Do you need help with structure?

I do! And I’m still learning how to outline a story with a structure that doesn’t collapse at the first strong wind of criticism.


Have you ever loved a story, but wondered why no one else did?


Me too.


I’m a pantster. Nothing better than sitting down and letting my muse loose on the keyboard. Too bad, writing by stream of consciousness often ends, as do most streams, into a raging uncontrollable river. And where do rivers end? Into a vast ocean, that’s where.

Then after spending hours, days and sometimes months writing thousands of words, all I can do is try not to drown amid the ocean of a rambling story. So I give up and decide to fix it another day. I’ve no idea how this happened.

Does any of this sound familiar?

I’ve begun to fear; my problem may be lack of structure.

If you’re a pantster, don’t go to yelling just yet. I’m still a pantster but, I’m learning to use structure. Because I believe there’s a way to marry both the outline structure and write pantster style.

Got a story that just aggravated you almost to insanity? Nothing is working? Take it and try breaking it down into 3 simple acts and then break those acts down further.

Got an idea for a story? Start by simplifying it with 3 acts. Then one idea under each act and an idea under each one of those headings.

Here is the basic outline I’m working with.

Act I – Opening

  1.  Hook – conflict
  2. Protagonist in daily life before transformation
  3. Opportunity to change
  4. Resistance to change
  5. Point of no return
  6. Opportunity accepted

Act II – Entering the new situation

  1. Location
  2. Meeting friends, enemies, romance;
  3. Transformative experiences
  4. Problem brings them together
  5. Problem drives them apart
  6. Crisis Hits


  1. Terrible Secret Revealed

By breaking down the story little by little, I’m giving it time to grow and hoping to find more freedom and inspiration with smaller chunks.

One of my favorite books is Save the Cat Kindle Edition by Blake Snyder and although the book is primarily focused on script writing the principles can be applied to writing a story.

So tell me, do you use the 3 Act structure or a more indepth outline? 

Do you write with or without an outline?

You can find me on Twitter @jeancogdell, Facebook at jean.cogdell and, stop by and say hey! Please remember to with a click and share this post with your Twitter peeps and Facebook fans.



16 thoughts on “Do you need help with structure?

  1. I must humbly disagree with you and all other story-writing coaches and literary giants. There is really no such thing as “pantster”. Unless, of course, you are talking about the opium induced dream of Kubla Khan that Samuel Coleridge once had. 😀
    I happen to think that we fool ourselves into thinking that we write spontaneously. There is structure, always. We just don’t notice it. It is the way we think. Without a goal or a path, our mind cannot take the next step.
    Now, what you would call a schemer, planner or an “un-pantster” is actually looking at a long term goal – How does my book end? What is the big picture? What is the moral of my story? etc. Those you call “pantsters”, on the other hand, look for short term goals – “How do I end this scene?”, “How do I finish this dialogue?” “What should my character do next?” etc.
    The advice I give most young writers is stop reading Sol Stein, stop buying training manuals to “learn” writing in 30 days, stop learning from “experts” on how to write the next bestseller and market it in 100 days.. But read everything else… and read like you are possessed, be a fanatic reader… then start writing… go ahead and break all the rules, just write. If you don’t have it in you to actually write, your MFA in creative writing is not going to invent it for you. Go by the gut feel, not what the disciple of Plato taught people centuries ago. And, if you want to defy convention and make your own rules, make sure you have evaluated your capabilities very well – don’t become a laughing stock by doing something differently and ending up creating literary nonsense. But, in these days of artificial everything, unfortunately, I am not sure all that is the best advice for a new writer 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think we totally disagree. Writing by the seat of your pants is writing by a gut feeling. However, a road map (outline of sorts) helps keep me driving in the direction of my destination. Glad to hear from you again.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.