Second year Major Projects – John Yorke (by Philip Jones)

John Yorke is a creative genius and a master of the art of dramatic writing.

John was Head of Channel Four Drama and then also Controller of BBC Drama – responsible for shows like Shameless, Omagh, EastEnders, Casualty and Holby City to name but a few. Before going on to become Managing Director of top drama indie, Company Pictures, in 2013.

So it is a very great honour and privilege to have John as our tutor and master for the second year of the MA Dramatic Writing course at Central St Martins.

John’s text Into The Woods is a classic masterpiece on dramatic storytelling craft and structure

Part fairytale historian, philosopher and story analyst – John combines these skills in his great work that sketches the dramatic writing craft by tracing it’s form from ancient myth and fairy tale and combines these with Constructionist cinema and Jungian Psychoanalysis to create the essential craft guidebook for any budding drama writer whether for stage, or screen.

So in the first lesson John like an express train takes us through the 25 fundamental points of dramatic writing, and shows this with some great clips from East Enders, the one that really struck home for me in particular was the Mimesis, ‘show not tell’ scene created by Tony Jordan for EastEnders where Nigel has to tell his step daughter Clare that her mum has been run over by a car and is dead.

Rather than a big over written climatic scene, we watch as Nigel, sitting in a car waiting for his step daughter, says, ‘how am I going to do this’, and then walks over to her and we observe him from a distance tenderly sitting her down to tell her.

Simple and sweet, a classic scene; no dialogue and all action; a perfect example of show not tell, for me.

At the end of the first class we are each given a classic fairytale story of four pages. As our first exercise we must convert this into a concise paragraph re-setting it instead as a modern parable.

I had the Ugly Duckling and changed it to the story of a mid-life crisis man who is dumped by his wife, and so the second part of this exercise is to the consider the fairytale against ten key dramatic questions: the fundamentals; Whose Story, What Do They Need, What Is The Inciting Incident, What Does The Character Want, What Obstacles Are In The Character’s Way, What’s At Stake, Why Should We Care, What Do They Learn, How And Why, How Does It End.

John tells us if we can answer these questions well, then we may have our film.

This is such a vital piece of dramatic craft structure; whether you are writing a script, for the stage, radio or screen.

So we are here to learn dramatic writing he explains and adds that many people will say you can’t teach someone to be a writer.

We may not yet possess all the skills, knowledge, wisdom, combined with the ideas to write our pieces exactly in the most professional way; but no doubt what John is imparting to us now will be very instrumental; powerful and vital tools that will help us structure and test out our script development and writing work.

Being one who was also told at least a couple of times when I was considering taking up a place on the course, ‘you can’t teach someone to write, you either can, or can’t’, I feel now more confident to be able to say, yes you may not be able to show and teach someone how to write a great work, but what I can say most affirmatively is you can equip writers with the most essential craft tools, skills and knowledge, but then the graft-  the application, the focus, the need and the creative genius stuff – will be down to them.

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