The Eight-Beat Plotting Method

Free Eight-Beat Story Structure Worksheets

Eight-Beat Story Structure 

I am a self-identified pantster, AKA, I like to write by the seat of my pants. Meaning I don’t like to plot first. Usually.

For years, I dreaded plotting. I would try it with a story here and there, but ultimately either end up getting so deep into my plot outline that it turned into a novel in itself, or I’d get bored and never write the actual story. The latter is something that tends to happen with me when I feel like all the details are already decided and there’s nothing left to surprise me later. I like to feel like I’m reading my novel as I write it.

That’s why I love the eight-beat plotting method. It’s a system adapted from the film industry that breaks the overall story into manageable sections. Each beat works like a peg that you hang the rest of your story off of. This system provides a basic framework around which you can develop the supporting scenes and details for your novel. The best part is that the entire outline can take less than a page, leaving plenty of room for adding detail as you go.

I’ve provided a free, eight-beat story structure worksheet. Below, I’ve divided it into sections and described each one.

Beat One: Status Quo and Inciting Incident
  • This is the start of your story
  • Here, you can hint at what dangers and problems are lurking ahead
  • The inciting incident is what throws out the balance and sets the plot in motion
  • The inciting incident usually comes at the end of beat sequence one
Beat Two: Predicament and Lock-In
  • Sets up the problem that will be central to the entire story
  • First hints at possible obstacles
  • At the end of this sequence, tension is established when the main character is locked-into the problem and propelled in a new direction to obtain their goal
Beat Three: First Obstacle and Stakes are Raised
  • The first major obstacle is introduced
  • Ways to solve the problem are starting to be eliminated
  • The goal is starting to seem less attainable
Beat Four: First Shift and Midpoint
  • A bigger obstacle is presented (rising action)
  • There is a shift that changes the entire direction of the story
  • This leads to the first culmination, which parallels the end outcome:
    • In some way, this is the main character’s first victory
    • For the first time, success seems like a possibility
Beat Five: It Hits the Fan
  • Internal and external forces mount to defeat the main character in their goal
    • Internal: Insecurities such as doubt, jealousy, and fear
    • External: Antagonists regroup for attack
  • Main character demonstrates their reaffirmed commitment to the goal
Beat Six: Black Moment
  • This is inverse of the end outcome
  •  The last idea to solve the problem is tried—and fails
  •  This is the Black Moment, the lowest point, all is lost
  •  The main character cannot see a way out
  •  The reader should not be able to see a way out of this situation either
  •  The immense consequences and stakes that have been building over the entire novel are not enough to force the main character to continue–they lose hope and give up
  •  Things somehow keep getting worse—right on into the first half of beat seven
Beat Seven: Second Shift and Climax
  • This is the second shift—something major happens that, again, changes the entire direction of the story
  • Tension is ramping up for the final showdown
  • The main character has gathered all their mental and physical resources to achieve their goal
  • At the climax, everything learned so far is used
  • If the character has fatal flaws, this is the time to show how they can triumph over their shortcomings
Beat Eight: The Resolution
  • At long last, balance is regained
  • However, this balance has been changed and developed by the cumulative events of the story
  • Whether or not there is a happy ending, the main character is, at least in some way, in a better place than when they began
Don’t forget: Download your free, eight-beat story structure worksheet. I’ve also included inside a bonus eight-beat storyboard template that you can use alongside.


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