How Do I Use a Beat Sheet?

Reading time: 3 Minutes
Old fashioned typewriter for editing and rewriting your beat sheet.

Every story has a structure, and I’m sure that you already know this from watching television or reading the newspaper. It starts with a beginning; it has a middle; and it has an end. What happens between those places is where the fun is.

Every type of story has those components (or beats as we’re going to call them) and other components that fit under those headers. Even this blog post has beats.

A pyramid plot, which might be the simplest of all of them is as follows:

  • Set up – beginning
  • Conflict begins and rises
  • Conflict is at its climax
  • Conflict is ended and the story falls back to normal
  • Conclusion

The End. We all go home either satisfied with the ending or mad because it didn’t work out the way we think it should.

What is a beat sheet?

The beat sheet is a quick outline – not that nasty word again – that lays out the whole story in a simple form. When I said this post had a beat sheet to it, I meant it laid out the introduction, and then started to answer the questions we usually associate with a news story. The Ws and an H or so, with the H being the climax since it answers the question asked in the title. From there, we wrap it up with a conclusion.

Why would I use a beat sheet?

There are several reasons why you would use a beat sheet, but the number one reason is that it helps you stay on track for your story. By using a beat sheet, you make sure that your events happen in the right place of a story where it will have the most impact. The next time you read a novel, watch what happens at the 25 to 30 percent mark. Then again at the 75 percent mark. These are big beats in the story.

The other reasons are as follows:

  • It’s quicker than the more formal outline since it’s bullet points
  • It helps you focus without getting bogged down in details, which is good for those who write by the seat of their pants

You can keep your beat sheet on your desk next to you as you plan your novel or blog post. It’s your cheat sheet.

Where do I get a beat sheet?

Beat sheets are all over the internet, but you can create your own to make it fit your story. If your story is a three act story, then you can divide up your beat sheet into three parts.

Here are a few places you can get a beat sheet:

How do I use a beat sheet?

Like an outline, the beat sheet is there to keep you on track. Here is the basic beat set up for a three act story.

Beat Sheet set up:

Act 1

1 – Opening page or image – pg 1

2 – Set up the story – pg 1-10

3 – Set the theme – pg 5

4 – Catalysts to action – pg 12

5 – Debate the action – resist the action – pg 12-25

6 – Make a choice – heat up the scene – pg 25 (25 percent in)

Act 2

7 – Introduce subplot that runs parallel to the main story – pg 30

8 – Action scenes – all fun and games – running, screaming etc. – pg 30-55

9 – Midpoint – Character is either up or down – pg 55

10 – The bad guys are hot on the trail – conflict is heating up – pg 55-75

11 – Bad guys are winning – character loses all – pg 75 (notice 75 percent in)

12 – Despair – agony – hold your head and cry – pg. 75-85

Act 3

13 – Fresh start – new revelation – get those bad guys – pg 85

14 – Finish getting the bad guys and wrap up the stories – pg 85-110

15 – Closing scene – all is well in the world – pg 85


Now that you have an idea of how things are set up, the next time you watch a sitcom or a movie, check the beats to see where they are added and how they correlate to the overall story.

If you can’t find a beat sheet, then create your own based on your needs.

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