John Yorke, Peter Dale, Story for Factual TV, narrative in documentary, corporate video making , online course, Into the Woods, John Yorke Story


Whether you’re working on a documentary, format show, corporate video or web content, all factual stories share an underlying structure. This course teaches the secrets of that five-act structure – and how to apply it.

Over seven weeks you’ll learn why some factual narratives resonate with audiences worldwide – and how to fix those that don’t. You’ll apply different story-structure techniques to documentaries and factual formats, learn about the key documentary models you need to master, and pitch your original ideas to John Yorke and Peter Dale for feedback.

There’s a balance of theory – the five-act structure ideas set out in John Yorke’s acclaimed book, Into The Woods – with highly practical exercises based on programmes everyone knows, from Grand Designs through Oscar-winning documentaries to classic television factual formats like Faking It and The Apprentice.

Peter and John are on-hand throughout to answer your questions, feedback on your assignments, and critique your pitches for factual stories at the end of the course.

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.

Course Director John Yorke

Course Director Peter Dale

Course Tutor Stephanie Wessell

Course Moderator Katherine Press

You’ve got a great documentary idea, you’ve shot some fantastic material – but can’t quite shape it into a story that works. Identify the key story elements and you’ll start to see what you need to do.

Peter Dale

Documentary Producer, C4, More 4, BBC, Rareday

I really enjoyed my time in the [John Yorke Story] classroom, they have completely cracked how to make online learning a full rounded experience and the way they go about it means you’re always in a bustling class with a lot of peer and tutor interaction.

Jemma Woodman

BBC Presenter, Inside Out South West & River Walks


Start date: 18 May 2020
Duration: 7 weeks
Skill level: Intermediate
Session length: Weekly
Sessions: 6

Price: £900 (inc. VAT where applicable)



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screenskills funding bursary 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.

You may be eligible for a training bursary of up to £1000 for this course. Apply direct to ScreenSkills here, at least FOUR WEEKS before the course start date. 


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We’ve developed Story for Documentary & Factual to help anyone who wants to understand how and why basic storytelling principles work in factual content – whether that’s in factual entertainment, formats, rig shows or straight ob docs – and how to apply those ideas to corporate videos and marketing content. The course is ideal for production teams, freelance documentary video producers, and anyone producing factual online video content. We teach this course in groups of up to 15 people. You can book as an individual or you can block-book a dedicated class exclusively for your team. The course is suitable if you:

  • Are involved in producing factual content, including as a producer, director, AP, researcher, editor – and even executive producer
  • 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 programmes
  • Would like to master five-act story structure and learn to see the underlying framework behind all stories
  • Need to discover why your factual stories aren’t working — and how to fix them
  • Want to gain the confidence to create your own programmes
  • Need 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


Over seven weeks, your tutor will teach you the building blocks you need to create a compelling narrative for factual, and will guide you as you fix broken stories and write pitches for original ideas. 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 for original ideas 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 content.
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 stories, 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
    • Adobe Flash Player 10 or higher

*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.

Price: £900 (inc. VAT where applicable)

Price: £50

Ask Us Anything


As someone new to the industry and this way of thinking about stories, I have found the course transformative. I watch TV in a completely new way now, and look at stories in a new light. I’ll miss the weekly tasks.


The course has such a wealth of useful, practical examples to help bring the theory to life. It is hard to pin down one greatest learning from all this; perhaps it is that all great stories are about fighting something – injustice, character flaws, baddies – and that it is also really important to make people care.


The course was great, it definitely helped me land my dream job!


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