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Story for
Documentary & Unscripted TV

The training

Discover why some factual stories resonate with audiences — and how to fix those that don’t.

  • Location: Online
  • Duration: 7 weeks
  • Skill level: Intermediate
  • Sessions: 6

Whether you’re making documentaries, format shows, podcasts or corporate videos, this professional development course from John Yorke and Peter Dale trains you to recognise the structure underlying all successful factual stories.

Learn the essential elements every story needs, how to identify them in your research and ideas, and how to shape the material you’ve shot to find a story that will connect with commissioners and audiences alike.

Study with a small group and an expert tutor. You’ll emerge with increased confidence in judging story ideas, pitching original ideas, finding the essence of a story, and with practical fixes to make any narrative work.

CPD certified

Our professional skills training has been independently accredited for integrity and quality. All learners receive certificates of completion detailing CPD learning hours.

ScreenSkills bursaries

You may be eligible for a ScreenSkills training bursary for this course.

View ScreenSkills' bursary page

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 Dale

Peter Dale

Course Director

Peter is associated with some of the most popular and acclaimed documentaries and formatted reality shows of our time. He is the former Head of Documentaries at Channel4 and founded the production company, Rare Day. Many of the documentaries Peter has worked on have been BAFTA-nominated.

More about Peter

Tim Mercier

Course Tutor

Tim was a prolific director on EastEnders for 15 years, before going on to develop the multi-award winning autobiographical, part-animated documentary film, Model Childhood, which led him in new and thrilling non-fiction film storytelling directions. Tim has just completed a major experimental documentary project with the patient/clients of a Mental Health Trust in north London, and continues to develop other short and long-form documentary, narrative film and TV projects.

More about Tim
Hannah McLoughlin

Hannah McLoughlin

Course Moderator

Hannah is a freelance teacher and artist based in London. She has a degree in filmmaking and is passionate about cinema, storytelling and education.

More about Hannah

Things to know

This CPD training is for anyone looking to develop a practical understanding of the mechanics of good factual storytelling. It’s suitable if you:

  • Are involved in producing unscripted content or documentaries (producer, director, AP, researcher, editor etc.)
  • Develop online factual marketing content for organisations
  • Want to learn how to plan and structure unscripted TV programmes
  • Would like to master five-act story structure and learn the framework underlying all successful stories
  • Need to discover why your factual stories aren’t working — and how to fix them
  • Would like to upskill your pitching

This professional training allows you to:

  • Acquire the key technical skills you need to plan and structure unscripted TV programmes, documentaries and all forms of factual content
  • Understand story structure, including five-act structure
  • Gain greater understanding of industry expectations around commissioning and audience
  • Master techniques to help diagnose and fix story problems
  • Get to grips with pitching
  • Network with other writers, the tutor team and industry guests

Session 1: Introduction to Storytelling

We start by thinking about the grammar of storytelling, the essential elements every story needs. You’ll find out why factual stories need an active protagonist, and how to use a character’s emotional journey to establish empathy with your audience.

Session 2: Building Blocks

We build on the basic building blocks of the archetypal story. You’ll look at how to use inciting incidents – and ways to pay them off later in the narrative. You’ll also practise summing up a factual story in a single sentence.

Session 3: Essential Storytelling Tools

We look at how to ‘break a story’. You’ll start by learning John’s 10 key questions and experiment with three-act structure. You’ll look at a story brief for an existing factual series, decipher why it’s not working, and rewrite it. By the end you should be able to deconstruct any factual story and understand the three key documentary models.

Session 4: Five-Act Structure

We break down a story into five parts. You’ll look at putting obstacles in the way of your protagonist to keep an audience engaged, and why every great factual idea will change the way we view the world. You’ll draw up a five-act plan for a story and sell it in five short paragraphs.

Session 5: Developing Your Own Stories

We look at how to distil an idea to its essence before packaging it into a professional pitch. You’ll think about classic documentary story shapes and frames, and how to pitch a story when you don’t know what will happen in ‘real life’. You’ll practise writing a billing, and communicating the essence of a story – and your passion – to someone who knows nothing about the idea.

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, exec or client to back your idea. John offers his top tips and Peter lays down the do’s and don’ts of pitching. At the end you’ll submit two short pitches for factual ideas, and receive written feedback notes from your tutor.

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 for this course. Apply direct to ScreenSkills here, at least four weeks before the course start date.

As this counts as CPD training, you may also be able to get funding from your employer to do it.

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].

How it Works

Our training’s taught 100% online in small groups with a designated tutor and moderator on-hand throughout.

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 5-7 hours to work through each session.

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

John Yorke Storycon
Our Alumni

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