Today’s post comes from author and blogger B.L. Daniels. You can check out his blog here. He has great content and advice, so I encourage you to check his page out! You can also follow him on Twitter @aggrokragg
Authors tend to fall into two categories. “Plotters” and “Pansters”. Plotters attempt to formulate and outline their entire story or novel before they sit down to write, while pantsers “fly by the seat” and see where the process takes them, for better or worse. Many writers fall somewhere in between these two extremes, or would like to have a little more structure to avoid “writing themselves into a corner” without the perceived limitations that a strict outline can impose on their creative flow. Story beats can be a great solution to this.
If you’re not familiar with story beats, they have been around for a long time, but primarily in other creative arts. “Beats” have been around for decades in scriptwriting for plays, television and movies. At their core, they are a high-level outline. They chunk out the sequence of events based on the main points or “beats” of the story. Much like music is a fluid creative art that adheres to a set of rules, the beats keep your story on track without imposing a lot of restrictions. You might also be familiar with the use of story boards when outlining the action of a film.
Since I’m a plotter, I find that detailed outlines help immensely when working on projects like a novel. My brain needs a detailed document to keep many characters, settings, and plot lines organized. However, when I’m working on something like a short story, I don’t like putting that level of detail into outlining, since I don’t feel like the piece requires it. Plus, I tend to use short stories as a way to experiment, and I sometimes wildly veer off from my original ideas (with varying success). I love using beats for short stories, since I can create a basic structure for a 5-7000-word story, and then fill in all the details as I go along putting meat on the bones.
As an example, here’s some basic beats for a simple haunted house story:
Beat 1: Teenage friends on a fun rural road trip have car trouble
Beat 2: With no mechanic, and no cell phone service, they go looking to find help.
Beat 3: They run across an old run down house and go in to see if anyone is home.
Beat 4: Something lives there, but it’s not what they expect!
If you’re a beginning (or experienced) author who has been running into issues with dead end’s or writers block, but you just cannot bring yourself to create a full outline, then beats may be exactly what you’re looking for. They provide structure to guide you, while still allowing creative freedom to experiment with a great range of ideas as your story and characters come to life on the page.
Try them out!