Why It's Always the Same Old Story

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SCREENWRITING Into the Woods By John Yorke Particular Books Pounds 16.99

Books about how to write for TV and film are ten-a-penny, and all too often outlandishly prescriptive: character A must experience incident B on page 12 and the like. John Yorke's entertaining read, while useful as a lesson in screenwriting, has a higher purpose: by presenting a convincing hypothesis that all narratives, from The Odyssey to The Killing, share a single, unifying structure, he seeks to explain why stories are written as they are.

First, he has to cover the basics. A former Channel 4 head of drama and controller of BBC drama production, Yorke has the pedigree to offer his own thoughts on these matters, but he draws on sources from Aristotle to Aaron Sorkin to show us such building blocks of story as protagonists, forces of antagonism, inciting incidents, crises, and climaxes.

All the while, however, he returns to his central question: why is there a consistent narrative pattern - of thesis, antithesis, synthesis; of flaw, challenge, resolution - whether we are watching a drama, a documentary, or reality TV (and yes, X Factor holds to the same configuration as Hamlet)?

Spoiler alert: Macbeth murders Banquo; Jason Bourne learns the truth; Michael Corleone shoots the police chief. And what connects these moments? Yes, they are climactic, but they also happen almost exactly halfway through. …