character including the importance of the midpoint (in two-dimensional, three-dimensional and multi-protagonist modes!), the difference between three-act and five-act structure, psychological theories and the ‘change paradigm’ for characters from House to Hamlet, with many stops in between – plus Appendices that include a structural breakdown of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, “Hamlet” and “The Godfather” and an awesome comparative chart of screenwriting ‘gurus’ (which is even more comprehensive than mine – see Comparative Narrative Story Structures Charted!).

The knowledge contained and distilled here isn’t just theoretical either. Yorke is a producer and BBC executive who has been involved with at least two of the best TV shows in recent memory, the beautifully funny and extremely moving original UK version of “Shameless” and the absolutely gripping modern reboot of Jekyll & Hyde, “Jekyll”, plus many more BBC productions.

“Into the Woods” has already been published in England. The American edition drops May 29 http://www.amazon.com/Into-Woods-Five-Journey-Story/dp/1468308092/

More about Yorke: www.profwritingacademy.com/

* If you’re interested in other story structure formulations, you may also want to see my post, the Story Structure Countdown.

2 comments on “Review: “Into the Woods” by John Yorke

  1. lauradionjones
    May 25, 2014

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This entry was posted on May 24, 2014 by in Books, Review, Story Structure and tagged , , .
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