Don't reinvent the wheel, says John Yorke at Future Fiction

John Yorke John Yorke made a convincing argument that all stories are essentially the same

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'Let no play be either shorter or longer than five acts.'

These words were written by Horace, an ancient Roman poet, around 8 BC.

Although they were written thousands of years ago, their modern resonance was the subject of a session at the BBC Academy's Future Fiction event on Monday.

The aim of the sessions was to explore how the web and other new technologies are affecting traditional storytelling.

John Yorke, the man once in charge of EastEnders, led a workshop in the bowels of Broadcasting House for about 25 people who wanted to learn more about writing for television and film.

The workshop, called Into the Woods, came down to one premise: all good stories are essentially the same.

This might be a crushing fact for those who shun the formulaic. The message is, don't - you'd be better off following some simple rules.

Yorke's argument is that all narratives - whether it's Lord of the Rings or a reality tv programme like The Apprentice - have one thing in common: thesis, antithesis and synthesis. To put this in simpler terms, a flaw, challenge and resolution.

'All stories are a quest, where the protagonist has an objective,' Yorke posits.

Tame the world

The former controller of drama production also believes that human beings continually 'render facts into a narrative structure'.

News outlets do this every single day. The death of Margaret Thatcher was one such story that news organisations tried to make sense of, with thousands of words written about the former Prime Minister and her legacy.

Yorke explains that this is one example of how 'we create stories in order to tame the world' around us. Without doing this, there would be chaos and confusion - a world which would be 'too terrifying to contemplate'.

Hamlet vs Bond

It might sound a bit like a university lecture, but the theme of the session was not overly complex.

If you're thinking of writing a script, introduce a flawed protagonist, give him a mission, throw in an incident that makes him question the world or himself, give him a final battle and then a resolution.

Halfway through, without fail, the hero (or heroine) will reach a point of no return.

If it's a tragedy, the protagonist will ultimately lose the battle or his life. One famous example is Hamlet. In a James Bond film, the hero will always get the girl. If you're watching The X Factor, the winner will get a lucrative recording contract.

Yorke knows what he's talking about. A former head of the BBC Writers' Academy, he's systematically studied everything from Shakespeare to Beowulf with a sprinkling of Jaws.

He puts forth his argument in a new book with the same title as the session he led: Into the Woods.

Hopeful screenwriters could do worse than have a read of it.

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