I’m reading Into the Woods, A Five Act Journey into Story by John Yorke. Yorke is Managing Director of a UK independent film producer (Wolf Hall among others). He’s been Head of Drama at Channel Four and Controller of Drama Production at the BBC. This is a man who understands Story.
So far I’m up to page 3 in the Introduction, and already I’m excited.
The quest to detect a universal story structure is not a new one. From the Prague School and the Russian Formalists of the early twentieth century, via Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism to Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots, many have set themselves the task of trying to understand how stories work. In my own field it’s a veritable industry – there are hundreds of books about screenwriting (though almost nothing sensible about television). I’ve read most of them, but the more I read the more two issues nag away: Most of them posit completely different systems, all of which claim to be the sole and only way to write stories. How can they all possibly claim to be right? None of them ask ‘Why?’
Why? I’ve never seen that question addressed before. I’m reading on, and I’ll be reporting here.