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For Christmas, my friend got me john Yorke’s “Into the Woods, a five-act journey into story.” The book mainly focuses on film, but I think a lot of what is said (at least what I’ve read so far) can be applied to novels as well. (He also provides lots of sources and notes, which is nice.)

Chapter one delves into what a story is. For most of us, when asked what makes a story a story, we would probably say something like “something happens to someone.” That someone being the protagonist and the something being conflict. According to Yorke (and I think most of us can agree with this), “the ‘something’ is almost always a problem, sometimes a problem disguised as an opportunity.”

So we have our protagonist living out their day to day lives and something happens that changes that. 

One thing that I’m sort of confused about is that he talks about the characters needing to have a desire (of course) and then later he talks about the inciting incident being the catalyst for the desire. So does the protagonist have this desire in her day to day life, or does the desire only occur after something happens to start the action? And if the desire was not previously there, what did the character want beforehand, because our characters must have pasts before this inciting incident. 

Now that I think about it, when Yorke talks about protagonists, he mentions that the protag’s desire shouldn’t be abstract (instead of wanting love, the protag wants the quarterback to ask her to the prom, for example), but I think that before the story starts, an abstract desire is ok, and then the inciting incident happens that makes the protag’s desire manifest as something more concrete. Maybe. I don’t know.

One thing I kind of struggled with was the concept of character flaws. As a baby writer, I thought flaws were simply meant to make the character more likeable and less of a Mary Sue. Yorke states that flaws are basically the same thing as needs for characters and “what they want stands in direct opposition to what they need.” This of course is all the set up for the internal change or growth of the character when (if?) they don’t get what they want. 

Again, this book is great stuff. You should check it out. I’ll probably revisit it again when I get farther along in it.

Has anyone else read it? What did you think?

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