The Beat Sheet: An Overview

When you are starting a story, you need to know approximately where things should happen. It helps you to maintain the pacing of your story. There is a great tool for this process — the beat sheet.

I use a spreadsheet for my beat sheets, but you don’t need to do that. My beat sheet is set up to tell me how many words I need before I put in the beats. It also calculates the pages. That’s pretty elaborate, especially if you are a pantser. For you pantsers out there, this is NOT an outline.

A beat sheet is a series of questions your story should answer. They help to keep the tension steady and ensure that the story hangs together. You want that. Your readers want that. It is a tool that helps you control your pacing. It can be as elaborate as the one I use, as described above, or as simple as a sheet of paper with questions and answers on it.

There are twelve main sections to the beat sheet. They are the opening image, where you show the hero and their life before the story. Next is the theme where you share what the story is about, take a light touch there. This the place where the hero gets the answer to the story problem but ignores it. Next comes the setup, this is where you show the hero before everything changes. Next up is the catalyst that forces the hero to do something they might not want to do. Following that, is the debate where the hero argues against doing whatever they need to do. It serves to delay the solution to the story problem. This represents the end of act one.

The start of act two brings in more conflict. The hero know what to do but doesn’t want to do it. Next you introduce the subplot, if you have one. Next up are the problems that result from the hero not doing what they need to do. The midpoint is the middle of the story. This part has a false failure Ir a false victory. The hero starts to doubt them self. The next beat is when things begin to go horribly wrong. It doesn’t have be all bad things, but bad enough to make it frustrating or irritating to the hero. The “all is lost” scene follows it. The hero believes they have failed. The next few scenes should show the hero wallowing in defeat, then finally get what they need to do. This is the part that ends act two.

In act three, the hero finally accepts they must do the thing they don’t want to do. The finale follows which is where the hero finally does what they need to do. The final image is the end of the story. This is where you show the changes in the hero.

This is a simplistic view of the beat sheet. We’ll go into greater detail in coming weeks. Until next time, keep writing.


I am not one who is comfortable talking about myself but here goes. I enjoy writing, family history, and reading. I decided to do this blog because I wanted to try something new. I decided to make it a weekly blog because I wasn't sure that I could keep up with a daily one, and monthly seemed like I was writing a magazine. I think I did ok with my choices. You'll notice that there are not a lot of graphics on my site. That's because there are graphics plastered everywhere on the Internet and those sites sometimes take forever to load. This blog is a place where you can kick back, relax and be ready to be amused. At least I hope I willbamuse you. This blog is on a variety of subjects from my ficitional cat agency, the FFL, which is monthly, to instructional blogs to editorials, which are my opinions only. I admit that I don't know everything and could be wrong -- I frequently am. Now, stop reading about me and read what I have to say!

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© Lisa Hendrickson and Pebblepup's Writing Den, 2010-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Lisa Hendrickson and Pebblepup's Writing Den with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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