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.
- 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
- 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
- The first major obstacle is introduced
- Ways to solve the problem are starting to be eliminated
- The goal is starting to seem less attainable
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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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