In our last two discussions about using a beat sheet or sculpting your novel into a unique container of your own, we covered the benefits and downfalls of using both approaches. Those two posts are found in the archives under the titles: Beat The Sheet or Break The Glass and Part II Beat The Sheet or Break The glass.
Today, our final discussion on the concept will cover; How?
First...let's take a look at the 15 beats on the beat sheet from Save The Cat, by Blake Snyder.
1. Opening Image (Page
2. Theme Stated (Page 15
3. Set-Up (Pages 3-30
4. Catalyst (Page 36
5. Debate (Pages 36-75
into Act Two (Page
Story (Page 90
8. Fun and Games (Pages 90-165
9. Midpoint (Page 165
10. Bad Guys Close In (Pages 165-225
11. All Is Lost (Page 225
12. Dark Night of the Soul (Pages
13. Break into Act Three (Page 255
14. Finale (Pages 255-330
15. Final Image (Page 330
There are deeper explanations of what belongs in each beat and how to create them but its complicated and you should read the book for full understanding.
With this pattern comes predictability and often times crams a story into scenes and plot points that don't seem to support the story itself. I read a book with a great character and for the first 35 pages of the book it was really good. refer to the above list...
This is the point where the author is setting the scene, introducing the characters and getting the reader ready for the story. There is quite a bit of flexibility here.
As soon as the story needed to follow certain steps in the beat sheet though, the book became unsteady. The sequence of scenes stopped making sense. The character was doing things the story didn't want to do. The heroine went from strong and in control, to weak and needy. She got a boyfriend who had no use in the story, a masked rescuer that diminished the danger she was in, instead of increasing it, and had her playfully enjoying a school dance in the middle of running for her life. All because the beat sheet told the author to put the story in that order.
I don't know the success of this particular novel, but I know as a writer and reader, I won't buy any more of this author's work.
So...why do authors stick to the beat sheet so strictly, if it doesn't always lead to success?
Because the important occurrences in the novel are important. They just don't necessarily need to be in the order or on the page number the beat sheet demands.
If your character wants to start with a catalyst moment that flings her normal life into chaos. Let her do it.
If your dark night of the soul happens before the bad guys close in and the character readies them self for a battle like they've never faced before, let them do it. Let the story go where it wants to go, just always be aware of the characters or plot driving the story into a corner. As the story unfolds and you find yourself in the middle of something you don't know how to get your character out of, then back track. You may change one scene or add a single character to a scene and suddenly you have the way out. The story needs to begin fluid, in motion and unorganized to some extent while you get it to the point where it has satisfied its telling. A lot of writers don't like to do this because its months worth of work that may be deleted, forgotten or tossed out during revisions. However, if you are patient and nurturing of your work, learning all the places the story could have gone but won't go, makes it the perfect story by the time you're there.
I have only my own experiences to illustrate this to me. My first novel was about 20 K longer but was edited down to fit the publication criteria. Maybe it was too wordy or it took side trails it shouldn't have. Publication was fast and maybe it just wanted something different. My second novel took two years to finish. I went down roads that never appear in the finished work. I delved into background scenes that will never be seen, but developed the character in the final book.I've been letting my urban fantasy try to tell me where it wants to go for almost five years now. Every time I attempt to cram it into some kind of pattern, it rebels. Hence the reason its taking so long.
Research and work on figuring out how to be a better writer has taught me so much about how to be a better story teller. I refer to the beat sheet when my story stalls, but only to find the road map for where it wants to go next. Not to follow the pattern. Shattering the traditional wine glass to craft my own container has brought my stories to life in my own thoughts a little more each day I learn. I hope my next novel will show my reader, writer and family fans that. Mostly I hope to let you all enjoy the wine, not talk about drinking it from the wrong glass.
In the meantime, I'll keep working and you keep writing!