I, as many others do, love the art of storytelling. I’ve even tried to write stories myself. In my attempts to tell a story and get better at it, I have found a lot of useful tips. One of which, relating to structure, I found pretty interesting. Many stories follow the structure of 15 “beats”, or plot points. After reading about this formula, I started to notice it everywhere, and I decided to share it with you guys so you could learn.
Beat 1: Opening image. This is the first thing the viewer of the story will see. The purpose is to set the story up. It also acts as a hook. Yes, the same hook you learned about in english class. This should also open up questions about the story and what is happening.
Beat 2: Setup. This is a longer beat that encompasses the next few beats. During this beat, the viewer will get to know the main character and what they need in order to grow. The viewer also learns about the main character’s traits and personality. The world and backstory will also be set up.
Beat 3: Theme stated. This beat’s job is to set up the theme of the story. This is most often accomplished by having a side character tell the main character what they need. The main character will not realize that it is what they need, but will eventually come around.
Beat 4: Catalyst. This beat interrupts the setup of a story and sets the story in motion by providing a problem for the character to address. This can take the form of a character being offered a new job, or the bad guy’s first appearance.
Beat 5: Debate. The debate is the main character addressing the problem put in place by the catalyst. The character pauses action to stop and think what they should do about the inciting incident. The character, after weighing all the options, makes a choice which is represented in…
Beat 6: Break into two. This marks the end of the first act of a story. The main character takes an action in order to solve the conflict of the story. It is important to note that this is almost always a decisive action made by a character, not chance and not through inaction.
Beat 7: B story. The B story is the story that is secondary to the main story. This is usually another character such as a love interest or friend. This character helps move the main character towards what they need, as set up earlier in the story.
Beat 8: Fun and games. This is where most of the story plays out. The characters begin to get a grip on the themes of the story. The conflict is shown, as are the characters’ journeys.
Beat 9: Midpoint. The main character thinks they have solved the conflict. However, this turns out to not be the case, as it is revealed that the bad guys are still stronger than ever. This happens about halfway through the story.
Beat 10: Bad guys close in. The antagonist, who isn’t necessarily a person, becomes even stronger. The conflict escalates and the stakes are raised.
Beat 11: All is lost. The main character is feeling overwhelmed by the forces of antagonism. They believe they have lost the conflict and thus lose hope. This is where the character is at their lowest point emotionally.
Beat 12: Dark night of the soul (coolest name ever.) The pace slows down as the main and side character’s attempt to turn the conflict around. The main character gets advice from someone else, be it a mentor character or the B story character. They turn their mind around and start pushing back at the antagonist.
Beat 13: Break into three. Basically the same as break into two. The character makes an active choice to do something which marks the end of act two. This doesn’t occur by luck.
Beat 14: The character finally learns what they need to learn. The thematic question posed earlier in the story is answered, and it is obvious that the main character has grown. There is a feeling that the conflict has resolved.
Beat 15: Closing Image. The final thing that the viewer of a story thinks about. This often mirrors the opening image and represents the themes of the story.
That structure can be applied to any type of story from teen comedies to action thrillers. However, it’s important to note that these are more guidelines than rules. Many great stories don’t follow this or even any structure. However, this basic formula is something that gets used often and is very helpful for anyone trying to right their own stories.
Snyder, Blake. “Save the Cat.”Michael Wiese Productions, 25 may 2005.