Hey guys. So, I don't mean to get too personal or anything, but do you…Beat Sheet?
If you don't know what the Beat Sheet is, it is an outlining tool that comes from Blake Snyder's (fabulous) writing book, SAVE THE CAT. STC is technically for screenwriters, and here's my little secret: I used to think I was the only novel writer out there who thought it worked really well for novels, too. Obviously, I've since discovered that a lot of writers think that not only is the Beat Sheet a great tool for outlining (and revising!), but that the book is a great resource overall.
Since we don't have time for me to tell you about the whole book today, I'll concentrate on the Beat Sheet.
If you've ever outlined a story, you know about the Three Act Structure. And the Four Act Structure. Heck, even the Seven Point Outline. And all those are all well and good, but if I'm going to the trouble of outlining, I like a little more meat on the bones of my story, and that's where the FIFTEEN point Beat Sheet comes in. Instead of just knowing what happens to push your characters into Act 2, if you follow the Beat Sheet, you'll know approximately how long they should contemplate action before they take the plunge, what the audience is expecting of them once they do, and just how long they're allowed to be happy before those bad guys catch up again. You'll know more or less where the audience is used to seeing discussions of the story's theme, (and, um, if you haven't thought too much about the story's theme, here's your reminder to do so!), and might even discover some new things about your finale.
This could all seem a bit sterile, or a little too paint-by-numbers, but that's what imagination's for, right? Really, all it is is a guide to pacing, and to the basics of what an audience expects of a story. Personally, I rarely see stories that are *too* perfectly paced, but I bet it would be easier to rumple it up a little once you have all the beats in place than to write a jumble and then try to fix the pacing afterward!
Below is a very short description of the Beat Sheet beats, with some of Snyder's explanation and some of my own commentary. There is a TON more on the Beat Sheet out there on the internet, including Excel spreadsheets that will let you type in your projected word count and see approximately how many words each beat should take! (Isn't the internet COOL?)
(And also, if you find this helpful, pick up the book. SAVE THE CAT! by Blake Snyder. It's totally worth it.) ;)
Happy Beat Sheeting!
THE BLAKE SNYDER BEAT SHEET
Opening Image – A snapshot of the main character’s life, before the adventure begins. Represents tone of the story.
Set-up – Expand on the “before” snapshot. Present the main character’s world as it is, and what is missing in their life.
Theme Stated (happens during the Set-up) – What your story is about; the message, the truth.
Catalyst – The moment where life as it is changes. The "Call to Adventure."
Debate – But change is scary and for a moment, the main character doubts the journey they must take. Can they face this challenge? Do they even want to?
Break Into Two – The main character makes a choice and the journey begins.
B Story – This is when there’s a discussion about the Theme. Often, this discussion is between the main character and the love interest.
The Promise of the Premise – This is the fun part of the story--the part you see on the movie poster, where the audience gets to experience what they've been promised.
Midpoint – Something big happens here. Depending on the story, the main character either gets everything they think they want (“great”) or doesn’t get what they think they want at all (“awful”).
Bad Guys Close In – Doubt, jealousy, fear, foes both physical and emotional regroup to defeat the main character’s goal, and the main character’s “great”/“awful” situation disintegrates.
All is Lost – The opposite moment from the Midpoint: “awful”/“great”. The moment that the main character realizes they’ve lost everything they gained, or everything they now have has no meaning. The initial goal now looks even more impossible than before.
Dark Night of the Soul – The main character hits rock bottom.
Break Into Three (Choosing Act Three) – Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last-minute Thematic advice from the B Story (usually the love interest), the main character chooses to try again.
Finale – By incorporating everything they've learned (including the Theme!) the MC is able to defeat all his enemies and win the day.
Final Image – Opposite of Opening Image, proving, visually, that a change has occurred within the character.