A beat sheet is the abbreviated precursor to a screenplay outline. The beat sheet identifies the important moments in a film or episode and lays out what needs to happen in each act of the story.
The beat sheet is how you start your outline. You first identify the key plot points and place them roughly in the correct area of your story. This gives you guideposts to navigate your writing through the fog of uncertainty that all writers face. These guideposts, or beats, help keep you on track and on pace.
How do you know what these guideposts should be? Easy: You could go to University for it…or you could pay for master classes with Hollywood gurus who will teach you the guideposts that they use when outlining — we suggest you use our free ScriptOutliner.com and learn on the job.
Over time, there have been a few popular gurus who teach slightly different outlining techniques. We offer several. What our ScriptOutliner does is guide you to write a beat sheet using a guru’s method of your choice:
Frank Daniel taught his “8-Sequence” system at USC Film School and AFI. This divides your story into 8 sections, defined by various emotional and active characteristics.
Blake Snyder taught how to shape a story with 15 beats in his “Save the Cat” books. Some of Blake’s beats are long sections like Frank Daniel’s sequences, while others are short, specific key moments.
Dan Harmon teaches his writing staff to use his “Story Circle” system. This is a simplified version of the classic Hero’s Journey framework.
Gustav Freytag taught how to write contained stageplays which became the model for 5 Act TV.
Aristotle taught that stories had 4 Acts that move a hero through a rise and fall.
ScriptOutliner & Talking Draft for fREE.
Your beat sheet is the high-level, general, macro view of your story – 10,000 feet above the nitty-gritty. In one sentence, define the large “sections” of your story. (Our outliner generates page targets for how long these various sections should be depending on what structure you follow and your target length.) When summarizing the big picture, brevity is key. One could sum up the entire 2nd Act of The The Wizard of Oz simply:
When you’re done with your beat sheet, then you drill into one of your sections and begin defining the individual scenes. This is sometimes called a “step outline.” The detail specificity in your outline increases from the beat sheet’s 10,000 foot view to a 100 foot view.
Each scene description in your outline serves to remind you only of the vitals: precisely what the scene needs to accomplish…or exactly what a character needs to discover in that specific location. For example, the first scene of the 2nd Act in Wizard of Oz could be simply:
You’re not writing the lyrics to the song yet. But maybe you’ll have the title. When you’re done with your step outline, then you begin. At this stage, your story is ready for specific dialog and detailed action lines.
You could export your outline file from TalkingDraft.com into a word processor and type like it’s the 1920s – OR, if you can picture the unwritten scenes in your head, we suggest you use the Talking Draft Method to transcribe your first draft because it’s the 2020s.
Our goal is getting your first draft done fast. We give you enough free speech-to-text transcription time for a feature film because we know you’ll love it.
With the Talking Draft Method, if you can picture the movie in your head, your first draft is as good as done!