John Yorke: Story for Screenwriting

Image by laszlo zakarias from Pixabay

Last week I finished the John Yorke course on screenwriting. It was a great course for taking you from a basic to advanced level of screenwriting theory. John's particularly emphasis is on the hero's quest format, using a rising and falling journey, a 5 Act Structure and a detailed procession of changes for the character. Of course, there are many films that don't follow this format but it's revealing how many of the most critically and commercially successful: Jaws, Godfather, Cars match the template.

The course required about a day's work per week of which half is watching movies. I'd recommend buying the movies on DVD at the start of the course: the three above plus Fabulous Baker Boys, Terminator 2 and Aliens (Special Edition). This means you won't fall behind. There were four or five of us on the course along with a tutor and moderator. We had video interviews with John describing each module of which there were about 8. There was also text with assignments. 

We got good feedback from our peers and the tutor. The moderator kept us on track for time. I found the reviews of films enjoyable and the creation of completely fresh stories tough but fun. I struggled with the editing tasks e.g. taking an episode of Eastenders and making it better. I find it hard to work with boundaries that are too tight.

For the final project, we had to produce a five Act treatment on four pages. Luckily, a chance converstation led to an idea and I wrote the document over a couple of days. I used John's 3D map of change to produce 15 touch points for the protagonist. This framework creates a rich character that moves forward and back emotionally through the story. As these changes are usually (or always) linked to actions, it provides a useful method to drive the plot. I do think you could also create a plot and then fit the charcters change through it. 

I'd certainly recommend the course for it's content, which was varied and highly detailed. It went at a fair pace, so make sure you get the videos in early. I found that on my SVODs, they were not always available or expensive. The online system is a little clunky in places, I often found it difficult to know where I was or was skipping around. Sometimes I also felt that the assignments were not always scored on what we'd just covered but on knowledge we'd not yet been given. A few more peers would have been good but I always had two pieces of feedback so I was happy. The course is expensive but if you want something more than a day (£50-100) or a 10-week evening class (£200-400) but less than a year (e.g. MA) it's a great option at £900.