It’s less than a week before NaNoWriMo begins, and for anyone asking our opinion, we sure hope you have the major plot points of your novel planned and know who your characters are. But there’s so much in between the major points, and being who we are, we like to have those figured out as well. To know what comes in every part of the novel, one option is to use a beat sheet. There are many out there, some general, others for specific genres, but the one we use comes from our favorite writing book, My Story Can Beat Up Your Story.
So after we decided the big points from the Syd Field Paradigm (Inciting Incident, Plot Point 1, Pinch 1, Midpoint, Pinch 2, Plot Point 2, Showdown, and Resolution), we turn to My Story. Schechter breaks down each Act into Beats: Act 1 has 12 Beats, Act 2 has 14, and Act 3 has 4. Some of the Beats to hit in Act 1 (and there is some flexibility built in here) include meeting the Hero, the Deflector slowing the Hero down, and the Hero deciding to save the Stakes Character. (Remember the characters and their relationships with the Hero?) Act 2 consists of 14 sets of Yes/No scenarios. Others refer to this process as Try/Fail cycles, but whatever the name, the plotting is the same. The Hero makes progress but then encounters setbacks. Act 3 continues the idea of Yes/No, but with the twist that the first Yes is followed by a No and then an even bigger No, and then finally the Yes that brings the story to its climax.
In a 50,000 word novel, Act 1 should be around 12,500 words, or the first 25% of the book. On Schechter’s beat sheet, Act 1 has 12 beats of varying length, the Inciting Incident being beat 5 and Plot Point 1 (as described in the Syd Field Paradigm) at the 12th and final beat of Act 1. So, what exactly is happening before Beat 5 and between that and Beat 12? Beats 1-4 are about character introductions: meeting the Hero, Villain, Stakes Characters (these are the folks who matter to the Hero and are the reasons why he bothers doing what he does), as well as the Deflector. Even though one Beat does not have to equal one chapter, I currently have 4 chapters planned to cover these beats in my upcoming novel, before I reach Chapter 5 and the Inciting Incident when my Hero, Oleg (a detective), is told that he must continue the investigation that will eventually lead to the murder that takes place at the end Act 1. Between the Inciting Incident and the murder, Oleg has to chat with his love interest about his personal flaws, receive motivation from allies, and also be threatened by the antagonist, along with some other beats.
What the heck this all looks like, well, you’ll literally need a picture for that. Stay turned this week for more!