John Yorke Story: Story for Documentary & Factual

Learn how story structure works for factual TV, apply that to your work, then pitch your documentary and factual format ideas to John Yorke and Peter Dale for feedback

Are you working on a TV documentary, but struggling to find and shape the story? Maybe you have an idea for a factual show but you don’t know where to start? This seven-week course, run with our partners at John Yorke Story, will introduce you to the principles of story structure, as set out in John Yorke’s bestselling book, Into the Woods. You’ll see why some factual stories resonate with audiences worldwide — and why some don’t. You’ll apply different story-structure techniques to documentaries and factual formats. Finally, you’ll learn how to apply the theory when pitching original ideas for factual TV to commissioning editors.

UK Screenskills Bursary Funding Opportunities

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.

As this is a professional development course, you may be able to get funding from your employer to do it. All participants who successfully complete the course will receive a certificate of completion evidencing their learning and study hours.


Start date: 14 February 2022
Duration: 7 weeks
Skill level: Intermediate, Advanced
Session length: Weekly
Sessions: 6
Price: £900 (inc. VAT where applicable)

Course Director
Course Director

We’ve developed Story for Documentary & Factual Content to help anyone who works in factual television understand how and why basic storytelling principles work. Whether that’s in factual entertainment, formats, rig shows or straight ob docs. The course is also ideal for in-house production teams, freelance documentary video producers, or anyone producing factual online video content. We teach this course in groups of up to 15 people. You can book as an individual for the group course, and production companies can block-book a dedicated class exclusively for their teams. This is a professional development course and so you may be able to get funding from your employer to do it. All participants who successfully complete the course will receive a certificate of completion evidencing their learning and study hours. The course is suitable if you:

  • Are involved in producing factual programmes, including producers, directors, APs, researchers, editors, and even executive producers
  • Are developing online factual content for businesses, charities and other organisations
  • Are new to factual TV and want to learn how to plan and structure your programmes
  • Would like to master story structure
  • Want to learn how to see the underlying framework behind all stories everywhere
  • Need to discover why your factual TV stories aren’t working — and how to fix them
  • Want to gain the confidence to create your own programmes
  • Would like to find out how to write a professional pitch
  • Are looking for a CPD (Continuing Professional Development) course
  • Want to join a friendly and supportive group of learners
  • Can dedicate 5-7 hours per week for the duration of the course

Whether it’s The Great British Bake-Off, 24 Hours in A&E or Storyville, all factual programmes share an underlying structure. This course teaches you the secrets of that structure and how to apply it to your work.

There’s a balance of theory and practice but in each session you’ll work through highly practical exercises based on programmes everyone knows — from Grand Designs to Oscar-winning documentaries, and classic television formats like Faking It and The Apprentice.

Your tutor will teach you the building blocks you need to write a compelling narrative and fix broken stories, and guide you as you write two short pitches for factual programmes. You’ll work within a supportive community with Peter Dale and John Yorke on-hand to answer your questions and give you feedback on your pitches at the end of the course.

Session 1: Introduction to storytelling
We start by thinking about the grammar of storytelling and the essential elements a story needs, and look at what happens in dramatic storytelling before assessing why that’s relevant to factual TV.
Session 2: Building blocks
We build on the basic building blocks of the archetypal story, examining structural form in more detail and looking at the relevance to factual formats and programmes.







At the end of this session there is a Q&A with John Yorke.

Session 3: Essential storytelling tools
You’ll learn how to ‘break’ a story to see if it works, learn the 10 key questions to ask every story, and experiment with three-act structure. By the end of this session you should be able to deconstruct a story and will understand the three key documentary models.
Session 4: Five act structure
In this session we break down a story into five acts and look at why this is such an invaluable tool for storytellers working in all formats. Practical exercises include identifying turning points and midpoints and rewriting a factual story in five parts.

At the end of this session there is a Q&A with Peter Dale.

Session 5: Developing your own stories
We start by looking at how to make sure your own original factual stories work in a truly dramatic way. You’ll work through the process of distilling a story to its essence before learning how to package it into a professional pitch.
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 try to convince a commissioning editor 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 dos and don’ts of pitching.

