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Image by Patrick Perkins





Bring on the beats.

Now it's time to get down to the nitty gritty, granular elements of the story. 

We started with one story, then broke that into three Acts, then broke those into six Stages.  Now, we're going to take each Stage and break them into four Beats a piece for a total of 24..

Remember, a Beat is a cinematic collection of one to three scenes.  For this part of the process, you will create a note card or sticky note per Beat and lay them out sequentially on your board.


Hover over the beats for explanations and examples.



Before Picture

This provides a visual starting point for the audience so that at the end of the story, they can judge just how far your hero has come


Good stories are about change through character development. You know how a fitness infomercial shows a picture of someone horribly out of shape and then show a picture of the same person after she got in shape? Well, this is the out-of-shape picture for your hero. 

Win the Crowd

You need for your audience to root for your hero, even if you want to use an unlikable hero or antihero. Actually, especially if you want to use an unlikeable hero or antihero. Blake Snyder calls this the “save the cat” beat, but I always like to think of the film Gladiator when Proximo counsels Maximus by telling him, “I was the best because the crowd loved me. Win the crowd and you will win your freedom.”


You need your hero to do something that will make your audience love her or, at the very least, like her. Sympathy is always a powerful and effective way to get the audience on your hero's side. Everyone loves an underdog.




What's the moral of the story?  What's the central question you'll be dealing with?

This is the story’s theme and is almost always tied to your protagonist’s flaw(s). For example, if your theme is the only way to be happy is to be in a loving, committed, monogamous relationship, your protagonist’s flaw could be she has an extreme aversion to commitment and love. This will naturally begin to build conflict in your story.


Villain is Mean

This is the polar opposite of the Win the Crowd beat.


Just like you need to get the audience to like your hero, you need them to hate your villain. Have your villain kick a dog, kill somebody, pick on a helpless person, ignore a geek at school, embarrass someone — anything to make the audience hate him.


Monkey Wrench

This is something that happens that throws the hero’s normal life out of whack and starts the hero on the crazy path of the story.  


This can be physical, emotional, legal, financial, geological -- it doesn't matter, as long as it completey disrupts the hero's life and forces her on a new path. 


What's the Need?

Soon after the Monkey Wrench sinks in, what the hero needs to do or accomplish should be made clear in a dramatic way.  


What's the physical goal they're trying to achieve by the end of the story? This is your "A" plot and the main through-line that will sdrive your story. 


What Do I Do?

Even though the need is clear, however, it’s common for the hero to remain indecisive about how to pursue the need or whether to pursue it at all. Nevertheless, a decision to pursue the need must be made, transforming the need into a very distinct, measurable goal.


By the Way...

Many times after the hero decides to pursue the need, there’s a surprise before entering Act II.

Quite often this takes the form of a ticking time clock, but it can be anything that throws an extra obstacle or wrinkle into the hero's plan. 


Enter Bizarro World 

If Act I is normal life for the hero, Act II is completely upside down crazy life. This beat is the transition into Act II. 


Moving into Act II, the hero makes the affirmative decision to move into not only uncharted territory, but a world that is the opposite of the one from which she came.


New Relationship 

The hero meets someone who is the perfect personification of the crazy bizarro world.


Usually this will develop into a mentor relationship with the mentor helping the hero navigate the choppy waters of Act II. 


Tall Success

In the midst of the growing pains the hero experiences from being in the bizarro world, which shows just how much she has to learn in order to reach the goal and meet the need, the hero experiences a win.


In coffee parlance, this isn’t a big win, in fact it’s pretty small, but it gives the hero a small amount of confidence. Typically, this win isn’t necessarily tied to the main need or goal of the story, but is simply a result of being in the bizarro world.


Grande Success

This is a win that is, if you’re familiar with Starbucks, a little bit bigger than the Tall Win.


This win, though, is directly tied to the overall need of the story and actually brings the hero one step closer to achieving the goal.


