Beating the Cat

How To Complete A Beat Sheet:

1) Find nearest hard surface.

2) Bang head on said surface. Repeat as necessary.

I had a long conversation the other day with my editor. He loved my most recent submission but wants some significant changes – and the flaws he pointed out were little niggling doubts in the back of my mind, so I’m okay with this.

Then he suggested using a beat sheet to plot out the major points of the story before I actually start revising.

My pantser soul gasped, cried, then curled into the fetal position. You want me to plot? You’re kidding. Please tell me you’re kidding.

Of course, I said none of this. I think I said, “Sure.” I do know I agreed to complete the beat sheet in a reasonable amount of time, though there was some back and forth on what the reasonable amount of time was. So I set myself a deadline of the end of June and went back to drafting Blood and Shadows.

But a deadline is a deadline, even if it’s self imposed, so last night I pulled out the beat sheet to look at it again.

I’ve never read Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. I was only passingly familiar with the idea of beats and the points they serve in the story. I knew I hit some of them on a regular basis (and if you’re a romance writer, you probably do, too, without even realizing it, just because you’re familiar with how a romance should read.)

I figured the easiest way to learn the sheet was to start with a project I haven’t started yet. That way I wasn’t encumbered by plot points that probably ought to be replaced. I had a basic idea, a clear picture of my hero, and how the story would begin, but the biggest parts – the heroine and the external conflicts working against them – were murky at best.

It was an…interesting experience.

I managed to finish the damn thing in about a half hour, once I actually settled into it, though I did leave a few slots blank, and there was this whole second column that I had no idea if I was supposed to fill it in with something or not. Then I sent it off to one of my CPs who regularly uses beat sheets and asked her to check it. I kinda felt like having someone check my homework.

There were some pluses to using the thing. I had an even clearer picture of the hero by the end of it (to the point where he started looking like Michael Ealy, only with dreadlocks) and some of the flaws pulling the hero and heroine apart showed up and settled in for the duration. Even better? I figured out whose story it was, and what point of view to use.

But there were questions, too. Like, do I fill in the B story box, especially when it seems so similar to the fun and games box? How does a prologue fit into this? Is my catalyst different enough from the inciting incident, or did I just restate the same thing in both boxes?

I understand why I should use the thing to plot out my revisions – my editor wants to see what changes I’m thinking of before I go in and do them so he can approve or veto as necessary. But dammit, it’s hard. I’ve already got a pretty good idea of how to incorporate some of the fixes (and an excuse to watch The Lives of Others again) and it chafes that I can’t just jump right in and do it.

My grumbling pantser soul realizes, in between grumbles, that this is a pretty useful tool, if I can just figure out how to utilize it properly. There are a couple of projects I’ve stalled on that I would dearly love to finish because the story’s still got its hooks in me, and if a beat sheet can help me figure out what to do, I’ll grin and bear it.

In the meantime…*sneaks off to start revisions*


2 thoughts on “Beating the Cat

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