At the end of the course you’ll submit two short pitches for factual programmes, and receive written feedback notes from your tutors.


We teach this course in our online classroom, which is open 24/7 so you can fit learning around your work, family and friends. You’ll work in a small group of learners so you can discuss ideas, ask questions and share your writing as you progress through the weekly sessions.

You’ll learn from:

  • Short podcasts from John Yorke
  • Short videos from John Yorke and/or other industry experts
  • Written guidance notes and carefully selected reading and viewing lists devised by John Yorke and Peter Dale
  • Practical exercises and prompts, devised by John and Peter to help you experiment and practise your skills as you work toward developing your own pitches
  • Guest lectures from industry experts
  • Guided discussions with your group
  • Q&A sessions with John and Peter
  • The opportunity to share your work and give and receive feedback from fellow writers
  • Detailed tutor feedback on your two pitches at the end of the course

You’ll need:

  • 5-7 hours per week to work through the course
  • A notebook and pen or pencil, if you like to make notes by hand
  • Access to the following films on DVD or via streaming sites:
    • Jaws, Cars and Aliens
  • A laptop or computer* with:
    • A reliable broadband internet connection
    • Speakers or headphones
    • The latest version of Google Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Edge, or Safari
    • Microsoft Word. If you don’t have this you can download Open Office free
    • Adobe Reader, latest version. Download free
    • QuickTime Player, latest version. Download free

*You can access the course from a tablet or smartphone, but we recommend using a laptop or computer, as this makes it easier to share your work files with your writing group.

Join our alumni

After your course, you can join our online alumni where you’ll meet our growing network of past students. The alumni is a friendly group of writers who support each other as they continue to explore and develop their writing.

Within our online alumni area you can:

  • Rejoin your classmates on a private forum and access an archived version of your course materials and forum posts
  • Meet alumni from other courses and groups and share your work for feedback on our alumni critiquing forum
  • Join in on discussions about reading, writing, editing and ideas on our general discussion forum. This is also where we share news and useful info
  • Retain access to our resources area, which has interesting and informative links
  • Chat with other people online using the alumni area live chatroom. We also host live chats with guests here

Commission a report on your work

If you’d like to receive a personalised, detailed report on your final piece of writing from your course tutor, this is available at an extra cost. You’ll receive detailed written feedback assessing your ideas for Factual TV, plus advice on what steps to take next.

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

Taking things further

If you’d like to continue on to another John Yorke Story or Professional Writing Academy course, we’ll give you a discount. Please get in touch for more details.

What our students say...

The Factual TV course with John Yorke and Peter Dale has been truly transformative to the way that I frame and structure my stories. I have been really touched by the genuinely supportive and encouraging atmosphere on the forums from fellow learners and tutors.


What our students say...

I’m a journalist and documentary-maker so I have quite a lot of experience with pitching. However, I had never never thought about my pitches in terms of story elements, story structure — I’ve always just done them on instinct and judging them on whether they read well. So I’m finding John and Peter’s Factual TV course hugely illuminating and it’s already causing me to think differently about my own work.


What our students say...

The Factual TV course with John Yorke and Peter Dale has been a wonderful experience on all fronts, and I feel so lucky to have shared it with such a talented and motivated group of people — they inspired me with each and every post.


What our students say...

Last night was probably the 15th time I’ve watched Aliens — and yet with John Yorke’s five story stages firmly planted in my head I watched it with a fresh pair of eyes. And the film followed these points to a tee. I just wanted to point out the obvious: just how much John and Peter’s Factual TV course has shifted my way of thinking when it comes to structure in story.


What our students say...

The Factual TV course was fantastic. I really feel like I’ve learned so much about crafting effective and emotive storylines. The feedback from John Yorke and Peter Dale alone is invaluable. I would recommend this to anyone interested in understanding narratives and who would benefit from industry advice.


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Price: £900 (inc. VAT where applicable)
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