Story for Documentary & Unscripted TV

The course

Discover why some factual stories resonate with audiences worldwide — and how to fix those that don’t.

Whether you’re making documentaries, format shows, podcasts or corporate videos, this online professional development course trains you to recognise the structure underlying all successful factual stories.

Over seven weeks learn the essential elements every story needs, how to identify them in your research and ideas, and how to shape the material you’ve shot to find a story that will connect with commissioners and audiences alike.

You’ll study in a small group of fellow script editors with an expert tutor.

At the end you’ll emerge with increased confidence in judging story ideas, pitching original ideas, finding the essence of a story, and with practical fixes for problematic stories.

Meet your course director

John Yorke

John Yorke is widely acknowledged as the UK’s foremost expert on story, and his book Into the Woods is the bestselling book on the subject in the UK. John’s worked on some of the world’s most lucrative, widely viewed and critically acclaimed TV drama, from EastEnders to Shameless, Life on Mars and Wolf Hall.

In partnership with John Yorke Story

Accessible, industry-focused CPD training and consultancy for professionals at any stage of their career. Online learning led by BAFTA-winning John Yorke, author of bestselling book on story structure Into the Woods.

CPD accreditation

This course has been independently accredited for integrity and quality. It reaches globally recognised CPD standards and benchmarks for active learning that develops professional skills, competence and career aspirations.

How it works

We give you the theory in the form of videos, podcasts, written lectures and reading extracts. In the case of our live workshops, this includes a live online seminar.

You put it into practice by completing the writing assignments.

You share your work with the small group of fellow writers and the teaching team.

Your tutor and fellow learners read your work and give professional-style feedback on your submission. Giving feedback notes helps to build your skills as an editor - a critical part of the writing process.

You reflect on the exercises with the group and share what you’ve learned.

You use what you learned from the feedback and discussions to review your work and improve it.

Things to know

This CPD training, developed with John Yorke and Peter Dale is for individuals and organisations looking to develop a practical understanding of the mechanics of good factual storytelling.

It’s suitable if you:

  • Are involved in producing factual content (producer, director, AP, researcher, editor etc.)
  • Develop online factual marketing content for organisations
  • Want to learn how to plan and structure factual programmes
  • Would like to master five-act story structure and learn the framework underlying all successful stories
  • Need to discover why your factual stories aren’t working — and how to fix them
  • Would like to upskill your pitching

Each course is divided into sessions. These sessions are released one by one (weekly or fortnightly, depending on the course). 

There’s no need to log on at a set time. You can work through the learning materials whenever suits you, day or night, wherever you are in the world. Just complete the assignments and join forum discussions by the session deadline. 

Our teaching method is based on the science of active learning: you read/listen/watch, try out, share and reflect. It’s a social experience – you become part of a small group, feeding back on each other’s writing to build a supportive bunch of readers you trust. Find out more here.

Over seven weeks your tutor will guide you as you develop a range of creative, practical and critical skills essential to creating successful factual stories.

At the end of the course you’ll receive detailed written feedback on your pitches to evaluate your idea and handling of story techniques, plus advice on where to take your ideas next.

We teach this course in groups of up to 15 people. You can book as an individual, or you can block-book a class for your team. All participants who successfully complete the course will receive a certificate of completion evidencing their study hours.

You’ll need to be in a position to dedicate at least 2 hours per week for the duration of the course.

Session 1: Introduction to Storytelling – We start by thinking about the grammar of storytelling, the essential elements every story needs – and why this matters as much in factual as in dramatic stories.

You’ll find out why a factual story needs an active protagonist, and how to use a character’s wants and needs and emotional journey to establish empathy with your audience.

Session 2: Building Blocks – In the second session we build on the basic building blocks of the archetypal story to lay down the blueprint underlying all successful stories.

You’ll look at how to use inciting incidents in factual stories – and ways to pay them off later in the narrative – and why you need to make the stages of a factual story clear to reward your audience. You’ll also practise summing up a factual story in a single sentence.

