NaNoWriMo #29: Six Tools to Rescue — or Beef Up — Your Beat Sheet

Maybe you’re there with your beat sheet at this point.  You’re just about ready to write your novel come Tuesday.

Maybe you’re struggling.  Tempted to resort to old tapes that whisper sweet poison into your ear as comfort: just wing this, it doesn’t matter.

But you know it does matter.

Either way, you should be obsessed with your beat sheet, in whatever form you’ve chosen for it, during these last few days.  You should be either filling in the blanks with scene ideas and missions, or — better — expanding your bullets into full-grown outlines for specific scenes you know you’ll be writing.

Here are a few tools to help you get there.

To review a 1o1 on the magic pill that is the beat sheet, including a GENERIC, MISSION-SPECIFIC SEQUENCE FOR PART ONE OF A STORY, something you can actually apply to your story right now, or tweak to suit… CLICK HERE.

To read a tutorial — just posted from an online workshop I did elsewhere — including WHERE THE MAJOR MILESTONE SCENES FIT INTO A BEAT SHEET… CLICK HERE.

To view (and print) a generic, BLANK beat sheet template, CLICK HERE.

To view Rachel Savage’s tent graphic with spaces inserted to scribble in your milestone story points, and a list of scenes under each of the respective parts (in other words, a blank graphic beat sheet template, CLICK HERE.

To see an actual working beat sheet (partial, up through 40 percent of the entire novel’s length… I switch beat sheets from what you’ll see to a more formal outline format)… CLICK HERE

To read the actual Prologue from that finished book to see how the final product relates to how it was covered in the beat sheet — I highly recommend you do this, you’ll see how quick and clean your beat sheet can be — CLICK HERE.

The goal is to fill in as many of these blanks as you can, BOTH as generic mission statements (what the scene needs to accomplish), and as creative treatments (how you’ll fulfill the mission). 

As an essential story planning minimum (which, if you’re still gonna try to pants your story, this will at least give you a running start and a real shot at success), try to complete at least five of the scenes on your blank beat sheet: the opening scene… the first plot point scene… the mid-point scene… and the ending scene(s).

If you can nail these five, you’ll want to jot down more.  I promise.  Before long you’ll have more scenes in your head than you don’t… and if you don’t, you’ll at least know, a) the context of the scene, depending on where it goes, and b) the mission of the scene, or what it needs to accomplish.

From those two inputs you can now more easily, probably, optimize your scenes… which is the key to success.

11 Comments

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11 Responses to NaNoWriMo #29: Six Tools to Rescue — or Beef Up — Your Beat Sheet

  1. This series couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m making notes like crazy as I plot out my next novel. Not sure I’ll commit to NaNo, but I’m going to be using all this regardless!

  2. This really is a great series and I can’t wait for November 1! Bring it on!

  3. Thanks for the info on the beat sheet! I’m new to your site and I was wondering about the beat sheet specifics. This clears everything up. 🙂

  4. Hey Larry, I’d once again like to thank you for all of these articles. They are so helpful and important, I posted about them on the Kindle Boards and the NaNo forums.

  5. Carmen

    I just had the best “Aha!/Duh…” moment —

    “The goal is to fill in as many of these blanks as you can, BOTH as generic mission statements (what the scene needs to accomplish), and as creative treatments (how you’ll fulfill the mission).”

    Even after reading about scenes in STORY ENGINEERING and then looking at the “generic mission-specific sequence,” I hadn’t absorbed the obvious takeaway: that I could and should boil all of my scenes down to the same kind of generic mission descriptions. Thanks so much.

  6. Thank you! Both the blank beat sheet form and the article where you made that point of evaluating the novel using a beat sheet afterward are darn good tools.

    I am a confirmed pantser. Planning it ahead of time is going to make it harder for me, take more time without appreciably improving my results. I’ve done it and gotten it done, found out I could do it but that I was doing a lot of extra work.

    But using it to evaluate my novel afterward, on that November day when I reach The End and want to keep going by looping back into fixing it – this rocks. You’ve given me the first stage edits.

    If it needs a scene dropped or replaced, there’s no point line editing that scene. The big changes happen at the structural level – where characters might be combined, eliminated or replaced. Where plot points can be toughened and the whole structure tightened till it’s solid and nothing in the book is extraneous.

    Thank you for doing this. It’s an excellent tool, a big step beyond the simple running synopsis that I do every year.

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  8. Thank you so much, Larry! I’m printing all this out and working on my Beat Sheets 🙂 THIS MORNING!

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