Write Romance? Get Your Beat Sheet Here!

by Jami Gold on November 1, 2012

in Writing Stuff

Drawing of plot arc with text: Romance Writers--What's Your Arc?

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month—write a 50K word novel during November) starts today, and while I plan to continue blogging throughout NaNo, I wanted to make sure I gave you something good to keep you happy during my crazy month. *smile*

Of course, whether or not you’d define today’s post as anything good might depend on if you write romance or have romantic elements and love interests in your stories. For those who do, this post is a gift to you.

Last week, I ran a workshop called “Lost Your Pants? An Impatient Writer’s Guide to Plotting a Story.” I jokingly referred to it as my “plotting for pantsers” class, but it was really more about how to plan our stories at a high level to keep both our freaking-out inner editor and our diva muse happy.

The class was a great success, and I want to thank all my guinea pigs, er, students. The feedback I received from attendees made it sound like it was useful:

“Jami Gold is not only the master of structure and plotting spreadsheets, she’s also the master at taking all those books on craft and rolling them into a single, easy, cohesive plan.” — Melinda Collins

“I’ve taken a couple of webinars from Writer’s Digest previously, and this class compares favorably with them. In fact, I’d say that this one is my favorite of all the web-classes I’ve taken.” — Teresa Robeson

Wow. I’m rather speechless at all that. I’m already getting questions from others interested in taking this workshop too, so I have an informal “let me know when you’re offering this class again” sign up page.

But even as I was developing all the custom “pantser-friendly” tools for the class, I kept wanting to share my work with all of you. Ack! How could I provide something special to my students to make the class worthwhile and also do something for my readers. I like being helpful…on a near pathological level. *snicker*

Never Underestimate Romance Stories

So today I’m sharing one of the many tools I created for the class, and this one is especially for romance writers. Romance writers tend not to get as much respect as other authors. But developing a romance story is more complex than most recognize.

Romances are a different animal from other genres because their plotting and emotional interactions are complicated by two protagonists, the hero and heroine. (And let’s not even get into some of the variations, with multiple partners and whatnot.)

In a romance, we have the external (plot) arc, the internal (character) arc for the hero, the internal (character) arc for the heroine, and the Romance Arc—the growth of the relationship over the course of the story. That’s a lot of arcs and plot points to juggle on a standard beat sheet.

Introducing the Romance Planning Beat Sheet!

Ta-da! The Romance Planning Beat Sheet separates out the Romance Arc but follows the same structure as a normal beat sheet. It combines some of the beats from Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat and Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering and mixes in all the internal character arc stuff from Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure as well as his teachings about using Identity and Essence for great love stories.

Click here for the MS Excel ’07/’10 version (.xlsx) of the Romance Planning Beat Sheet by Jami Gold

Click here for the MS Excel 2003 version (.xls) of the Romance Planning Beat Sheet by Jami Gold

By focusing strictly on the romance arc, and how the relationship develops between the characters, we can see our romance stories on a deeper level. As with the other beat sheets I’ve developed, if you input your approximate word count in the top section, all page count and word count marks will automatically update for each beat. Nifty-keeno, right?

Beat Sheet 101

If you’re not familiar with some of the terms, Larry Brooks has a great explanation of an Inciting Incident, and he also introduced the concept of Pinch Points. The Inciting Incident (called Catalyst by Blake Snyder) is a life-changing/game-changing event that places the character on the path of the story. Pinch Points, one before the Midpoint and one after, are where the character sees additional evidence of the antagonistic forces. I love using Pinch Points to avoid “sagging middles.” *smile*

The names of the four main beats come from Martha Alderson’s The Plot Whisperer:

  • End of the Beginning is also known as Break Into [Act] Two or the First Plot Point. This is when the character makes a “point of no return” choice, establishing goals, stakes, and obstacles for the story.
  • The Midpoint marks another “point of no return” moment to raise the stakes. It can be a reversal (success to failure or vice versa), a false reversal (what seems to be a success is actually a failure), or a restatement/recommitment to the goals.
  • The Crisis is also known as the Black Moment, All Is Lost, or Second Plot Point. This is where where the character loses everything and symbolically dies.
  • The Climax is also known as Finale. This is where the character is symbolically reborn and summons the courage and growth to overcome the obstacles and antagonistic forces.

But all of those descriptions are very plot oriented. They don’t bring in Michael Hauge’s concept of a character’s inner journey much less anything to do with the romance arc. If you’re not familiar with his concepts of Identity and Essence, check out this post for tips on how to show our characters’ internal journeys.

That’s why I wanted to create a companion beat sheet that would help us show how those plot points affect the hero and heroine in respect to their relationship. Do the obstacles bring them together? Break them apart? Provide an opportunity to work as a team?

