Story for Novelists: Advanced Structure

The course

Master narrative and apply the secrets of successful screen storytelling to your novel.

You can spend months drafting a novel. But if the structural bones aren’t in the right place, it’s unlikely to hook readers or agents.

This course will teach you the principles of dramatic storytelling as used by screenwriters, adapted to suit the novel form. You’ll learn how to tap into the narrative blueprint underlying all successful stories to transform your approach to novel-writing.

Based on the story fundamentals in John’s bestselling book Into The Woods, this is an intensive six-month dive into story structure, and how to use it to construct a novel. Find out how to stop your middle from sagging using five-act structure, how to set up a compelling protagonist from page one, and why character change should be at the heart of every scene you write. 

You’ll write or rework the first 8–10,000 words of your novel and assemble your plot brick by brick, while developing the editorial know-how to identify story holes and fix them. There are live sessions with John and guest authors, including writers who have successfully adapted their work for TV and film.

Story for Novelists is an advanced-level course, ideal whether you are starting a new novel, partway through a draft, or looking to restructure an idea that’s not working as well as it could.

Entry via application, to ensure you get the most out of the course. For bursary information, please see our Things to Know section below. 

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.

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

Story for Novelists is an advanced level course, ideal whether you are starting a new novel, partway through a draft, or looking to restructure an idea that’s not working as well as it could.

The course is suitable if you:

  • Know there’s something wrong with your novel structurally and don’t know how to fix it
  • Would like to dig into the mechanics of constructing a plot or learn how to fix story problems 
  • Want to get a new novel idea right from the start, to save time rewriting and editing 
  • Are intrigued by novel adaptations and would like to make your novel more optionable for TV or film
  • Would like to develop new effective writing habits and routines, and take yourself more seriously as a novel writer
  • Enjoy the discipline of deadlines and peer feedback
  • Want to join a friendly and supportive small group of learners
  • Can dedicate 7-10 hours per week for the duration of the course.

To get the most out of the course, if you’re starting a new novel, we recommend you have at least a rough outline at the start of the course. 

Our asynchronous training’s taught 100% online in small groups with a designated tutor and moderator on-hand throughout. Sessions are released 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.

This course allows you to:

  • Understand the blueprint underlying all successful stories, and how to apply it to your novel
  • Pin down an effective structure and at least the first 8–10,000 words of your novel
  • Sharpen your character development, plotting and pace 
  • Gain a toolkit of practical skills for spotting story problems – and simple ways to fix them
  • Further your understanding of professional expectations around genre, market and the publishing landscape
  • Hone your selection, development and realisation of imaginative and effective ideas
  • Further develop the professional skills novelists require (e.g. discipline, attention to detail, ability to work to deadlines)
  • Practise giving effective feedback to other writers and receiving critical notes
  • Build greater independence, autonomy and critical judgement as you self-direct, self-manage and realise your project to the course briefs.

In each fortnightly session you’ll learn to read like a writer, analysing extracts from key authors to get under the bonnet of the novelist’s storytelling and sharpen your technique. You’ll also read and respond to the work of your peers in every session, following our critiquing guidelines, to hone your judgement and editorial skills.

Session 1: What is a Story? – Discover the eight essential ingredients every successful story needs. We’ll look in detail at the first three building blocks: your protagonist, their desire and how to set up effective forces of antagonism from the outset of your story. Meet your fellow novelists and introduce the novel idea you’ll be working on to the group and tutor. For those starting the course without a set idea, we’ll do some practical ideas generation. At the end of the session, you’ll introduce us to your protagonist, and we’ll watch a TV drama with a prompt sheet, to spot great character set-up. Live group webchat with your tutor.

Session 2: The Bones of Your Story – Building on the essential building blocks, we’ll look in detail at the journey you’ll take your protagonist on, exploring your inciting incident and how to guide readers stage by stage through your story to its climax and resolution. You’ll share an outline synopsis with the group, and use John’s screenwriter template to express your story idea in a sentence, to test its skeleton. We’ll watch a canonical film together with a prompt sheet, to spot the elements of a perfect story in action. 

Session 3: Laying Foundations – In this third session you’ll try out the screenwriter’s technique of ‘breaking a story’ into its constituent parts, questioning the different elements of your story using John’s formula to diagnose which need more attention. By the end of this session you should be able to deconstruct any story, spot common story holes, and know what to do to fix them. We’ll also look at novel openings, and think about how to best introduce your protagonist to your reader. You’ll share your opening pages with the group (up to 2,000 words) and receive tutor feedback as an MS mark-up. We’ll watch the opening of a film with a prompt sheet, to think about successful beginnings. Live group Q&A with a guest author.

Session 4: Thinking in Three Acts – Uncover the role of the act in storytelling, and what the Hollywood model of beginning, middle and end can offer novel-writers. Think about the turning points in your story, and how they help you order your thoughts and generate drama. How will you use this story DNA in your novel? You’ll share your story in three acts with the group. We’ll watch a short three-act film with a prompt sheet.

