Storytelling Books as Stories

“Storytelling, then, is born from our need to order everything outside ourselves.” – John Yorke, Into the Woods

In his excellent book Into the Woods, John Yorke talks about how other cultural forms, from philosophical texts to jazz records, are like stories. They all try to provide order in a seemingly chaotic world, something that humans instinctively do. It’s a way of giving life meaning and asserting some control.

Books about story structure follow this same pattern. They’re attempts to assert order out of the apparent chaos of words and imagination. Yorke’s own book fits the pattern he’s describing.

Good or bad, right or wrong, writing guides help us to assert order over writing. In doing so, they make us feel good, which perhaps explains why so many writing guides, of such variable quality, go soaring off the shelves.

These structures can be useful as well as satisfying if they give us enough feeling of control to grapple with the task of writing. And as Yorke shows, beneath their novelties, many of them follow the same underlying patterns.

At the end of the day, these too are stories – stories about how stories work.