Beats to Story


Posted On Oct 28 2013 by

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Okay, with only a few days remaining in October, you should have your story beats lined up. Every character has at least one goal, most will have three or more. That means if you have 7 characters with 3 or more goals, that’s 21 individual goals. Each goal will have at least 3 beats–a beginning, middle, and end. Or a before the moment of enlightenment, moment of enlilghtenment, and after moment of enlightenment. So that’s 3 beats for each goal x 21 goals = 63 beats. Chances are it’s more like 80 to 100 beats.

Beats and Scenes

Now beats create scenes, but a beat is not necessarily a scene. Your characters and their goals will overlap. Story lines will cross. So a scene may contain a before beat for character A and a moment of enlightenment beat for character D. If you’re feeling brave, you can toss in another character and one of her beats as well. Careful, though, it can get pretty muddy if you try to accomplish too much in one scene.

So with the few days you have left, you’re going to arrange your story beats. This is where 3×5 cards can save you. You can write down each of your 80 to 100 beats on a separate card. You’ll want to color code by character. Also create goals for the character-goal-and beat. For example: My character Bob has a goal to ask Carol out for a date. In this scene, Bob makes his first attempt and fails. So I take my card that I’ve color coded Red for Bob and made a notation in the corner. I’ll use B for Bob, R for romantic goal, and the beat number. So I’ve got BR1. It may seem complex, but it will save you later when you’re moving cards around. You’ll quickly notice if you’ve placed BR3 ahead of BR1.

Carol will also have a card that will be placed next to the one you just created. Let’s say Carol has a goal of never dating again. We hope, for Bob’s sake, that she fails by the last beat. But for now, she’s at beat 2, her moment of revelation. She’ll turn Bob down but realize, through your ingenious use of imagery and symbolism, that she’s just thrown out the only man who’s ever treated her with any kind of respect and love. So Carol’s card, color coded pink, will have a C for Carol, maybe an P for Relationships (because we already used R), and a number 2 for the beat of that goal. So we get CP2.

Got it? Don’t worry, you will. The code is yours. Make it fit your needs.

Story Building Blocks

As you create your cards an codes, you’ll immediately see where some beats need to pair up in a scene. Go ahead and tape them up together, use a paperclip, whatever it takes. That’s your scene!

After you’ve coded all those cards, you’ll arrange them in some sort of order. Some like straight lines. Some like a diamond or circle. We’ll get to that. The important thing is to be able to see your story at a glance and see what scenes need to be moved around or even eliminated.

Realistically, you can take a month or more just playing with this part of your story. And you should. Writing the scenes themselves will go quickly. This is where you need to make the story work. Get it right, and even mediocre prose won’t hurt a great story.

My suggestion here is to not be intimidated by the November 1st deadline. Don’t wast a word on paper if you’re story isn’t exactly how you want it to go. We want more than to write a novel. We want a published novel and the start of a great career. That’s worth taking the time to get it right.

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Last Updated on: October 28th, 2013 at 11:27 am, by Ron


Written by Ron

Just about everything I believe has been shaped by the written word. But books don't force a belief; they stir the imagination so that you, the reader, eventually draw your own conclusions. We grow richer in spirit when we read, deeper in our understanding of the universe and our role in it. That's why I read. That's why I write. To offer you a bit of myself. Come along on my journey, won't you? There's plenty of room.