With it being the middle of the year, it’s an exciting time for many scriptwriters to finally crack open their computer and begin writing their film or television script they’ve envisioned for years. The tedious and onerous challenge of writing a script comes with a great deal of perseverance, but thankfully, there are plenty of tools that help people with the writing process, such as beat sheets.
Similar to a traditional outline for an essay or any sort of plan, a beat sheet is an excellent way for scriptwriters to precisely plan their scripts all the way down to the main points of the script. So, what is a beat sheet and what’s a template for following one? Let’s take a look and see!
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What is a Beat Sheet?
A beat sheet isn’t to be confused for a script outline. An outline tends to be more detailed, whereas a beat sheet highlights the critical moments in the script and outlines what needs to happen in each act of the story. A traditional 90 to 120-page script has roughly 15 beats throughout it.
For example, in Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), the beat sheet would go something like this:
● Opening Sequence
● Set-Up With R2-D2 and C-3PO
● Catalyst With Obi-Wan
● B Story With Sand People
● Artoo Debate
● Luke Chooses to Accompany Ben to Alderaan (Act 2)
● Midpoint With Death Star
● Millennium Falcon in Hangar
● Conflict On Ship
● Obi-Wan’s Demise
● Millennium Falcon Escapes
● Millennium Falcon Arrives On the Moon of Yavin
Now, this clearly isn’t a perfect outline of the beats in A New Hope, but it’s a decent enough beat sheet where you could see the main points from the story. These main points could be then be written with summaries about why they’re important and what they mean to the story, etc.
Benefits of Beat Sheets
Similar to a film outline, a beat sheet operates as a skeleton for your story. However, instead of going into the nitty-gritty of everything presented in the story, it simply outlines the main points that need to happen. The specifics of dialogue and quick scenes aren’t mentioned.
It solely focuses on the driving factors of the script, otherwise known as the high-conflict and story influencing moments. For example, a scene of Luke Skywalker eating isn’t going to make it onto the beat sheet unless that scene features a character dying or something happening that advances the story.
The Four Types Of Beats
Aside from strictly outlining vital parts of a story, a better way to understand the purpose of a beat sheet is to take a close examination of the four types of beats. The broad generalization of these four types will help writers know what’s worth mentioning in a beat sheet and what’s not.
Resolutions are an extremely crucial driving force of a beat sheet and script since it’s where the conflict either subdues or worsens to a degree. For example, looking at our Star Wars beat sheet, the resolution would be when they fly away at the end in the Millennium Falcon or when they rescue Princess Leia.
Events are characterized in the sense of many characters getting together in a large gathering. This could be characters attending the high school prom in a coming of age story or when Skywalker goes to the Mos Eisley Cantina (bar) to meet Hans Solo and Chewie. Every great script has a few key events that are larger than just conflict scenes and interactions.
Realizations refer to the point when characters have an idea or solution to their conflict. This could be as simple as a character planning to rob a bank after getting fired from his job. Or in the case of Star Wars, it’s when Luke realizes who Obi-Wan is.
Interactions tend to be high-conflict areas where the protagonist and antagonist meet or when side characters finally see one another. With Star Wars, this includes when Obi-Wan and Darth Vader fight or when Luke finally meets Princess Leia. There are many points of interaction in every script.
Beat Sheet Template
Like many other outline-oriented templates for scripts, it’s entirely subjective how you write a beat sheet. A good rule of thumb is to check online for free beat sheets you can download. Most screenwriting software offers a beat sheet template as well. If not, take a look at the beat sheet templates below if you wish to utilize them for your script.
● Beat 1 Introduction to Main Character
● Beat 2 Showing the Setting
● Beat 3 Meeting Side Characters
● Beat 4 Introduction to Conflict
● Beat 5 Solution to Conflict
● Beat 6 Why Keep Trying that Solution
● Beat 7 Solution to Conflict
● Beat 8 Subplot
● Beat 9 Rising Conflict
● Beat 10 Midpoint
● Beat 11 Win or Lose?
● Beat 12 Hope is Lost
● Beat 13 Renewed Hope
● Beat 14 Win or Lose?
● Beat 15 Final Scene
● Act One
○ Inciting Incident
○ End of Beginning
● Act Two
● Act Three