The Beat Sheet is a very popular tool for novel plotting. A quick google search will bring up a lot of resources surrounding the use of the Beat Sheet.
The Beat Sheet is a resource that first appeared in the book Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder. It’s a book I’ve never read, but it does appear on my long lists of books to read.
It’s important to note that the book is a screenwriting book, so the advice is centred around writing a great screenplay. However, many of the tricks do crossover to a great novel, too.
When you watch a great movie, you’ve probably notice some similarities between how they are paced. Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet names each of those parts, so that you can then replicate them in your novel.
The main thing, this is a great foundation for your novel, but as we all know, novels are a lot more complex than movies. You will probably have a lot more to say outside of the Beat Sheet template – but this is a start!
There are 15 parts to the Beat Sheet:
- Opening Image. The world as it currently stands is shown. Sets the tone and mood. Also used as a hook.
- Theme Stated. This can be in dialogue or shown through some other way. The theme of the piece is revealed (though perhaps subtly).
- Set-Up. No major conflicts stated, we just see life ‘as it is’. We get to meet all the characters and elements that may become important later.
- Catalyst. Without this happening, the rest of the story wouldn’t! An important the event that is life changing. It sets the story into motion.
- Debate. The character tries to work out what to do, and eventually makes a choice that they can never go back on.
- Act II. Suddenly, the situation shifts and things are clearly going to happen. Often the main character is presented out of their depth or having to rapidly learn new things.
- B-Story. There needs to be some depth, and normally a subplot is introduced here – often a love story. It gives us a bit of a break from some of the big picture stuff. Importantly, the B-Story is a full story with it’s only conflict and etc.
- Fun & Games. The point where the reader should be having fun (it normally involves the characters suffering, though!).
- Midpoint. Stakes are raised. Everything becomes more pressing.
- Bad Guys Close In. The opposition gets stronger and causes some damage to our team. They might not be actual bad guys, it might just be a bunch of bad stuff. Regardless, our protagonist seems to be in a harder place than before.
- All is Lost. There seems to be no hope. The story seems to be over, finishing in a ‘bad way’.
- Black Moment. Because everything has been lost, it’s not very cheery. The protagonist has a hard time dealing with this.
- Act III. A story and B story converge and a solution is found. New hope!
- Finale. The bad guys are dealt with. This is not easy. The story is finally resolved.
- Final Image. Normally reflects the opening image and demonstrates how much has changed.
You can find an .xls version of the Beat Sheet on Jami Gold’s website, here. It’s cool because it calculates your word counts for each section, which can serve as a useful guide throughout writing. If you don’t want to download the .xls document, you can use beatsheetcalculator.com (though it calculates by number of pages instead of number of words).
The Beat Sheet is just one of a number of tools I use in my novel planning. Good luck for those currently looking for resources to help plan your novel.