You wake in the middle of the night eager to delve into your new greatest work of art. The words are flowing. You can’t write fast enough to keep up with your inner narrative. This is a grandiose feeling, not to mention a fabulous way to jostle your family and pets out of bed before sunrise.
But before you bleed your emotions onto the page, consider organizing your thoughts. Prior to gearing up to spread the word about your story, plan how your plot will develop. Trust me, you will save yourself a lot time-consuming of heart ache.
My hubby was college pals with Blake Snyder, which makes me a long-standing follower of his plotting method. Blake Snyder’s techniques work well for scripts, fiction storytelling, and nonfiction outlines. Here are essential steps for the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet.
First off, provide a gripping opening. Readers spend much of their time breezing through cryptic text messages and abrupt emails. Society has progressed to understanding the setting and even buildup to scenes without being spoon-fed lengthy backstory, like in the previous decades.
The purpose of designating a splash opening is to create a strong first impression. This is your platform to show the tone, mood and scope of your story. Where in life is your protagonist in the beginning?
Don’t be coy. Just say what your theme is. Tell the readers what your story is about and state which direction he will be traveling. A key ingredient in storytelling is to be clear.
Yes, I am aware there are phenomenal suspense authors who hide the ball. However, within the first few paragraphs, the reader is aware there is a suspense and a ball is hidden. Pretending to write a contemporary romance when you plan to throw in a miraculous fantasy element is jarring. Lay out the overall concept in the beginning.
Now that your introductions are over, it’s time to share what is at risk for your protagonist. What is the protagonist willing to fight for above all else. As you share his passion, make sure to give the top characters in the story stage time. If it doesn’t make sense to bring them into the scene, then at least refer to the character(s).
Above all else, show the reader what the protagonist is missing in his life. Whatever it is, the protagonist wants to have it, bad.
Whatever it was you shared about the protagonist in the Set Up, take it away from him. Destroy the one thing he will do anything to save. Remove his passion from his life. Make it so that his only option is to go out and do something about it. There is no way he can remain where he was because that life no longer exists.
Before you get the journey rolling, have your protagonist refuse to go. He loved his old life and wants things to go back to being they way they were. He can’t move forward because he doesn’t believe in himself. He lacks faith.
Give him a question that must be answered by the end of the scene. Can he survive failure? Is he capable of learning kung fu with only one leg? Is he resourceful enough to get through this travesty?
Break into Two
This is your protagonist’s shining moment. Act II begins with your protagonist deciding to assert himself into taking action. This must be a deliberate plan. If your protagonist is unaware of how he will end up on his quest, he’s in a daze or confused, then he hasn’t embarked into Act II. This is the moment he knows what to do.
The B Story softens the jarring shift from the old world into the new experience. This is the rocket fuel to the main goal. Have the elements of the B Story present the opposite views from the main goal.
Fun and Games
Lighten the mood by showing the protagonist on his adventure. He is clever and interesting. His actions toy with the other characters and entertain the reader. Enjoy the scenes.
Have irony and characterization. This is not the time to stress the plot goals. It is intended for the protagonist to forget about getting somewhere. Here, the characters interact and are humanized.
Choose whether the middle of the story has the protagonist at a high point, or at a low point. It is the transitional scene where he stops being tested. This is where he reevaluates how he has been managing the issues.
Whatever he believed before, he has now learned it was all wrong. His choice raises the stakes so that it is even more important for him to complete the main goal.
Bad Guys Close In
Here the negative forces in the protagonist’s life restrict him from moving forward. He is at a loss as to how to fix the mess. No one is available to help him.
All is Lost
Dedicate a scene to the protagonist losing his rock. The foundation falls out from under him. His wise advisor who has been guiding him up to this point is no longer available.
Without his crutch, the protagonist must prove to himself he can muster the strength to reach his goal by relying on his own resources. There is no rescuer on a white horse coming. It’s all up to him.
Dark Night of the Soul
Show the protagonist without hope. This is a short clip, but it demonstrates the severe differences between failure and hope.
Break into Three
The protagonist devises a resolution to his quest. This is his Aha! moment. The protagonist figures out what he needs to do, and he knows how to go about it.
The protagonist saves the day not only for reaching his main goal but also for the B Story. His resolution comes about due to the knowledge he learned by passing the many tests he experienced along the way. Plus, his relationships are blissful.
At last, reveal a glimpse of what the protagonist’s new life is like. Polish your story off by showing how much better life is as a result of his having taken the journey.