All In

This is the midpoint of the story and the spot where the hero is no longer fighting against the crazy bizarro world. She accepts that she has flaws, which have been horribly exposed by the crazy bizarro world and her new relationship, and decides to embrace the theme set forth in the Stage 1 soapbox and change into her new self. Usually around this point, the stakes are also raised for the hero, just like when you go “all in” playing poker.



After the hero decides to embrace the change in her character, the bad guys really turn up the heat. The hero has experienced a couple of nice wins and has some confidence, but the bad guys expose the fact that she’s not all the way there. At this point, either the hero gives in to weakness and betrays herself or she’s betrayed by someone she has trusted in the bizarro world of Act II.


Venti Failure

This betrayal leads directly to one big, whopping failure. Because the stakes have been raised, it’s about as bad of a failure as you can get and seemingly makes it impossible to meet the need of the story.

Some writers say to always make sure this beat has the "whiff of death."

Up a Creek

Now the hero regrets going “all in” because not only is it impossible for her to change, she’s made things worse for everyone involved.


Any friends she’s made in Stage 3 are scattered and, at this point, it seems absolutely impossible to achieve the major need of the story


Soapbox Revisited

After everything falls apart and it looks impossible, the hero must once again consider the soapbox and find the moral courage to keep going.


I Got It​!

After a while of wallowing in self-pity and doubt, the hero pulls herself out of the muck of depression and figures out a plan to accomplish the need of the story. 

This is their "eureka" moment.


Rally the Troops

Now that the lightbulb has gone off and the hero figures out a plan, she needs to pull together her comrades and friends she gained in Stage 3 and have been scattered by Stage 4, and convince them to rejoin the cause and go after the need. Alternatively, the hero may not seek out her friends, but they surprise her and show up anyway. 



Storm the Beach

Using what she’s learned in Act II from the bizarro world, combined with the ability she already possessed and took with her from Act 1, the hero takes her plan and her friends and goes after the need once again.

This is basically what happens right before the Main Event Showdown.


Main Event Showdown 

This is the big showdown involving the antagonist and the hero, which is the biggest test of all. Make this epic, awesome and unforgettable.


Immediate Aftermath 

This is the immediate fallout from the Main Event Showdown.  Literally, what happens directly after the Main Event Showdown ends. Seriously, like right after it ends.


Welcome New Word, Goodbye Old


The hero tries to return to her old world, but it’s futile. The hero has changed and now sees her old world differently.


After Picture 

We can now see how the hero has changed and the character arc goes into full view. Think about how this contrasts with your Before Picture beat.


Time for the treatment.

Now that you've outlined your beats, it's time to translate them into a "treatment." 

A treatment is a prose-based prewriting and marketing document that reads like a short story. It is generally used to pitch a film, television series, or adaptation. While some writers argue that it can/should be a scene-by-scene breakdown, it’s generally a synopsis used to give an overview of a screenplay, which includes overall structure, characters, and main ideas.

Most industry professionals agree that screenwriters should write film treatments in the present tense. But remember to keep the treatment engaging by using each form of present tense: Simple, present, present continuous, or present perfect continuous.

Simple Present: James talks to Carla.

The reason that treatments are so important is that you need other people to read it -- and those people typically don't have a ton of time to commit to a full screenplay.  If you drop a 120-page script into someone's lap, you may not ever hear back from them and that lack of feedback will hurt the next step of the process, which is revision

Here are some examples that can give you an idea of what a real treatment looks like.

Rewriting, Editing and Revision

Now that you've written a draft of your treatment, you can begin the rewriting, editing and revision process.  I'm not simply talking about fixing typos.  I'm talking about larger, more structural, more foundational changes where you identify what works, what doesn't and what can be improved on in future iterations.

It's a painful process, but necessary.


Take this quote from Hemmingway:

Interviewer: “How much rewriting do you do?”. 
Hemingway: “It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.“

Interviewer: "Was there some technical problem? What was it that had stumped you?”
Hemingway: “Getting the words right.”

If you would like some re-writing strategies, here's a LINK that can help you with the process. 

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