The last two weeks, we resigned ourselves to doing a bit of pre-writing before jumping into a new project, and realized (hopefully) that brainstorming (with friends) and asking all the questions you can about your characters and your world before entering the outlining phase was a grand idea.
Here is the next step. Please keep in mind that this is just my next step. You’re more than welcome to do this differently. But I’ve taught this way to more than a few writers, and they’ve always come out of it super duper happy. It’s just the jumping off point for people who want to do more detailed outlining, and it’s something to give those of us who don’t like to outline at all a little bit more structure without a ton of pain.
So, without further ado, here is my explanation of the Beat Sheet developed by Blake Snyder.*
All you need is 40 note cards.
Wait. Does that sound like too many? I thought so, too.
All you need is 15 note cards.
But, Aileen, what about the other 25 note cards?
Not to worry, my young Padawan. Those will be dealt with in next week’s post. 😉
Do you have your 15 note cards? Good. (No, that’s okay. Grab a piece of paper, and number every other line from 1-15.) Now, let’s beat it out!
On each of them write this: -OPENING IMAGE -THEME STATED -SET-UP -CATALYST -DEBATE -BREAK INTO TWO -B STORY -FUN AND GAMES -MIDPOINT -BAD GUYS CLOSE IN -ALL IS LOST -THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL -BREAK INTO THREE -FINALE -FINAL IMAGE Are you done writing? Good.
What does all this mean?
Well, I’m going to explain it to you, using Tangled as my example. Why Tangled? Because movies are big on structure. When you’re dealing with large budgets, and each scene costs a SHITTON to make, you’re going to make sure each line matters. With kid’s movies, this is even more important. They’re an easy audience to lose. They’re attention spans are shorter. It’s gotta be done right. IMHO, Tangled did an awesome job.
1. Opening Image: This will set the tone, mood, and scope of your story. It will give the reader the starting point of the POV character. This is the “before” picture. This will all change by the end of your story.
Example: Rapunzel is trapped in her tower. You see where she is, and know that she wants out. This is the setting all in one image.
2. THEME STATED: Somewhere in the first couple of chapters, someone—whether it’s the main character or not—should state the theme of the book. This is the story’s thematic premise. It is usually takes the form of a question ask by or of the POV character.
This is a tough one, but if you know what you’re trying to say with your book/story/screenplay, your writing will be that much more informed. That meaning will be infused throughout the story. So, give it some thought. If you can’t answer it, come back to it. But make sure it’s there.
Example: In Tangled, she literally sings a whole song about it. “When will my life begin?” She’s a girl trapped and she wants a life. Instantly, we know exactly what this story is going to be about. A girl beginning her life.
3. SET-UP: So this one should end up to be a few notecards, but for now, just whittle it down to one-three bullet points. This is where we learn a few key things about the POV character and the world they live in. Later, we’ll add six things that need fixing, including any character flaws, ticks, and set-up any running gags.
Example: In Tangled, we learn about her “mother,” and why Rapunzel is unable to leave the tower.
4. CATALYST: During the previous sections, you’ve told us what the world is like. This next card, this catalyst moment, will knock it all down. This will be that life-changing moment. Most of the time, it’s the opposite of good news, but by the end of the story, it’s what will lead the POV character to happiness.
Example: Flynn climbs into Rapunzel’s tower! She bops him on the head. What is she going to do now? She’s got some choices to make, and those choices are going to be what fuels the story!
5. DEBATE: This is the last chance for the POV character to say “this is crazy” before they start out on their adventure. The character must ask themselves a question of some kind. Do they dare take the risk? Go on the adventure? Say yes to the date?
Example: Rapunzel had hidden Flynn in the closet! Should she tell her mom and prove that she can make it in the real world alone? Or does she hide him and use him as her guide when she sneaks out?
6. BREAK INTO TWO: This is the point where we leave the “old world”—the thesis world—and step into the world turned up-side-down, a.k.a. the antithesis world. Everything is unknown and new to the POV character. They are on the adventure which will provide the meat of the story. The hero shouldn’t be tricked, lured, or drift into this world. That makes for a passive character and a passive story, which is never a good thing.
