Stephanie Bourbon on Using a Beat Sheet

LB’S NOTE: One of our fave TV writers-illustrators-screenwriters-vloggers, Stephanie Bourbon, reminds us that organizing your story, whether it’s for TV, film, or publication, is more crucial than any of us likes to admit. (How long have I been preaching this? Huh? Huh? Thanks for the support, Stephanie!)

How to Use a Beat Sheet
by Stephanie Bourbon

…And finish that work in progress.

In film and especially television writing the “beat sheet” is something that is needed to show your showrunner or director the beats of the script so they can approve the story before you spend hours and hours writing it.

It helps them “see” it. It also helps you see the big picture. 

The beat sheet is an outline of your story in beats. What happens in the story beat by beat.

You open your notebook, notecards, or even Word/Scrivener (I like to use Scrivener for this) and literally write out the beats like this.

Scene 1–this happens

Scene 2–this happens


Now, you may not know what happens in perfect order–so then just write what you want to happen out. This is why I love using post-its and or notecards and the stickies in Scrivener 

Scene-character finds out….

Scene–character makes this decision


If you are doing it this way, leave the scene # out until you figure it out.

Most novels have roughly 66 scenes

When you are writing them out you are making a narrative plan for your story.

Remember that every scene/beat moves the story forward. When you sit down to write your story you should always think of what is happening now and going to happen at the end. 

In novels, it’s always the end of the current book for your beat sheets. In television-it’s always the end of your current episode, unless you are working on your series bible and that’s a horse of a different color–but uses a lot of the same principals here.

For a screenplay, it’s like a novel–your beats take the characters from A–the beginning to Z-the end….

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