Even the best chefs in the world start by following a recipe, in fact, the best of them still use them every once in a while. It allows them to ensure consistency and gives them a structure to follow so that they can create and let their imagination fly.
The same thing happens with screenwriters. Although there is no magic formula to create a script, there are recipes that provide guidance and direction to kickstart the passion and get you to type “the end”. Famous fellas like Blake Snyder, Robert McKee, and Syd Field, have tried hard to create and simplify these recipes with great success, taking the whole of the story and breaking it down to pieces or story beats. The beat sheet is also a great start to create an outline.
What is a beat sheet?
But what is a beat anyway? Firstly, beats are moments that move the story forward and set the course and tone for what’s going to happen next. They are simple narrative elements that bring the audience back to the story and challenge the characters that conform it. In other words, beats are the smallest part of the story structure and the acts it is divided into.
So now that you know what a beat is, let’s take a look at a beat sheet, which is like the script’s blueprint or map. This will guide you through the individual beats and help you determine what those moments will be, in your script, for each beat.
Creating the beat sheet
1. Opening image:
This is the first thing we see and your opportunity to show the world your characters live in. Be bold and get your audience hooked 😉 (Page 1)*
2. Where are we? What is this movie about?
Where are we in time and space? Is it nowadays? The past? The future?
What’s your promise to your audience? Will they have fun? Learn a lesson? Cry? Laugh? It is also the moment where we state our theme (family, friendship, love, success, power, etc.) (Page 4).
3. Who are they? Who’s your protagonist?:
Introduce your main character and those who surround him**. In other words, think of who he is? What is he like? What’s his job? What’s happening in his life? Who does he coexist with? What are they like? (Pages 1-8).
4. The kick:
The moment where your protagonist’s life changes. Although he still needs to decide upon it, his life can’t be the same after this. This is the until moment (Page 10).
5. The question:
Your protagonist’s debate. Most importantly, what is she** gonna do about the kick? Is she going to act upon it or try to run from it? Here, she will ponder her options and their consequences. (Page 10-20).
6. The answer:
What is the result of her** debate? This is what kicks off the rest of the plot, the decision of your protagonist to go get what they want. It’s where the journey begins, they’re packed up and out the door. (Page 20).
7. B plot:
A secondary story that accompanies the main plot and the protagonist. This is usually a romantic relationship but it doesn’t have to be. The B plot has its own development and is intertwined with the main narrative. (Page 20-25).
8. Kicks and giggles:
This is why your audience is watching this movie. The trailer moments, the adventure, and the journey. Here is where you make us laugh in a comedy and make us suffer in a drama or thriller. (Page 25-45).
9. Winning or losing:
Commonly known as Midpoint, this is the moment where your protagonist seems to be figuring it all out (or not). If it’s a happy movie, this is the moment where nothing can go wrong; if it’s a drama, this is where it seems that nothing can go right. This is also where we raise the stakes and add urgency. (Page 45).
10. Bad guys close in:
The conflict is here and we need to face it. The bad guys are on our protagonist’s tail and it’s starting to look like there is no way out. (Page 45-61).
11. No hope left:
At this point, it seems that our protagonist hit a dead end. The stakes are higher than ever and it seems there is very little left to do to accomplish the objective and solve the conflict. (Page 61).
12. Darkest hour:
This is the lowest point, where nothing our protagonist does seems to be enough to resolve the situation. He’s* losing hope and drive to continue.
This isn’t a single moment, but a series of situations that keep getting worse. (Page 61-70).
13. False defeat (or success):
Something HORRIBLE (or GREAT) happens. The death of a loved one, the finding out of the well-kept secret, discovering the treasure…
Above all, this triggers the final decision that our protagonist has to make to accomplish her* goals. (Page 70).
See it to the end. Our protagonist makes a final decision of whether he** is trying one more time or moving on. This is where the team regroups and strategizes and decides on a new course of action. Our characters have hit rock bottom, so there’s no way but up. (Page 70-90).
15. This is it:
The last thing your audience will see. This is the message you want to sink into your audience’s memory. Summarizes the theme and teaches the moral. Make it last! (Page 90).
In conclusion, beats are one of the many ways to organize your story’s structure, they’re detailed and allow you to see the story as a whole. Your beat sheet will be the map to follow and get to a happy ending, but there are a couple of other steps to work on before getting cracking on the actual script. Read more about the process of pre-writing.
Download our free beat sheet here.
*Page count for a 90 pages script, click here for templates on other script durations.
** I use he/she pronouns indefinitely.
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