A Simple Story Development Tool 4 U

has written 617 posts on Storyfix.com.

You can follow Larry on Twitter, or Google+.

Email the author

by Larry Brooks on August 6, 2010

Here’s Your Beat Sheet Template

There are many ways to create a “beat sheet.”  On a computer.  On a sheet of typing paper.  On the back of an envelope.  3 by 5 cards.  A string of yellow sticky notes.

If you aren’t familiar with the term, a “beat sheet” is a bulleted listing of the scenes in your story.  Read more about it HERE.

Your beat sheet can be generic (such as, “Hero meets prospective love interest”)… or specific (“Butch sees Rachel being interviewed on the news and realizes he has to meet her”).  It can be both.

In fact, one of the ways you use a beat sheet is to evolve the generic toward the specific.

If you can identify your major story milestones here, you can begin to identify the ramp-up and reactive scenes that surround them.

When you’re done, you’ve got your story on one or at least several pages.

Each of the four sections shows 14 beats, or scenes.  Feel free to shrink or expand that amount.  This is why we have word processing software.

Huge thanks to Storyfix reader Rachel Savage, who provided this for us.   The bit of layout messiness is mine, not hers.  (Can’t seem to get WordPress to cooperate, but it’s functional.)

Click.  Print.  Think.  Create your story in your head before you write it.  All of it.

Yes, you can.

Will it be final?  No.  Will it be structurally sound?  Yes, if you don’t quit before you’re done. 

Everything from that point forward — the actual writing and revising of the manuscript — is pure, blissful upside, rather than a random search for your story.

That’s what the beat sheet is for.

Enjoy. 

CLICK HERE to get your reprintable beat sheet template.  Or, see the first comment below (from Rachel, the creator of this template), which has a link to a slightly cleaner version than mine.

{ 15 comments }

Rachel (Realmling) August 6, 2010 at 10:22 am

If anyone wants, I also zipped up the .doc file for download … forgot to send that with the email earlier. Bad me.

http://www.realmofsavage.com/download/writing/BeatSheetTemplate.zip

Happy planning everybody! :)

Bruce H. Johnson August 6, 2010 at 10:41 am

I noticed “Through-line:” at the top. Don’t recall seeing that phrase in your works. Rather than guess, what is it?

Larry August 6, 2010 at 10:47 am

@Bruce — the “through line” is basically a short, one-line elevator pitch. A statement of premise. It marries the concept and protagonist into a sort of mission statement. It’s the highest level one line description of the story you can get to. It’s appropriate to this template because it forces the writer to understand the story at a level that it can be described this efficiently. Always a good thing. Hope this helps. L.

Tony McFadden August 6, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Excellent. Thanks. I noticed something here that I’ve been doing slightly wrong. I’ve had the lull followed by 2PP in the third quarter of the book.

Small difference, but I like the lull ending the 3rd quarter and the 2pp starting the fourth. It (2nd PP) drives the hero to the conclusion, so it should be starting the resolution.

Kelly August 6, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Hello, Larry. Kelly here.
I had to smile when I pulled up the sheet. I use something similar. Made it for my own use after reading some stuff by this guy the Storyfixer… ;)
The beat sheet is a great tool.
I put the through-line on an index card over the computer to keep me focused on where I’m going.
Thanks– K.

Rachel August 6, 2010 at 8:42 pm

It can certainly be edited to have things fall wherever you like, it just ended up being easier to have the SPP fall at the beginning of Part 4 instead of mushing in on the end of Part 3. At least, it made more sense when I was typing everything up. ;)

Eventually here I’m going to have to move away from the various drafts of beat sheets I’ve created and actually start writing. lol

Tony McFadden August 7, 2010 at 12:33 am

@karen, I use Scrivener when I’m writing novels, and it lends itself perfectly to this.

Tony McFadden August 7, 2010 at 1:19 am

Huh. I seem to be either losing my mind or am sleep deprived.

That should have been @Rachel for my last post.

Tim Baker August 7, 2010 at 5:43 am

This is a great tool for us plantsers as well…perhaps it will help draw us from the dark side!!!
Thanks Rachel .

Gary August 7, 2010 at 7:46 am

Excellent tool for us to use. Thanks for providing it. Larry, can you talk a bit about scenes/beats, and what you feel should go in/comprise a scene when trying to figure out what should happen next? Thanks.

Justin W. Hedges August 8, 2010 at 7:59 am

Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat website has a downloadable beat sheet on the Tools page, as well, at http://www.blakesnyder.com/tools/.

I use the beat sheet religiously, then expand that beat sheet into a full outline. Nothing is written in stone, allowing me to go in another direction if it feels like the more natural evolution of the story, but having that beat sheet and outline makes the writing process faster and more organized. Knowing where you’re going is very important to the journey.

Nan Jones August 9, 2010 at 10:35 am

Thank you for taking time to help others understand this complicated business. I appreciate it.

Sweet blessings,
Nan Jones

jennifer August 9, 2010 at 12:19 pm

This is exactly what I’ve been needing. I recently converted from story pantser to story planner, so having tools like this just makes the journey even easier. :-)

jennifer August 9, 2010 at 12:21 pm

@Gary I’ve always been told for every scene you need to know three things:
1) What the purpose of the scene is (meaning, why is it necessary to show this scene)?
2) Where does the scene take place?
3) When does the scene take place (day/night, etc)?

Hope that helps!!

Monica Rodriguez August 9, 2010 at 6:04 pm

This is a terrific tool. I identified with this when you first brought up a beat sheet, and realized I do something very similar for my stories. After reading your posts, I’ve refined my template by putting in the Plot Points. But this templates goes further and will be a great aid in helping me sketch out my latest story idea.

I have a side question for you, Larry, if you don’t mind me asking. This arose for me after someone recently asked you about whether the reader/character must always know when a Plot Point occurs. I just finished reading Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot and I think this may have happened in this story. I was really stumped by Salem’s Lot’s FPP.

Because of you, I now mark off the pages where a Plot Point should happen when I start a new book – to see if it follows the structure. I thought maybe the FPP was off a little bit, but there was nothing else close enough.

Something does happen at about the right spot. The son of one of the villagers dies, the brother of a boy who had disappeared weeks before (too early for a FPP). It was a very quiet scene. After this, the MC becomes more involved in the town’s life and events.

But the protagonist is NOT aware of his change in mission. And NEITHER IS THE READER – because at that point in reading the story, I’d be damned if I knew what was going on. There was no way to see how the boy’s death changed anything. I was certain it would later be shown to be a harbinger of everything – and it was. But at that point, I was at a loss. If I hadn’t been looking for it, I wouldn’t have taken note of it at all.

So, is this a rare example of a FPP that happens without the reader OR protagonist’s knowledge? Or did I just not get it? Help from anyone who’s read this story is appreciated.

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 3 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: