Thursday, August 15, 2013

Writing Structure

Telling a great story was the topic of a workshop given recently by writer/instructor Julie  Castillo. For new writers the workshop covered some of the basics of structure. For writers already familiar with these concepts, it was a good refresher. I actually made notes to check different portions in some of my current works to see if they were meeting some of the criteria discussed.

When asking new writers if they have a clear idea of their main character, most raise their hands, she said. The same with their setting and dialogue, but when asked about structure, few hands go up. Having been a fourteen-year veteran of the publishing and film industries, Castillo loves to talk about structure and she made the presentation fun.

She began with the three-act structure is the most basic. Act I is life as normal with the set up to a problem that leads to a crisis and a call to action. Act II is transitional. It focuses on attempt to solve the problem with complications and conflict. This is a learning curve leading up to the main character finally realizing what is necessary to solve the problem. In Act III (the resolution) the main character takes action, solves the problem and usually is changed. Life returns to normal, or at least a new normal.

“All good stories have conflict,” she said. Two important questions: What does your main character want? What is in the way? The answers to these create tension and suspense. 

Discussing the 12 steps of Joseph Campbell’s the Heroes Journey, she added that “All great stories have a mythical feel to them.” She gave examples of these various structures in books and movies such as Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Hunger Games and Harry Potter.

Castillo is a co-writer of two novels and thirteen nonfiction books—including two New York Times bestsellers, biographer for Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura and chronicler of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!  She has taught creative writing and publishing  classes at local community colleges since 2007. Currently Carroll Community, Hagerstown Community and Montgomery colleges have classes scheduled.

She can be reached at and is on Facebook and Twitter as "Julie Castillo."
The Carroll County Chapter of the Maryland Writers’ Association sponsored this workshop. For more information about the state organization check out or for the Carroll County branch, you can contact Jack Downs, (443) 413-3688, email or check out

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