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Story for
Novelists

The training

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

  • Location: Online
  • Duration: 24 weeks
  • Skill level: Advanced
  • Sessions: 11

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 outlined 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.

Entry via application, to ensure you get the most out of the course.

Bursary available

You may be eligible for our in-house training bursary for underrepresented voices in publishing. See 'bursary information' further down this page. Deadline Sunday 4 February 2024.

Our team

Meet the experts

John Yorke

Course Director

John is widely acknowledged as the UK’s foremost expert on story and 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

Peter Benson

Course Tutor

Peter Benson is an award-winning novelist, described as ‘one of the most distinctive voices in modern British fiction’ (Evening Standard). He has adapted three of his novels as screenplays for the BBC. Peter has taught creative writing at Arvon, the National Writing Centre of Wales, for Faber Academy and at universities in the UK and US.

More about Peter

Mandy Byatt

Course Moderator

Mandy Byatt’s debut novel, Just Another Liar, was published by Avon Books in January 2022. She has been shortlisted in the Gransnet/HQ novel competition as well as longlisted in the Orange Pathé screenwriting competition. She was also a winner of a Radio 5 Live monologue competition.

More about Mandy

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.

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

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. 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. 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.

Session 3: Laying Foundations

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. 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.

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. 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. 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. 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.

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. Live guest Q&A.

Session 10: Editing and Rewriting

A 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.

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.

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 our course application form and select ‘yes’ to the bursary option. Please note that the bursary deadline is 4 weeks before the course begins.

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 – Our 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 please email [email protected].

DOWNLOAD OUR PROSPECTUS

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How it Works

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.

It’s an active learning experience where you’ll read, watch and practise exercises in your own time before submitting assignments for peer and tutor feedback. You’ll then review and refine your work as you get better and better.

Fit the course around your work and time zone – just allow 7-10 hours a week to work through each session.

It’s both flexible and structured. Social and yet gives you space. Find out more about how we teach.

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