It’s the second day of Blogging From A to Z, so for the letter “B” I’m going to that nifty little writer’s tool called the beat sheet.
Have you heard of it?
If you’ve read the book, Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder, then you know what I’m referring to.
Snyder designed the beat sheet for screenwriting, but the same concepts apply and can be adapted to novel-writing. A good story should follow a certain beat to keep the reader engaged.
What is a beat sheet?
A beat sheet is the skeleton of your story, the milestones that occur at specific points to propel the protagonist through the story. Blake Snyder’s beat sheet is composed of the following 15 beats:
- Opening Image. This is the first impression of your story. It sets the tone, mood, and scope of the story. The Opening Image should contrast with the Final Image to show the reader how much has changed over the course of the story.
- Theme Stated. This is where a secondary character poses a question or makes a statement that is the theme of the novel. The question is typically posed to the hero since he or she is the one who must embark on a journey to discover the answer to that question.
- Set-up. This is where we learn about the world (establish normal), the characters, the goal of the story, what the hero has at stake, and how and why the hero needs to change to achieve that goal.
- Catalyst. This is where a life changing event occurs that becomes an obstacle to the hero achieving his goals.
- Debate. The hero faces a difficult decision where the likely solution presents a point of no return. Should I stay and deal with the status quo? Should I move toward the goal and face certain danger?
- Break into Two. This is where the hero has chosen to act and move toward his goal. This world is dramatically different from the one established in the set-up.
- B Story. This is where the love story or other major subplot occurs. It gives the reader a breather from all the previous tension.
- Fun and Games. This is where the tone is lighter. This is the heart of the story, where we take a break from the stakes and see what the story is really all about.
- Midpoint. This is the midpoint of the book. The fun and games are over. This will either be a false peak where the hero seemingly wins or a false collapse where the world crashes down around him.
- Bad Guys Close In. This is where the antagonistic force regroups and prepares for another attack.
- All is Lost. This is the opposite of the midpoint false peak or false collapse. This is where defeat seems certain, where all hope is lost. It is often where a whiff of death occurs.
- Dark Night of the Soul. This is where the hero laments his predicament, the point before he makes one last-ditch effort to save himself and everyone else.
- Break Into Three. This is where the hero applies all he has learned on his journey and discovers how he has to change to win (character arc).
- Finale. This is where the story wraps up and ends in triumph for our hero. The hero and the world have changed for the better.
- Final Image. This is the opposite of the Opening Image to show how much has changed since the hero embarked on his journey.
To download a copy of Blake Snyder’s beat sheet, visit his website. There is a wealth of information on the site to help you. You can also find example beat sheets for popular movies to help you understand the concept and how it works.
The calculator on this website allows you to plug-in the projected number of pages in your novel so you can plan what to write and when. If you’ve already completed your novel you can enter the actual pages to see how it matches up. But if you’re like me, you might want to create your own beat sheet in Excel (my preferred tool for such things).
After reading Story Engineering by Larry Brooks I couldn’t decide whether to continue to use Blake Snyder’s story structure or the one developed by Larry Brooks. I wanted to merge the concepts of both and started to create a beat sheet in Excel. Fortunately (before I lost my mind trying to merge the two), I happened upon the Master Beat Sheet by author Jami Gold where she does just that. (Word of advice: before you decide to create something from scratch, save yourself some time and Google it to see if it’s been done before). Jami has written extensively about beat sheets and is another good source for beat sheets and how they work.
What are your thoughts? Do you use a beat sheet or do you think it’s a bunch of B.S.? 🙂
If you have used one, did it prove helpful in writing your novel?