Session 3: Essential Storytelling Tools – This session is about being able to see whether a story works – how to ‘break a story’. You’ll start by learning the 10 key questions to ask any story, and experiment with three-act structure. You’ll look at a story brief for an existing factual series, decipher why it’s not working, and rewrite it.

By the end of this session you should be able to deconstruct any factual story and will also understand the three key documentary models.

Session 4: Five-Act Structure – In this session we break down a story into five parts and look at why this is such an invaluable tool for storytellers in all formats.

You’ll look at putting obstacles in the way of your protagonist to keep an audience engaged, and why every great factual idea will change the way we view the world.

Practical exercises include writing a plan for factual story in five parts. You’ll practise selling a story in five short paragraphs.

Session 5: Developing Your Own Stories – In this session we look at how to distil an idea to its essence before packaging it into a professional pitch.

You’ll think about classic documentary story shapes and frames, and how to pitch a story when you don’t know what will happen in ‘real life’.

You’ll practise writing a billing, giving a pitch the extra colour it needs to make an impact, and communicating the essence of a story – and your passion – to someone who knows nothing about the idea.

Session 6: Pitching Your Own Stories – Finally, we step into the world of pitching and commissioning, looking at everything that goes into the moment when you can finally pitch your story and try to convince a commissioning editor, exec or client to back your idea.

John offers his top tips for checking whether your story is as good as it can be, while Peter lays down the do’s and don’ts of pitching. At the end of the session you will submit two short pitches for factual ideas, and receive written feedback notes from your tutor.

The online classroom closes at the end of Session 6, but you will have the option to continue working with your peers in a specially created course alumni area online. This includes an archive of your course materials, forums to continue posting work for review, and a network of alums who have completed our courses.

Join our alumni

After your course, you can join our online alumni community where you’ll meet our growing network of past students. You’ll be able to.

  • Rejoin your classmates in a private forum
  • Continue to access an archived version of your course materials
  • Meet alumni from other courses and share work for feedback
  • Join discussions about screenwriting, script editing and the industry
  • Attend live chats with guest writers and industry folk

Mentoring and one-to-one feedback

The John Yorke Story tutor team offer mentoring, script reads and reports. We are happy to quote by job or script, or to arrange a longer mentoring scheme as you work on a specific story idea. We’ll create a package to suit you, so for more information please email [email protected]

Taking things further

If you’d like to take another John Yorke Story course, we’ll give you a discount. Please get in touch for more details.

This course has been made possible by the support of ScreenSkills, and has been approved as part of an informal or formal continuing professional development (CPD) programme.

You may be eligible for a training bursary for this course. Apply direct to ScreenSkills here, at least FOUR WEEKS before the course start date.

As this counts as CPD training, you may also be able to get funding from your employer to do it. See here for all John Yorke Story’s latest bursary and funding opportunities.

The team

Meet your course team

John Yorke

Narrative expert

John Yorke is widely acknowledged as the UK’s foremost expert on story, and his book Into the Woods is the bestselling book on the subject in the UK. John’s worked on some of the world’s most lucrative, widely viewed and critically acclaimed TV drama, from EastEnders to Shameless, Life on Mars and Wolf Hall.

More about John Yorke

Emma Millions

Emma Millions

Story and Pitching

Emma has been a development producer for multiple broadcasters and independent production companies alongside writing for the likes of Ant & Dec, The Chuckle Brothers and the director Ken Russell. She teaches screenwriting at several film schools and is passionate about finding the perfect format for every individual story.

More about Emma Millions

Ben Southwell

Ben Southwell

Directing Factual

Ben Southwell has been a Series Producer and Director of prime time factual programmes for almost thirty years.

More about Ben Southwell

Tim Mercier

Documentary maker

Tim was a prolific director on EastEnders for 15 years, before going on to develop the multi-award winning autobiographical, part-animated documentary film, Model Childhood, which led him in new and thrilling non-fiction film storytelling directions. Tim has just completed a major experimental documentary project with the patient/clients of a Mental Health Trust in north London, and continues to develop other short and long-form documentary, narrative film and TV projects.

More about Tim Mercier

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