How Beat Sheets Work For Creative Writers

Writer’s Relief
3 min readMar 9

Beat sheets are typically used by screenwriters to create bulleted outlines for their screenplays. A “beat” is a moment that moves the story forward. The experts are always on the lookout for helpful writing hacks, and we’ve discovered that a beat sheet can be a useful tool for outlining short stories, novels, and memoirs too! Here are some of our best tips on how beat sheets can work for creative writers.

How Creative Writers Can Use Beat Sheets

Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, a beat sheet will probably work well for your style of writing. This story structure template helps you keep track of the story arc’s direction, but it doesn’t require plotting out every single thing that happens. As a pre-outline outline, a beat sheet will map out the major emotional highs and lows of your story using short, concise descriptions — you’ll only need a page or two to outline an entire novel.

There are tons of beat sheet templates available that provide the structure and emotional beats (or plot points) you should be hitting at various points in your story. But if you’re familiar with the basic elements required in a good story arc, you can create your own beat sheet.

For example: If you already know the inciting incident or the climax of your story, a beat sheet will help you anchor those in place so you can fill out the rest of the important points around those moments. Think of a beat sheet as the scaffolding for your story: Not every scene needs to be mapped out, but having the major twists and turns outlined will give you a malleable structure to follow as you write.

Tips For Making (And Using) A Beat Sheet

Save the Cat! is one of the most popular beat sheet structures for screenwriting, and novelists have applied this particular structure to their genre too.

Creating a beat sheet is pretty straightforward. Start with a template and fill out what happens at each point. These can be quick, rough descriptions of what’s happening in a particular scene. The idea is just to lay the groundwork for the general plot and main story arcs.

Once that’s done, you should have a page or two offering a rough outline of your story. If you…

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