Just Beat It: Beat Sheets as Outlining Tool

There's only...what? NINE days until NaNoWriMo begins? Yikes. I hope you guys are ready. I mean, between my duties for S.H.I.E.L.D and my own editing, I'm going to be skipping out this year. However, I am cheering on all of you NaNoWriMers from the sidelines. In spirit, mostly, but cheering nonetheless.

I'll be there for you.

Since so many of you probably ARE looking to win NaNoWriMo this year, you're probably in the stages of prewriting hell super fun time.

Well, as you probably have seen from the previous posts all throughout the month of October, the YAvengers are here to help.

As we've talked about before, there are different ways people outline.

Maybe you're one who just dives right in, without any planning or plotting at all. I commend you, but I can't help you.

Perhaps you're with me at the other end of the spectrum, and plot just about EVERYTHING out. I see my novel-writing the same way I see my missions. I need to plan out every detail so things will run smoothly and perfectly. But I also must be ready to improvise. Because once I actually start, things will most likely not go according to plan.

Or, you could be somewhere in between. Initially beginning with a dream and a drive and typing away until you realize wait...WHERE am I going with this?! and outline until the end.

Regardless of where you are at or what you have done in the past, I'm going to introduce to you a clever tool for plot outlining. It's a lot of fun. Especially to say.

That's right, agents. I'm talking about


I know what you are thinking. Agent Coulson? What is that?


A beat sheet is a great way to organize your thinking and the plotting of the story. It takes the plot and breaks it up into some necessary plot points and turning points, or beats, to guide you along.

Think of it as your plot's skeleton.


AGENT COULSON, a dashing and talented operative, sits at a computer. He swivels the chair around to face the invisible audience.

Although it's true that beat sheets
are often used for screenwriting, I
and many other authors have found they
can be a valuable tool for novelists.

In fact, one of my favorite beat sheet examples and guide is found in Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! which is a book on screenwriting. Screenplays, at around one hundred pages, are much shorter than novels, so it's important to remember the length of each section would be different.

But, when it comes down to it, it's all storytelling. The plot structure can be the same. Both can consist of three acts, with a midpoint halfway through the second act. Both need an opening image and a closing image (and it's always super cool if those images - both of which beats -  are parallels). Both need high points and low points, just as there needs to be a conflict and resolution.

There are some different structures of beat sheets out there, most of which are a Google search away. They all have the same general points, but some may have altering points or blend two beats together.

(Again, my favorite is Blake Snyder's.)

But once you have all of your different beats planned out, it's good to hash them out more, and maybe even develop some specific scenes that will make up the beats. There's no set way to do this, it's whatever most appeals to you.

And that's okay. It's all about finding the strategies that work for YOU.
Me? Well, I'm a visual kind of guy, so I use multicolored Post-It notes. I write down my beat titles on one color, then use the others for the various scenes. In fact, I love this method, as it allows me to shift around things as I see fit. Plus, they really add some color to S.H.I.E.L.D Headquarters. Nick keeps telling me to stop scattering my Post-It notes all around the office walls, but I'm pretty sure he secretly likes it. Maria's convinced he a closet romance novel fan.

You be tough as you want, Nick Fury. I wouldn't be surprised to find a copy of Dear John up in that desk of yours. 



1 comment:

  1. I'm the type who generally knows where she's headed, but has absolutely no idea how to get there. (That's what Nanowrimo is for, losers!) And... I'm starting to sound like Stark... *head desks*
    I tend to paperclip everything in file folders. It's like cross-linking on your blog. It may waste time, but it also gets people (in this case me, in the blog, my readers) hooked...