Example: Rapunzel leaves her tower with Flynn. Huzzah! The story has begun!
7. B STORY: This is the side-story that carries the theme. Usually is a love story, but sometimes not. It gives the audience a little breather from the main action of the story, and often introduces a whole other group of characters—the up-side-down version of the characters in Act 1.
Example: In Tangled, this is a love story as flirting between Rapunzel and Flynn starts.
8. FUN AND GAMES: This is where the reader gets to see the promise of the premise. This is what you’d see in the movie trailer. What are all the fun bits? It’s the heart of the story. And if you’re now thinking that this sounds like more than one note card, you’d be right! Gold star for you! But for now, just jot down one or two images that come to mind.
Example: For Rapunzel, this means having fun, meeting people, and being outside!
9. MIDPOINT: This is the middle of the story. There should be either a high point for the POV character (but it should be a false high) or a low point for the POV character where their world falls down around them (though it’ll prove to be a false low). This should raise the stakes of the story.
Example: For Rapunzel, I’m afraid it’s a false high. She’s signing and dancing around the pub with a random bunch of characters and having the time of her life.
10. BAD GUYS CLOSE IN: During this phase, the POV character thinks they’ve won, but the bad guys re-group. It’s not over yet! Also, if the POV character has a team or band of friends they’re with, this is a good point to have some internal dissent, doubt, and/or jealousy start.
Example: The King’s Guard as well as Rapunzel’s “mother” find them at the pub, and Rapunzel and Flynn flee.
11. ALL IS LOST: At this point, the POV character should have a loss of some kind. There can be a death (or a whiff of death) and a false defeat. This is the “We’re screwed! It’s all over!” moment.
Example: Rapunzel’s mother finds her, and tricks her into thinking that Flynn has been lying to her and is taking advantage of her. So, Rapunzel decides to go home with her “mother.” :::insert sad face here:::
12. DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL: Here is where you get to dive into how your POV character feels about the “All is Lost” moment. Sometimes, it includes a moment of self-pity. That “Oh, Lord. Why have you forsaken me!” kind of thing. But it shouldn’t last long. No one likes a pity party. This is the point right before the POV character reaches deep down and pulls out that last, best idea that will save them and everyone around them.
Example: Rapunzel is sad in her room, but as she thinks about it, she realizes that her “mother” was lying! Her “mother” wasn’t actually her mother, but the witch. She’s being used, and now she needs to escape.
13. BREAK IN THREE: The external (a) struggle and the internal (b) struggle intertwine. The hero has passed every test, dug-deep to find the solution, and now all they have to do is apply it! Yay!
Example: Rapunzel tries to escape. Flynn comes to rescue her, but is captured and hurt. What will she do now?
14. FINALE: This is where everything wraps up. The lessons learned are applied. The hero dispatches all the bad guys. Again, this will take a few note cards, but for now, just jot down one thing, one image, that will serve as a reminder of what you’re working towards for the end of the book.
Example: Rapunzel saves Flynn, and then cuts off her hair. This starts to weaken the witch (since Rapunzel’s magic hair was keeping the witch young), and she falls out of the tower window to her death.
15. FINAL IMAGE: This is the opposite of the opening image. This will show the reader that change has really happened within the POV character and cements it.
Example: Rapunzel is back with her real family, not lonely and locked in a tower anymore. She has friends and loved ones, and her real life has begun.
That’s it! You’ve made it through! That wasn’t so bad, now was it?
Now, if you’re thinking that this will make your stories formulaic, then you’re wrong. As long as your story is about your characters and their specific journey, then you’re going to be just fine. This structure will only serve to be the playground for your characters to play on. And your characters will be unique. Right? (Not sure? Well then, I guess I should post about that, too.)
Next week, we’ll talk about what to do with those other note cards, and then some examples of some further outlining you can do to give your story some much needed structure.
Until next week, happy writing!
*Side note: This is from Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. I love his structure stuff, but I can’t stand how Blake Snyder broke down genre. It bugs the crapola out of me. So if you read his book and get a few chapters in and are all, “WTF am I reading? This guy is a douche!” Then please do what I did, skip to the stuff on structure. The rest of it is meh. But the structure stuff=awesomesauce.