Session 5: The Secrets of Five Act Structure – Now you’ve cracked your beginning, middle and end, we’ll streamline your storytelling and help you exert more control over the middle of your narrative by dividing your story into five acts. A look at the importance of obstacles – internal and external – and how to create five acts by focusing on particular moments in your character’s journey which show them changing. Map out your story in five acts to share with the group. We’ll watch Jane Eyre and Inside Out with a prompt sheet, to pinpoint the five acts and show that this is essentially the same story. Live guest Q&A with a screenwriter.

Session 6: No Going Back – We’ll turn to the exact middle of different novels and look at what happens there. And find out why pinpointing your midpoint is such a valuable storytelling tool. Why this moment of no going back for your protagonist is so vital for audience-engagement, and how to use that to power through to the end of your story. Identify the midpoint of your story and share that passage with the group. We’ll watch One Day with a prompt sheet, to look at midpoint construction. One-to-one with your tutor to discuss your novel and progress so far.

Session 7: Building With Scenes – Introduces the basic building blocks of acts – scenes – and their properties. What every successful scene needs, and how to sequence them to progress a story, build tension and vary pace. Discover your secret narrative superpower: fractal storytelling. Map the scenes in your novel, and share a scene where something small changes. We’ll watch scenes from The West Wing and Fleabag with a prompt sheet. Live group webchat with your tutor.

Session 8: Writing for Your Reader  – Why you need to turn your reader into a detective to keep them reading on – whatever genre you’re writing in – and how to do that using scenes, and John’s Roadmap of Change. Learn about the different types of cliffhangers from the best screenwriters out there, and how to create chapter endings that are surprising yet totally plausible. Think about your reader’s genre expectations and what you need to do to meet them. We’ll watch some classic cliffhangers with a prompt sheet, to analyse the different ‘cliff’ techniques.

Session 9: Show Not Tell  – What you can learn from the screenwriter to help readers connect the dots and paint pictures in their own heads. Dramatising information, and how to write dialogue that drives a story forward. Try out the Kuleshov Effect and learn from Alfred Hitchcock on how to avoid unnecessary exposition by focusing on dramatic need. Work on a passage of dialogue to share with the group. We’ll watch a cop show with a prompt sheet, to look at clever ways of imparting information through dialogue. Live guest Q&A 

Session 10Editing and RewritingA session focused around John’s basic rules of narrative structure, with his top tips and checklists to work through when editing and rewriting. From ways to ‘get your hooks in early’ and defer gratification, to advice on maintaining reader empathy and working out the theme or ‘big idea’ of your story. You’ll revise a chapter to share with the group. We’ll watch a recent novel adaptation with a prompt sheet. 

Session 11: Quiet Writing Time – This is a four-week session focused on private writing time as you prepare to submit the first 8–10,000 words of your novel and synopsis for tutor review. The forums are open for discussion and peer support and critiquing. We will host a live Writers’ Room group session at the midpoint of this month to help you work on common stumbling blocks: wants and needs, passive protagonists, setting up adequate forces of antagonism, showing character change in scenes.

  • You can write as much of your novel as you would like during the course. But at the end of the course we invite you to submit (up to) the first 8–10,000 words of your novel (from the start, not selected excerpts) for tutor feedback.
  • On finishing the course you’ll have everything you need, (synopsis, polished 8–10,000 words based on expert feedback and one-to-one guidance), to move onto the Finish a Draft: Advanced Skills course or Edit Your Novel course.

Feedback on the course

Your tutor will not give you written feedback on your novel in every session. The tutor will give feedback at set points during the course on your progressing novel idea, synopsis and prose. This takes different forms at different stages of the course, including a one-to-one Zoom tutorial, notes on your manuscript, written notes or group tutorials. These will be outlined by your moderator at the start of the course.

You will read and respond to at least two of your peers’ submissions in every session of the course, as directed by your tutor and following our critiquing guidelines. In turn you will receive peer feedback in each session of the course.

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.

Underrepresented Voices in Fiction bursary (in-house) – We are committed to helping encourage more diverse talent on the publishing scene, and offer two bursaries covering 50% of the fees for each cohort of the course to writers from underrepresented backgrounds, including minority ethnic groups, working-class, writers with disabilities or chronic illnesses, LGBTQ+ and other communities that have been historically underrepresented in UK publishing.

To apply, fill out the course application form on the John Yorke Story website and select ‘yes’ to the bursary option. Please note that the bursary deadline is 4 weeks before the course begins.

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

Joanna Nadin


Dr Joanna Nadin is a former government speechwriter and special adviser to the Prime Minister. Since leaving politics, she’s written more than 90 novels for children and adults.

More about Joanna Nadin

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