If I ask the average person what a Beat Sheet is they probably wouldn't have a clue. Even when I ask writers, they may or may not have heard of it, but many do not know how it applies to them. If I ask what does "Do, Ra, Me" mean, most people associate it with musical notes. But as Julie Andrews pointed out, this is only the beginning. Next, you go... "Doe, a deer, a female deer, ray a drop of golden sun... " Think of a Beat Sheet as a starting point.
Even if you do not like outlines, a Beat Sheet can be an effective tool in keeping a writer on track. A story beat is a type of plot point you include to drive your story forward. A Beat Sheet includes the different beats (or plot points) you want to include in your story. Some writers create mystery, fantasy, tragedy, a quest, or rags to riches. Obviously, they can't all have the same plot points, can they? Yes and no. ALL stories have a beginning, middle, and end. This could also be described as A) introduce a character, B) has a problem, and C) must be resolved. In most cases, there is a fourth point between items B and C known as discouragement. After all, it's hard to make a come-back if everything was perfect, to begin with.
To show how this can be helpful, I'm going to create a new Beat Sheet and walk you through the process. Note: I made mine in WORD only because I don't use EXCEL. You can make yours on paper if you want. Start with three sections. Some people call them Acts (like a three-act play). Each of those Acts will also have a beginning, middle, and end. Do this one more time and you will have a table with 27 blank lines.
There are different Beats templates available online if you write in standard Genres, but I do not. I write Time Travel / Romance, so some of the things I am about to share will vary depending on your project. Just like the song, "Do, Re, Me" we all need a starting point. I took mine from a basic Beat Sheet found online. For Act One I wrote: Introduce protagonist, hook the reader, and set up conflict. So far, we have just a few notes. Remember each Act has three sections, that's why we have three objectives for each Act.
The key words for Act Two include Protagonist reacts, one step forward, and two steps back. If you're looking at these phrases and thinking these are kind of vague, you're right. Remember, we haven't started writing the song yet. Act three consist of Hero gains courage, overcome the odds, and conquer the adversary. So far, this could apply to any story. This is where we start to customize the sheet to make it work for you. With nine blanks in under each Act, you now have an outline for a 27-chapter book. Realizing some ideas may take more than one chapter, I usually aim for 30 chapters.
Under Act One, the beginning section, I wrote: action original hero, boy meets girl, and bigger than both. What does that mean? When I wrote those words, it was a mental note to myself. To hook the reader, I wanted to start with an action scene, and I wanted them to see what he or she was like originally. Everything we have entered so far is just a few words in the first column. You will note column two is empty. This is where you take a few words and make it into a full sentence. My goal is not to create a twenty-seven-page document, but to spark ideas on one easy to read page.
This process will not write the entire novel for you, but... it will give you a roadmap to follow. Once you have 27 sentences, expand it to 27 paragraphs. If you can create 27 paragraphs, you can create 27 chapters. At this point you have 90% of the first draft done. In the Beat Sheet I created I planned for three different side stories (mini time travel adventures) and two plot twists. Do I know what they are yet? No, but I plan to make the story a page-turner. That's like highlighting your roadmap, so you can see where to turn next.
Many traditional writers refuse to use outlines because they claim it robs them of creative options. If it makes you feel any better, you didn't create an outline, you created a Beat Sheet. You don't have to admit being a plotter if you don't want to. I won't tell anybody. Even if you don't expand to paragraphs just yet, you at least have a roadmap of where you're going. This is a tool to be used just like your computer or thesaurus. You can see examples of both a blank Beat Sheet and my completed Time Travel / Romance Beat Sheet on my website.
Award-winning writer / photographer Tedric Garrison has 40 years' experience in both areas of expertise. As a Graphic Arts Major, he has a unique perspective on creativity. His photography tells a story and his writing is visual. Tedric shares his insight, experience, and skills at his website: http://writephotos.weebly.com
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