This week, Tommy decided he needed a nap more than he needed to talk about story structure and outlines. He hates that stuff anyway, so, good choice, Tommy Z. He’s all about anarchy and chaos, and this week we’re getting organized. But the problem is, you can get too organized, too structured. You can read too many books on story structure and get swamped in all the complications. LL wrote in with a question about this…a year ago… ahem. But never fear: Jody and Baker are here with some advice on how to use story structure to serve your writing best and not let it cage you in.

Also we are holding our very own Fiction Contest! Send in your writing, 3,000 words or less of any of your unpublished work by November 15th, 2016, and we’ll pick our favorite. The winner will get their work read, or most of their work read, on a future episode of Fiction School and will be published in Razor Lit Mag. Get writing and send us what you’ve got! See all the contest entry details here.


  • Jody is still acting in a play, getting to embody and know another’s work so in depth. She describes the act of memorization and understanding as a renewal process of thinking about words and sentence structure that you normally take for granted or throw away.
  • She is still chugging along with her novel and play as well as everything else she has going on. How does she do it all?
  • Here is a beautiful photo of pancakes that has nothing to do with story structure BUT YOU SHOULD TOTALLY ENTER OUR

    Here is a beautiful photo of pancakes that has nothing to do with story structure BUT YOU SHOULD TOTALLY ENTER OUR WRITING CONTEST!

    Baker tried a short story per week again and failed. But it’s okay, because South Dakota was an expensive ice cream run. Instead, he’s thinking of writing a short story that’s related to a novel idea he has. Always finding ways to be productive. Crafty, that guy. 

  • We introduce the Fiction Contest! November 15, 2016 deadline! Y’all should totally enter the contest!
  • LL sent in a question a year ago about the use of outlining and structure. Too many books and opinions later, what is the BEST way to lay out a story? (LL mentions story structure theory and books by Brooks & Weiland, Truby, and Bell, if you want to look into this.)
  • Answer: Whatever works best for you and your story. But let’s elaborate.
  • Baker’s first novel was written without a plan. Turns out, he needed a plan. Writing without a structure first made a major rewrite necessary. How major? So big that the first version had to be thrown away and the novel retyped with structure in mind.
  • Jody reminds that structure can come in handy by getting the inspiration and guide posts out there while you are still excited about the story and it is still fresh and new.
  • That way, when you hit the inevitable rut in the swampy middle earth of writing your novel, you have something to go back to from when you were still excited about it.
  • And outlining looks differently for every writer–sometimes it’s a loose series of suggestions, or for others you can use more intricate and specific beats, like the 22 set out in Save the Cat.
  • But don’t be a slave to structure, either. If what you are doing is making you hate the story, do something else!
  • Baker advises on using Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. His approach is to break the novel into 4 acts, which each have a specific goal, but don’t apply too many specific and tiny micromanagement beats. It gives a lot of creative elbow room.
  • Part of what makes structure hard is that massive middle act that lots of structure calls for. There’s your swampy middle earth, writers…
  • Jody mentions the magic that sometimes authors have read so much and written so much, they achieve good story structure just by instinct, by having absorbed it into their mental calculations so deeply that it feels organic.
  • Then we talk about corkboards–the real ones (Baker and Jody both have actual corkboards they look at when working on a big novel) and the virtual one in Scrivener.
  • But if you are truly stuck and in a rut, leave the computer at home and leave with a pen and a notebook. Move your arm around and see what sticks. Changing your environment and the dynamic of writing can open up new ways of thinking about the story.
  • If Ignore anything and everything that keeps you from writing. If one book’s philosophy of structure feels too confining, don’t use it. It isn’t helpful.
  • But if you can find the right balance so that the structure gives you a plan and a sense of direction, it’ll help you keep productive when you get lost.
  • It’s also an interesting Blake Snyder idea to wait a bit–after doing the initial structure of a big story, wait a bit before writing it. Let it marinate a bit, let it sink into your subconscious, let it make you get excited about actually writing the big thing.
  • If you find holes, don’t fret. You’ll find the slow parts and fix them, you’ll find the plot holes and maybe fix them.
  • But keep in mind that Game of Thrones has plot holes too. The well-paid writers on the world’s hottest show still produce shows with plot holes in them. 
  • JUST WRITE. And importantly, FINISH.
  • Finish a draft, and then put it aside. That’s the hardest part. You can always go back later and fix it.
  • Doing a fast draft can sometimes be the best
  • Someone once said the best writing advice they ever got was, “Finish.”
  • And on that note, we finish the show. Thanks to LL for writing us an email. Next time we’ll try to answer before a year goes by.
  • And here’s the promised video of The Dexateens rocking the paint off the walls and almost tipping over a Hamm’s Beer Bear stand in Minneapolis.

Photo courtesy Unsplash