We touch on this outline beat sheet off and on throughout the outline course, but I usually don’t use it in its entirety. There are a lot of “long slogs” that I don’t enjoy pushing through. Most of my outlines will take a few beats from this one, but it won’t take the entire beat sheet.
There are a few reasons to use this beat sheet for your story in just about any character-based action-heavy genre story:
- You have a strong plot, but you’re a character-based author.
- You have a character-based story, and you’re an action-reliant author.
- You need more flexibility in your story and need fewer beats to bind you in.
This beat sheet does not deal in acts, though, with any beat sheet that doesn’t offer act separations, you can certainly add that if you want. Simply divide your outline into four (4). The first quarter is Act 1. The second and third quarters are Act 2. And the final quarter is Act 3.
Your beats for this are:
- The quest
- Critical choice
The stasis is where we get to see the hero/heroine in their daily, normal, boring life. However, you need to find a way to make “boring” fun or at the very least interesting. And you should end this scene with a hook to keep your reader moving forward.
This is the action where you get your character a reason to move forward. They have no other options than to leave the comforts of their daily lives. They have to leave. This is usually in reaction to something that happens to him/her.
This is where the long slog begins, and the longest part of this beat sheet. This is their journey outside of their normal lives. If you’re familiar with Hero’s Journey, this is Crossing the Threshold. If you’re familiar with Save the Cat!, this is Fun and Games. In either case, this is where the action begins and your character is learning what he/she needs to learn in order to defeat the bad guy.
This is used to move the quest along and is a discovery beat. You can have one or four surprises along the way. If you have one (1) surprise, I would make it a plot discovery beat. If you have two (1), I would make one a character discovery beat and the other one a plot discovery beat. If you have any more than that, I would simply make them subplot discovery beats.
This is the beginning of your climax. Your character needs to make a choice with high risk that showcases their character arc. This choice–whether right or wrong–will propel the story into your climax.
This is your big fight. Now, keep in mind, that it doesn’t always have to be physical fighting. This can be a discovery race. This could be a mystery wrap-up chase. This could be any number of things but does not mean that there needs to be a physical action. It just needs to be heart-pounding and page-turning.
This is a really strange beat and doesn’t always work. If it’s a fight to get it to work with your story, don’t use it. Seriously. Just don’t worry about it. The reversal is where we get to see the consequences of the choice made at the beginning of the climax. If this is used, this is the midpoint of the climax. This is where the character sees the consequences of their choice and realizes they were wrong. Then they decide to move forward in a different direction. It sometimes works. It sometimes doesn’t.
We close the book with the main plot thread tied off and resolved, and a few subplots still left dangling to propel the reader into the next books.
That’s it. That’s the 8-point beat sheet, something that I often refer to on occasional beats, but rarely use in full.