I’m a total plotter. In the end, I might stray from my bulleted plot outline. New characters pop up like gophers from their little hidey holes in the ground. But I like knowing where I’m going. And what I’ve been using most lately is Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet. It’s a ton of fun, and great practice for plotting story. I like to fill one out for Shiny New Ideas that may or may not go anywhere, because, like writing the pitch ahead of time, it’s great practice.
For some writers, this Beat Sheet thing is old news – but a few months ago I’d never heard of it, so I’ll share it here in case there’s someone else who hasn’t heard of it. Basically, screenwriter Blake Snyder evaluated gazillions of films and came up with a “formula” or road map, or, uh, beat sheet that outlines the common scenes, or beats, of a screenplay. Movies and books both are fundamentally stories, so these beats can be adapted very easily to novels. And it is A BLAST not only applying these beats to my own brainstorming, but evaluating some of the crappy movies we find on Netflix streaming (we’ve watched all the good ones that appeal to us). I’m starting to (starting to?) annoy Homes with comments like, “It’s been fifteen minutes and we haven’t even left the Ordinary World!” or “Ah, yes, the false high midpoint. I know these.”
The beauty of the whole beat sheet is I can overlay it with Christopher Vogler’s The Hero’s Journey (an abbreviated, simpified Wikipedia version can be reached here), and it still works. Because story is, for the most part, universal.
You can download Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet for free, here. Really, though, a look at the book is recommended. He shares many great ideas about story and market and even genre.
There’s your unsolicited advice for the day! It’s good for you. Like vitamins.