Outline : Your story’s Beat Sheet
Whether you’re considering writing a novel or a script, I strongly encourage you to take a look at this Beat Sheet. A Beat Sheet is basically all the major steps a story should have to develop in a fulfilling way. It will help you structure your novel or screenplay, plan your turning points and conflicts to smoothly increase the stakes and avoid any down time.
All stories are different and there’s no right structure that will fit every genre but I tried to create a Beat Sheet as adaptable as possible. Remember however that these points are guidelines. It’s more important to develop your story organically than to try and tick the boxes at all costs.
OPENING SCENE : The hook.
Start in the middle of an action, a scene which reveals an interesting trait of your main character that will make your reader want to know more about him or wonder what will happen next. Get your readers hooked !
Exposition : Introduce your hero and the world he lives in.
Show the biggest need of your hero, his problem, his biggest flaw, his missing piece. It will give your readers a clue about the inner journey of your character and prepare them for the Midpoint Climax.
TURNING POINT : Event that irrevocably disturbs the hero’s world as he knows it and introduces the antagonistic forces.
Your hero can’t go on with his life like before, his world has been turned upside down, the balance is thrown off and he will have to make a choice and take action.
He may refuse the Call at first, deny the fact that he must do something, try to keep things like they’ve always been and eventually realize that he can’t go on like this, that his world has irrevocably been changed.
Beginning of Act II : Your hero declares his goal. His journey begins.
It is most interesting when his goal is at odds with what we know he really needs. It will make the Midpoint Climax all the more satisfying when your hero realizes what it’s really all about.
Introduction of your sub-plot.
This is a good time to start your sub-plot that will develop throughout Act II until your hero experiments a major setback where everything seems lost and then realizes, thanks to the sub-plot, what has been missing that will help him defeat the antagonistic forces.
PROMISE OF THE PREMISE : Your hero explores the new world.
This is the fun part where your readers get what the premise promised, be it a detective finding clues, love blossoming or an adventurer on his quest. The stakes are low, your hero has the upper end, the story progresses quickly.
Event that increases the stakes.
The commitment of your hero to his goal is getting more serious.
MIDPOINT CLIMAX : Context shift that changes your hero’s understanding of his goal / the stakes / the antagonistic forces.
Your hero realizes that he has been pursuing the wrong goal or that the stakes are much higher than he anticipated or that he has seriously underestimated the antagonistic forces.
It can also be a moment when he realizes that the goal he first set doesn’t match with his real need and he’s willing to change the direction of his path to fulfill the need we saw a glimpse of at the beginning of the story.
The antagonistic forces close in.
The stakes get even higher, the task more difficult and we begin to understand what are the antagonistic forces.
MAJOR SETBACK : All seems lost.
Your hero hits bottom, everything seems impossible.
Beginning of Act III : Your hero reaffirms his goal after discovering something from the subplot that may help him overcome the antagonistic forces and was missing before.
This is his last chance at defeating the antagonistic forces. He will win or fail but there’s no turning back. The stakes are at their highest.
CLIMAX : Hero’s big fight against the antagonistic forces.
Final battle where your hero’s destiny will be decided. Whether he achieves his goal or not, his world and life will be forever changed.
ENDING SCENE : Glimpse into the future.
Scene showing how the hero has changed and what is his new world.
If you want a more in-depth point of view on Beat Sheets, you can check Blake Snyder’s book “Save the cat!”. It is movie script oriented but lots of writers use it for their novels too.
Stay tuned for more posts about outlines and plot structures !