Writer Resources, Part III: The Three-act Structure, Gains and Losses & Moon Phases

The Writer’s Toolbox

The Purpose of this Post

A while back, I had written a fairly lengthy post on the Three-act Structure, which included links to my Three-act Structure (Template)—a tool I use to organize my novels before and while I write them.

A reader requested I go into a bit more detail regarding the stakes key which uses terms Shawn Coyne included in his book The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know, loss, gain, double-loss, double-gain. This reader also asked about moon phases and their purpose.

So, here’s my answers to said reader, but first, more pitches for books to read.

Books to Read: Textual References

The information I’m sharing below is based on what I learned during my MFA and three books I’ve linked before, but there they are again:

Three-Act Structure: Gains & Losses

As I wrote in my previous post, Writer Resources, Part II: The Three-act Structure and a Simple, Free Tool, Shawn Coyne’s method of breaking down scenes in The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know (22–23) is a system where “the POV character either gains something or loses something in each scene: something positive or negative happens.” This all increases the stakes or the character’s bid for success toward the end of the novel. Remember, chapters may have one or more scenes, and the number of scenes impacts pacing. Therefore, a character may experience multiple gains and losses by the end of the chapter.

Of course, no one wants to see a character succeed all the time. There needs to be moments where they fail: loss. However, readers also don’t want to follow a character who always fails; there must be success or hope: gain.

Here’s a quick example: A character flees a mugger yet reaches the locked safety of their car: gain! However, the car’s lights were left on, so the battery is dead: loss! The mugger finds the character’s car, shatters the window with their bat, and pulls the character out of the car: double loss!

Three-Act Structure: Gains & Losses

Then there’s the moon phases I included on my Three-act Structure (Template). I keep track of Moon phases in all my novels. For me, it impacts scenes heavily; however, the reader may only get allusions to or brief mentions of the moon.

Most of my novels are set on an earth’s past ranging the 1960s to early 2000s, yet the supernatural is real. Therefore, I maintain date-accurate phases of the moon to maintain realism and connection to our earth. Will a reader track correct phases in my novels? Who knows? Some may. Some may not. The point is, it’s important to me and my writing, and if a reader checks on the phases and finds I’m right, then awesome! I’ve got a dedicated reader.

How would or should the moon phases impact a scene? Well, how does it impact real life?

Setting illumination: A full moon brightens a scene while a new moon covers it in darkness.

Symbolism: The horned moon (waning crescent like horns moving from east to west across the night sky) is typically associated impending evil or danger. That’s just one symbol. I’m sure there’re others, but you get the point.

Use those phases of the moon however you choose, or not. It’s up to you. You’re the writer. Do moon phases affect your story? No? Don’t use them. Yes? Use them. It’s as simple as that.


Hopefully this clears things up a bit. If not, please ask in the comments below or send me an email (chuck@chucklang.com), and I’ll be glad to help.

My Next Post

I think I’ll be taking a step back and looking at the posts I’ve written over the past two years. There’s probably something I missed, something that I intended to go back to, to expound upon.

I keep detailed notes of these posts, so I see that I intended to go into the difference between reflections and flashbacks and another post regarding special writing tools that supposedly help writers. There may be others, but we’ll discover those together.

In addition, if there’s anything you’d like me to review or if you have suggestions on future posts or anything you’re curious about, just send them my way, and I’ll see what I can do.

Take care!

Author: Chuck Lang

Chuck Lang is a writer of science fiction and horror. Influenced by his years as a carpenter, four years serving in the US Navy, and his fifteen years teaching literature, he holds an MFA in Writing (Fiction) from Lindenwood University. After completing his first manuscript, the supernatural horror novel DEAD GODS, in 2019, he has begun work on its two sequels, DEAD GODS: INHERITANCE and DEAD GODS: RESOLUTION. He is currently developing two additional projects, an urban fantasy horror novel and a military science fiction novel. He lives and writes near the frequently flooded Red River in Fargo, ND with his wife and two redhead sons.

2 thoughts

  1. And so…no way could I have imagined the hit I would take with this. Went back to the 1st draft (presently immersed in beginning of 2nd) and begin moon-phase, win-loss tally, and I’ll be damned had to soup up and in some case defang aspects, truthfully, shifted plot strings in ways I liked and in two cases, ways I had to seriously re-evaluate the very core of the project. That’s why I described the impact of yr post as a “hit.” But overall wherever I go from here, I feel I’m a better communicator than I was this morning. Looking over this last, I hear a faint, nobody said writing was ‘gonna be a bunch of fun.’

    Last thing, don’t think I mentioned in previous text that my work has a military WW2 focus. So seeing you have a sci-fi historical military project on the table, I was intrigued.

    My take is a refrain on an urban legend about a WW2 Black sailor’s citation for the Medal of Honor being rescinded for security reasons. I’m approaching from the reportage/biographical ala “…Miss Jane Pittman,” or Capote’s “In Cold Blood.”

    I only mention appropo to our present conversation. The research for such a work, as you know, with all the technical military hardware, timeline, ethnicities, geography, etc.,is a load, and now having to flow back to moon phase, win-loss, is an undertaking worthy of a technical how-to in and of itself.

    So I thank you, Mr. Lang — Chuck, again…for taking the time, all the time, doing what all you do for those of us whose drive is to be better communicators, at work, at home, at play.


    Lou Britt


    1. The try-fail cycle (gain & loss) is certainly a tool that can help with the structure of your story and reader engagement: there always has to be risk.

      In the current chapter I’m writing, I need to reevaluate where it’s going and make sure there’s a loss because it started to feel flat to me. Either I’m too deep into the mechanics of the story and setting or there needs to be greater risk.

      However, like with any tool, it’s just that: a tool. You don’t need to rigidly stick to that formula: if it doesn’t work, don’t use it, or if it doesn’t work right now, maybe it’ll work later.

      I remember you describing your novel before: it’s intriguing. There’s definitely a market for it, and I wish you luck moving forward. Historical fiction, in my impression, can be a bear, but a lot of fun.

      Even the research I do for my own novels (mostly mythology, archaeology, some anthropology, pop culture, era-specific slang, music, art) can be a rabbit hole that impedes my writing progress. Ultimately, if the details are bogging you down, move forward, get the words on the page, make quick notes telling yourself you need to return to a specific passage then move forward, write.

      As Tony D’Souza told me, “Just keep going and get to the end.”


Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s