No matter whether you’re a pantser or an outliner, getting to know the rhythm of storytelling is crucial to providing your audience with a read they can’t put down. Story beats are a series of individual action points upon which you hang the structure of your story. The more familiar you are with the way a typical story “plays out” the more coherent and fluid your final product will be.
One size does not fit all for most things in life, including writing. Story beats will differ based on genre, tone, and audience, but there are a few things that will (mostly) stay the same. They are:
The three act structure is the mainstay of novel writing. It breaks your story down in the most general way possible. Act One is the set-up where, at the very least, we meet the protagonist and are treated to an inciting incident — an event that propels us into the action.
In Act Two, also called rising action, we become familiar with the protagonist and possibly other characters. He or she tries to solve whatever problem is created by the inciting incident, but at this point doesn’t have the skills to pull it off. Most character development occurs at this stage of writing.
Act Three is the resolution, which includes the high point of the novel: the climax. This Act features the protagonist and perhaps other characters solving their critical issue and coming away from it with a new sense of self.
There are subsections within the Acts that will help you pace your story. The ones I used are as follows:
Remember: one size does NOT fit all, but it does fit MOST. You can modify subsections to fit your genre, but these are a fantastic starting point.
Finally, the meat of your novel. Within the Acts and the Subsections are the Beats — literally, the beating heart of your story. I’m going to give you a quick outline of the beats I used and then provide links to several sites where you can browse and download a variety of templates to help you plan your own story.
Here were my story beats:
Sources for Story Beats Templates:
A great template plus lots of books and movies’ beats broken down for you.
This is a well-written, easy-to-understand breakdown of story parts
Fantastic template you can copy or change.
Look at the sidebar for the calculator. Will help you estimate length of each beat.
This should be enough to put you on the path to outlining (or at least thinking through) the rhythm of your novel. Remember, even pantsers should have an innate flow to their storytelling, so study these beats before you put fingers to keyboard!
Homework: Study the idea of story structure and beats. If you’re feeling up to it, begin your outline.
Next Week: Writing a Scene!
See you on the next page!