Now we can tie that romance arc into the overall plot of the story and show the growth of each of the characters as individuals and as a couple. Romance writing isn’t for the weak. *grin*

Do you write romance or stories with romantic elements? How do you make sure the romance arc develops over the course of the story? Have you ever used a romance beat sheet before? Will this Romance Planning Beat Sheet be helpful to you? Do you have any suggestions for how to improve it?

P.S. Are you new to beat sheets? Check out my Beat Sheets 101 post, learn more about beats, and check out all my worksheets for writers here.

P.P.S. Write romance and use Scrivener? Don’t miss my Romance Scrivener template!

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97 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Evolet Yvaine April 29, 2015 at 7:20 pm

Jami, I discovered you through a recent link in a blog post from Tracie L Martin. In my Other Life, I was writing YA and was definitely a pantser. Recently, I decided to go on hiatus from YA to try my hand at adult romance. I want to keep my panster nature and add a little bit of structure. I downloaded your Basic Beat Sheet and then I saw you had one specifically for romance and practically squee’d in delight. I’m planning on writing a romance series (6 books) where the underlying theme is human trafficking, but the main focus is the romance, so I’m hoping this will help a sistah out. I also plan to take your Beat Sheet 101 workshop to get a better understanding of how it all works. Do you cover the Romance Arc in that workshop? Just curious.

Reply

Jami Gold April 29, 2015 at 7:34 pm

Hi Evolet,

Thanks for the kind words! The Beat Sheet Basics workshop covers the Basic Beat Sheet (those 4 major and 4 minor beats), but also goes into how to use beat sheets as a plotter or a pantser.

However, you’ll notice that there’s a lot of overlap in the beats between the Basic Beat Sheet and the Romance Beat Sheet. The beats are essentially the same–the difference is just in the focus of how the beat affects the story.

For example, on the Basic Beat Sheet, the End of the Beginning is all about how the character makes a choice to commit to some aspect of the story goals. On the Romance Beat Sheet (where the story goal–even if the characters aren’t aware of this–is to have a happy ending for the relationship), that same beat is about how they’re making a choice to some aspect of being together. Either way, that beat is about a choice that commits to the story goal and kicks off the main part of the story.

I cover the Romance Beat Sheet in my Lost Your Pants? workshop for those who want to go more in depth. 🙂 Thanks for the comment, and let me know if you have further questions! And good luck!

Reply

Evolet Yvaine May 8, 2015 at 11:52 am

Jami,

Do you know when you’re going to have another Lost Your Pants? workshop? I did sign up to be notified for the next one, but I was just curious if you were going to host one this year.

Reply

Jami Gold May 8, 2015 at 12:14 pm

Hi Evolet,

In the past, I’ve held the workshop every spring and fall. My crazy publishing schedule has eaten my spring, but I will be holding one later this year–probably in the August-October timeframe. Thanks for asking!

Reply

Evolet Yvaine May 8, 2015 at 1:33 pm

Fabbitty-fab! I will definitely keep a look-out for that notification then. Thanks!

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Posy Roberts August 22, 2015 at 4:05 pm

I ran across your beat sheet on FB and was so glad you commented and gave the link. I feel like I stumbled upon a gold mine. I’m currently reworking a story that stalled out at about the 60% mark, and reading through your beat sheet has already brought momentum back to me. Thank you!

Reply

Jami Gold August 23, 2015 at 9:55 am

Hi Posy,

Yay! I’m so happy to hear that it’s been helpful for you. 😀 Good luck with your story, and thanks for the comment!

Reply

Dar November 28, 2015 at 4:04 pm

Hi Jami,

Found your site not long ago and I’m slowly going through the it. I’ve learned a bunch so far and I want to thank you for that.

I have a newbie question, when looking at a beat sheet, how should I sat up my word processor? Right now to save space, I have the margins small and I’m single spacing lines. I don’t think my page numbers will correctly match up this way, thus the beat sheet guides will be off. Any advice?

Reply

Jami Gold November 28, 2015 at 9:10 pm

Hi Dar,

Great question! In the writing world, the standard manuscript format is 1-inch margins all around, double-spaced, 12 point Times New Roman font. That’s the default for everything from query submissions, contest entries, and sending manuscripts to editors. The word count on the beat sheet is designed to work with that format.

We print things out so infrequently that we don’t worry about “saving space.” 99% of agents, editors, submissions, contests, beta readers, critique partners, etc. will all want our manuscript emailed, so a standard format that looks as they expect on their end is usually best. (And if you did want to print something out, you could always do a Save As and change the format to save paper just for that instance. 🙂 )

I hope that helps! 🙂 Thanks for the important question!

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