Year Two, term two – John Yorke blog (by Julie Zheng)

Before the course I has read the book Into the Woods and what it struck me is this seemingly too systematic and strategic approach towards storytelling. Despite it does mirror some of the best stories that can be told, I found the process of digging into the subconscious is thrilling, scary and rewarding in the end.

At the start of the class, we were given a classic fairy tale story, (mine was Three Little Pigs), we were asked to analyse their structures behind, and apply the structures in our own inventive story to see how that goes. I did a draft idea featuring a mother and three daughters’ story, that the mother is the haunting wolf that’s been knocking doors and coming back to the daughters for reconciliation. Due to the lack of characters and limited time frame I was unable to accomplish them. Hence, I switched the story to a more personal one protagonist story that I am more familiar about later on.

We started by writing a paragraph of the story, encapsulating the excitement of having the stories’ final pitch vision as the start, then we broke the story line into five paragraphs, each paragraph featuring an act and telling the act in less than 200 words. Though the words were minimal, the homework involved in planning and thinking through the stories was immense.

The five act and fifteen sentences are structured in the following way:

Act 1: No Awareness – Limited Awareness – Awareness

Act 2: Reluctance to Change – Overcoming reluctance – Committing

Act 3: Experiment pre-change – Big Change (Mid-point) – Experiment Post Change

Act 4: Consequences – Doubts about change – Final Choice

Act 5: Re-dedication to Change – Final Attempt to Change – Mastery

So in a way, that every full lengths story can be told in 15 sentences, and we will roughly know the essence of the plot and see the skeleton of the story. The fifteen sentence practice sends me off to imagine what can be the next step for every act, and usually the counter reactions and consequences of the decisions a person made in the past will come back to unfold for the next step.

I found this process really helpful, and in addition to that, we have the questions that keeps us focused on the protagonist, and never lose focus on the protagonist is the drive of the story, and every attention and antagonism should be forced into him/her.

At first, I was skeptical, because of the original way of thinking would be, what is the story I want to tell and just start from there. But when I started to dissemble my original story idea into 15 sentences that’s aligned to the five act structure, I was surprised at how simple it is to identify the skeleton that’ll be able to support the whole story.  I’ve done the similar structure analysis on Whiplash, Gone Girl, Interstellar and other classic films, and I was hooked by how mysteriously they are well aligned in the creative structure of the film. Even though I soon established an incurable addiction towards analyzing all films by using five act structure, and I’ve driven my friends crazy by sitting alone for an hour after watching a film, I think it’s worth it to understand the structure deeply so I can apply it into all forms of story telling. As if  this is a golden elixir of telling compelling stories.

And an interesting thing is about how that five act structure is being applied in the reality. As I am progressing in my personal world, I am able to identify what time might be the time that symbolize a turning point, what time is the worst point, which point is the point of no return, and what time should that chapter end. Despite the fear that I am perhaps over complicating my life and using all the characters in my real life to analyze their behaviors and decision-making patterns, I enjoy the process of learning and thought that applies to our subconscious brain. I gained insights about myself and re-shaped myself as a protagonist of life as a journey, and constantly the question of what do I want, and what do I need is at the same level driving me forward to take actions. Leveraging the dramatic writing techniques of protagonist and antagonist, I somehow managed to identify the life’s real problem,

Every expert was once a beginner. And as John Yorke’s five act structure puts it, it all starts from the status of “No awareness”, and it will end with the “total mastery”. I sincerely wish everyone who has read the book can enjoy the thrill of seeing their accumulations of researches and sketches well slotted into every single stage of the story planning. And I am looking forward to producing the first film.

No matter how quickly we want to follow our imaginations, we will always find out, sadly, that reality doesn’t happen as fast as imagination.

P.S.  Amazon Studio’s software can have the story planning well mapped out in little boxes, and it’s really helpful for beginners to use. It’s free and for everyone to use.

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