Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Beat Sheets to the Big Edit


An Entry for the Insecure Writer Support Group Book in the Writing Category. IWSG has my permission to use it for the IWSG self help book...

(you can include the next two paragraphs context or not, the main blog starts at the title)


Rewriting is HARDER than writing, eh? I feel a sort of euphoria pouring out my tale the first time, but then you have to hammer that puppy (which does not involve harming any ACTUAL puppies) into shape. A few years back a trick shared by a friend of mine spurred me into developing something that I've found extremely helpful.

Jan Morrison mentioned using beat sheets. Now I remember reading a bit on what a beat sheet was to her, and I'm not sure my method is quite as sophisticated, but it IS extremely helpful with that first round of editing—the one whereby we are trying to get the STORY right. (no point editing the language of stuff that will be coming out anyway, right? So always start with the story.) I DID double check with Jan that it was okay for me to share the method. She said SHE got the idea from Roz Morris, but that it was a movie script trick in origin... Being me... I've taken the main idea and sort of made up the specifics, but those are the areas you can check if you want to learn the more official version.


Beat Sheets a la Tart

Main Action Each Scene: I do this in an excel spread sheet, as I also record the page the scene starts on, the characters introduced, and when I write a mystery, the clues revealed, but the BIG part is the main action or actions (usually for me this is one to four phrases).

Holistic Revision Notes: On a separate page, as I read through the story, I take notes on big stuff that needs to change. Does somebody need a motivation enhanced? Is there a subplot that would really enrich the story? Does your brilliant ending that you just thought of in the last fifty pages need to be woven forward so it doesn't come out of nowhere? Are there unfinished story strands that either should just go away or need to be developed?

MATCH THEM. Take those big changes, and note WHERE in your beat sheet those changes should go, then use this as your revision guide.


Yes, this will mean you need to read through again and make sure you haven't messed up your timeline or made something inconsistent, but your story will be better for it.


The Beat Sheet in the Aftermath

Once revisions are in, I THEN use the beat sheet for an analysis of things like 'do all scenes move the plot forward?' and 'is the number of pages devoted to a given scene a good match for the pace I want?' We all want our stories to MOVE, but a cycle of mostly moving with occasional quiet can be nice—you just want to make sure the quiet scenes aren't so long that the reader loses momentum.

I also analyze chapter length here because short chapters pick up the pace and long chapters slow it down.


Hart Johnson writes books from her bathtub, plotting murder and mayhem for your enjoyment. She publishes both under the names Hart Johnson and Alyse Carlson.

30 comments:

dolorah said...

Good tips. I kept a file of potential changes and page numbers, nothing this elaborate. Now I've started using track changes to annotate where I need more editing.

Lynda R Young said...

Beat sheets sound super handy. I'll have to give them a try.

This will be a great article for the book!

Nick Wilford said...

Heard of them but not heard a detailed walkthrough before. Sounds like a good way of isolating elements that might need attention. Thanks!

Chemist Ken said...

Yep. Having to go back and fix things up after you added or changed a plot or subplot is par for the course. It seems that I spend have my writing time just doing that. Perhaps that's why I'm such a slow writer. :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've used the Save the Cat beat sheet, but yours is even simpler.
Thanks for contributing to the book!

Sarah Ahiers said...

I find the Save the Cat beatsheet a little too formulaic for me, but i've never thought about using beat sheets in revision

Tamara Narayan said...

Good idea. I've never heard of beat sheets.

Nicki Elson said...

That's a great idea to break it down and show the story as just those essential elements - will make it easier to detect pacing issues. Thanks!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I've heard of beat sheets and I guess I use my own version of them when I do rewrites.

Chrys Fey said...

This is an interesting technique. Thanks for sharing!

Elizabeth Hein said...

Keeping a notebook my your side while doing a holistic read through is a great idea. It is easy to lose track of the big picture in a sea of details.
Elizabeth Hein - Scribbling in the Storage Room

S. L. Hennessy said...

I've only recently come across beat sheets and they seem like wonderful tools. I plan on using them this go round.

Andrew Leon said...

Your image of beating puppies with a hammer could make a -- hmm, I was going to say "great," but I think that's the wrong word -- horror story.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

That's a neat way of using the beat sheet idea.

J.L. Campbell said...

It's always interesting to see the methods other writers use to write and edit. I used something like this for one of my novels, but it was working out stuff for each chapter.

J.L. Campbell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rosalyn said...

Jami Gold has some terrific beat sheets on her blog that really helped me rework my revision. Thanks for this new method!

Diane Burton said...

OMG, another spreadsheet user. LOL I thought I was the only one. Great advice for tackling that 4-letter word. Edit. Good luck.

Donna McDine said...

Fascinating! I've thought of this approach and appreciate you sharing this!

Best regards,
Donna McDine
Award-winning Children’s Author
Ignite Curiosity in your child through reading!
Write What Inspires You Blog

J Q Rose said...

Well. I'll be. I do this but never knew there was an actual name for it. Great post. Thank you!

Raquel Byrnes said...

I don't know. Kinda DOES feel like hammering actual puppies is involved. Just finished edits and I really, really am happy I'm done....for now.
Edge of Your Seat Stories

VR Barkowski said...

Terrific post, Hart. Every story needs structure, and I agree beats are a great way to get there. I'm a notorious pantser, and I edit as I write, but I completed a beat sheet for my current project. Am I sticking to it? Hell no, but once the draft is finished, I'll know by comparing my MS with the beat sheet where I veered off track. Great advice.

VR Barkowski

Gina Drayer said...

I love reading how other authors work. I work with beats, a little more organically than I've heard other authors do, but they help me write.

I love this idea of using Beats during first round editing. I can really see how this would help focus the story.

Tammy Theriault said...

never heard of it, but wow, how very effective!

Helena said...

This sounds so much more logical and organized than what I do. I usually just rely on scribbled notes (both hard copy and electronic), but your system sounds better.

T. Powell Coltrin said...

This is great stuff. Now mind you, thus far I'm only writing short stuff, but I use highlighting (on screen) for things I need to look at later.

You ROCK with your advice.

Juneta Key said...

Great idea, thanks for sharing.

Juneta at Writer's Gambit

Loni Townsend said...

I'm an aftermath beat sheet comparer. I like Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! beat sheet. Do you have your own beat sheet, or do you use one of the big-name ones?

Mary Aalgaard said...

This would be helpful in keeping track of everyone and everything!
Thanks
Play off the Page

Jade C. Jamison said...

Thanks for sharing, Tami! :)