Adventures in Outlining!

I’m a total plotter. In the end, I might stray from my bulleted plot outline. New characters pop up like gophers from their little hidey holes in the ground. But I like knowing where I’m going. And what I’ve been using most lately is Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet. It’s a ton of fun, and great practice for plotting story. I like to fill one out for Shiny New Ideas that may or may not go anywhere, because, like writing the pitch ahead of time, it’s great practice.

For some writers, this Beat Sheet thing is old news – but a few months ago I’d never heard of it, so I’ll share it here in case there’s someone else who hasn’t heard of it. Basically, screenwriter Blake Snyder evaluated gazillions of films and came up with a “formula” or road map, or, uh, beat sheet that outlines the common scenes, or beats, of a screenplay. Movies and books both are fundamentally stories, so these beats can be adapted very easily to novels. And it is A BLAST not only applying these beats to my own brainstorming, but evaluating some of the crappy movies we find on Netflix streaming (we’ve watched all the good ones that appeal to us). I’m starting to (starting to?) annoy Homes with comments like, “It’s been fifteen minutes and we haven’t even left the Ordinary World!” or “Ah, yes, the false high midpoint. I know these.”

The beauty of the whole beat sheet is I can overlay it with Christopher Vogler’s The Hero’s Journey (an abbreviated, simpified Wikipedia version can be reached here), and it still works. Because story is, for the most part, universal.

You can download Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet for free, here. Really, though, a look at the book is recommended. He shares many great ideas about story and market and even genre.

There’s your unsolicited advice for the day! It’s good for you. Like vitamins.


  1. PB Rippey · September 22, 2012

    Ah, had not heard of the Beat Sheet. Thank you!

    • PB Rippey · September 22, 2012

      And the gophers are hysterical.

      • Beth Hull · September 22, 2012

        I hope you enjoy the Beat Sheet! And I don’t think you’ve seen the last of those gophers. I had WAY too much fun with them.

  2. Vicki Tremper · September 25, 2012

    I’m a plotter, too. I’ve hard of the Beat Sheet but have never tried it. I’m prepping for NaNo this year, so it sounds like a good time to try it. Thanks, Beth!

    • Beth Hull · September 25, 2012

      Oh, good luck with NaNo! I think the Beat Sheet would be a great tool for drafting!

      • Vicki Tremper · September 26, 2012

        If only I knew what some of those “beats” meant!

  3. Germain · October 4, 2012

    But an outline is more than a bullet point list – it’s a detail how to in-and-out everything.
    Some advantages of an outline here:

    • Beth Hull · October 4, 2012

      Germain, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Some writers may have stricter definitions of “outline,” but I’d argue that an outline is anything that helps me see my work as a whole – whether that’s a synopsis, a beat sheet, or a bullet point list. Again, though, this is what works for me, and different things work for different writers. Cheers!

  4. Deirdre · October 4, 2012

    I know what you mean about plotting and the gophers. It’s good to be open to new routes the story wants to go in, but always have a home to return to if you feel astray. I love reading about other writers methods! Cheers!

    • Beth Hull · October 4, 2012

      Yes, Deirdre, I love what you said about open to new routes, but always a home to return to. That’s exactly how I feel about planning and drafting!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s