Your First Assignment: Beat Sheets
As I mentioned on Twitter, my lovely Pitch Wars mentees this year, Lisa and Suz, gave me the thumbs up to share with you some of their homework assignments. That way, those of you who didn’t get picked can whip your MS into shape as best as you can. (Please note, this doesn’t negate the necessity of CPs and/or beta readers!)
I’m going to post the homework assignments here on the blog, in separate posts, as well as tweet about them. Some will be super short, so don’t expect a novel every time you come here. These will be posted after my mentees have been given them, and will be done when I have a spare minute to do so.
Your first mission, should you choose to accept it: Beat Sheets.
I know not everyone likes them. I also know some people are plotters and some are pantsers, and those who are the latter get terrified at anything like this. And that’s totally okay. However, it means nothing to me in this stage.
You’ve already written the book in whatever fashion you preferred, whether you used a beat sheet or the snowflake method or a cocktail napkin. Regardless, now it’s time to see if that actually worked for you. Enter the beat sheet.
A very common problem in manuscripts is pacing. Every story needs to follow an arc. I am going to be only talking about romance novels, because that’s what I write and that’s what I mentor. If you write something else, google beat sheet. I’m sure you’ll have no problem finding one for your specific genre and category. For all you romance junkies, here’s the one I like to use from Jami Gold.
The reason I want my mentees to do this is so they can see in black and white where issues might be. Once you fill this out, adjusting it for your book specifications, you’ll be able to see if there’s an issue within your book. Your points (or beats) should fall within a 10-15 page range, I’d say. And if they don’t? There better be a damn good reason for it. I’m always a fan of breaking away from rules when warranted, but this is not one of those rules. 99% of romances follow these beats for a reason–it builds the right amount of tension for the characters and the readers. Of course, there are always exceptions to some of these beats (first kiss and first intimate encounter, specifically), but never on the conflict, black moment, and resolution. Or at least I have not read a successful example of it.
Another very simplified way to look at beats is: 25% for first kiss, 50% for first intimate encounter (I’m being so proper for you guys…), 75% for the beginning of the end, 90% for the black moment/all is lost, and then the resolution.
Once you’ve got those filled out based on your MS, you’ll be able to see what, if anything, needs changing and can adjust your MS accordingly. Let me know in the comments or on twitter if you accepted the challenge and what you learned!
Up tomorrow: I don’t know. Come back to find out.
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I was struggling with an emptiness in what I later discovered was the Act II pinch point last week, and I found Jami’s beat sheets through Google. Amazing! It identified the problem, and then I was able to solve it. I’m glad to see you recommend it!
Thanks for the shout out to my beat sheet! I’m so glad people have found my worksheets helpful. 🙂
I like your point about how we can break the “rules,” but we’d better have a good reason for it. I don’t ever want someone to “break” their story’s flow simply to match up with the numbers on the beat sheet, but most of the time, if the numbers are off, we should pay attention.
Thanks for stopping by, Jami! I reference your beat sheet often, so thank you for making it available to everyone!