Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Story Beats

One of the activities we have at retreat is a movie night. We sit together in the theatre room and watch a film, identifying the story beats as we go. This helps us clarify what the beats look like and how we can recognize the transitions between them. There is always a huge setting change between beats. We use a sheet to record the events as the story unfolds and clarify what each of the story elements contribute to the unfolding plot.

Although this book is written for screenwriting, it follows the Hero's Journey, which is the basis for much of novel writing. Of course, storytelling is storytelling!

While studying this book, I took a few notes to help me consider while writing. We don't do a lot of outlining, but we do jot notes for each major story element. A picture of the simple organizer we use is at the bottom of this post. We start with identifying what the character most wants and go from there.

Here are the elements:

Opening Image & Set up
Hook the reader with emotion, action, or character/voice
Every character introduced or hinted at
Plant character ticks
MC has 6 things that need fixing (we don't always have 6--but we try to)
Foreshadow main events
Theme posed to MC in conversation


Life Changing Event
This leads to the happiness in the end

Asks question that will focus the story around the evidence of your argument for the answer you give at the end of the story
“This is Crazy”
Other choices that could be taken
Yes, and why
No, and why

Break into Act 2
Choice is made
Leaves the “old” world
Opposite world (features or why is it opposite)
MC makes a clear decision to do this

B Story
Meet someone new
Love story (romanic, friends, family, self…)
Goes slightly of theme
MC to be nurtured, taught, advised and prepared
Confides in this person
Draws strength from here
New characters are opposite from set up scenes

Fun & Games
Some play, fun, fascination
Personality shines here
Take a break from the stakes
Lighter tone, think musical montage here

Is the situation going Up or Down for the main character?
Up—living in a false peak or success over antagonist
Down—world crashes in false destruction because of antagonist
MC shares this moment with other Main characters
Stakes raised a LOT in win or lose situation

Bad Guys Close In
Bad Guys regroup
Heavy artillery External
Heavy emotional artillery
Leading to a reversal of the midpoint in the next section
MC is on her/his own now

All is Lost
All aspects of MC’s life are in shambles
Whiff of Death (mentor, acquaintance, or some random event)

Dark Night of the Soul
MC is beaten and knows it

Break into Act 3
MC digs deep
Finds last piece needed to save or solve

Makes a new effort with lessons learned
Tics are mastered
Hero/Protag figures out how to do what must be done
Showdown with major and minor characters are involved
Minor villains are neutralized before the villain
A-Story resolved
B-Story resolved

Final Image
Creation of new “world” for the MC
Opposite of opening image
Proof that change has occurred
Back to the theme in some way


Laura D. Bastian said...

Thank you. I've seen the beats a few times, but your explanations that go with each beat has really helped me clarify some things that confused me.

Lynda R Young said...

Save the Cat is a brilliant book. I refer back to it often.

Kaye P. Clark said...

Thanks so much for this excellent post! I appreciate how you've simplified things and made it easier to follow.