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)
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.