Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Novels with a Beat

By Deb McLeod

Our October Writer’s Book Club featured Rebecca Green Gasper who introduced us to Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheets for screenwriting. We analyzed The Hunger Games and used the 15-point story arc to better see the shape of the story.

I’ve used the three-act structure as well as the journey as a plotting tool with my clients. But this was the first time I’d seen this 15-point story arc. The Hunger Games fit the beat sheet perfectly. We could easily identify the beats of the story and they conformed to the story arc in the Beat Sheet.

The theme was stated early in the novel. The main character, Katniss, stays within the rules. She is not a rebel. She’s hungry and people rely on her. She does what she has to do to survive. By the end of the book Katniss has become the face of the rebellion against a way of life that she can’t live under any longer. It’s a complete reversal. Her character follows the Beat Sheet arc.

After the book club I put my novel to the test. I downloaded a copy of the Beat Sheet and started filling it out. I had run into a wall of sorts just at the end of Act 2 and had been immersed in working my way out for about two weeks. When my energy for the work begins to wane that’s a signal to me that I took a wrong turn somewhere earlier in the plot. This was the perfect time for me to try the tool out.

My book is complicated. It’s the first of an eight-book thriller series. There are paranormal elements to it. There’s a love story and a conspiracy. There are plenty of characters, and there’s a B, C and a D story braided between the highs and lows of the A story.

Plotting has been a challenge.

First, I tried to slap the whole plot onto the Beat Sheet, but then I realized that I needed to pull apart the storylines and subplots and do a Beat Sheet for each one. Magical brilliance!!!

I started with the love story; the easiest to pull out and look at. The Beat Sheet fit all the way down to my stalling point. I had veered off the path right around the end of Act 2; I had forgotten my character’s theme.
At twenty-four, Macy Delacort has won at the game of life. She has everything a girl could want, but, in order to get it, she gave up an important part of her essence. Through the story she will begin to see exactly what her choices have cost her. By the end of the book she will learn to be true to herself and find her true love.

As I was writing scenes and moving in and out of all the other subplots, I forgot Macy’s theme and what her place was in the story. But now I had a plan. She’d been sidetracked from her mission. The challenge had faded and there was nothing to help her change by the end of the book.

Now I can see what I need to do. I still have scenes to think up and in plotting the other subplots as well as the main story, I might be able to find which scenes will give Macy an opportunity to lose everything but to get herself by the end of the story.

I have been so taken with this method that I hosted a Beat Party for some people who are about to do NaNoWriMo. We’d all like to have our road maps in place before we start so I met with a few people to teach them the Beat Sheet. We have plans to get together two or three more times and help each other beat out our plots before NaNo starts.

I never used to be a plotter. But I am now. It’s a wonderful feeling to know where you’re going and still leave room for surprises. I found the Beat Sheet to be a perfect tool for my book and just what I needed. Try it out. See if it works for you too. 

About the Writer:  Deb McLeod, is a writer, creative writing coach, co-founder and executive director of The Writing School. She has both an MFA and a BA in creative writing. She has been teaching and coaching for over ten years. Deb has published short fiction in anthologies and journals. She has written articles and creative nonfiction. Deb has been a professional blogger, tech writer, graphic artist and Internet marketing specialist.