What’s a Beat Sheet and Should You Use One?

Well, let me back up first.

What’s a beat in fiction?

It’s a unit of a story (not necessarily a chapter. Could be a single scene or could extend over several scenes).

A Beat Sheet, then, is a way to organize the units of your story.

Normally, you wouldn’t include dialogue on a beat sheet. This shouldn’t be too detailed.

Each point on your beat sheet should raise a question that will be answered at some point in your story.

For each point, include the characters and the setting.

List what each character wants from the scene. Include the twists, the conflicts and where the scene ends.

Now, I am what is known as a pantster – as in, my natural inclination is to fly by the seat of my pants when I start writing.

BUT – I am developing my planning tendencies. And, using a beat sheet is a big part of that development.

For some examples of beat sheets, see Larry Brooks – Storyfix.com – where he has an example of a beat sheet for Hunger Games.


What’s your planning strategy?


About melindamcguirewrites

The young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. ------ William Faulkner, Nobel Prize Speech, Stockholm, 1950
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12 Responses to What’s a Beat Sheet and Should You Use One?

  1. Larry Brooks seriously won me over with his book “Story Engineering.” I love the way he breaks everything down. He’s taught me a lot!

  2. Zen says:

    Beat sheets never work for me; I’ll always stray from what I’ve written. One useful approach is flowcharts; I always draw flowcharts when I’m writing, giving myself points and allowing myself freedom to write what comes between them. =]

    • Hi Zen,
      Thanks for stopping by and for your comment.
      I use flow charts, outlines, worksheets, sticky notes … whatever works best for me while I’m in the planning stage. And, I agree that you need freedom in your writing. I like to think of the planning as a map showing me where I need to go. How I get there is the craft part of story telling 🙂

  3. Roger says:

    No, all that planning is far to difficult for me. I just begin writing and see what happens. Perhaps that’s the reason for my poor sales, although I prefer to believe that people just haven’t found me yet.

  4. DM Yates says:

    I actually found a pattern I like that isn’t very detailed. It has a center circle for the basis of the story and other circles poking out, etc It works best for me, because I hate being confined, so it gives me some leeway, but keeps me on track.

    • Hi Donna, I’m always glad to see you here 🙂 Is the method you use similar to the snowflake method?

      Sent via DroidX2 on Verizon Wireless™

      • DM Yates says:

        It’s similar. Basically the big circle in the middle of the page. Other circles go around it for the important ideas. From each of these, you can add more circles. I just find it’s more flexible than any other system, and easily changable without affecting the entire story.

  5. I’m interested in this idea from the point of view of blogging reviews for author’s books. Thanks for the article. Nice to have it as a part of my “Riding With The Queen Gazette” today!! Deborah

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