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November 1, 2012

Write Romance? Get Your Beat Sheet Here!

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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108 Comments on "Write Romance? Get Your Beat Sheet Here!"

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Evolet Yvaine

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.

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[…] quick look at my sidebar reveals that one of my most popular posts is for my Romance Beat Sheet. Romance authors are well-connected and huge proponents of the “pay it forward” idea I […]

Posy Roberts

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!

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[…] A very common problem in manuscripts is pacing. Every story needs to follow an arc. I am going to be only talking about romance novels, because that’s what I write and that’s what I mentor. If you write something else, google beat sheet. I’m sure you’ll have no problem finding one for your specific genre and category. For all you romance junkies, here’s the one I like to use from Jami Gold. […]

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[…] back to figuring out what a Beat Sheet […]

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[…] Novel’s Essen­tial guide to char­ac­ter cre­ation. For out­lin­ing, I found Jami Gold’s Romance plan­ning beat sheet, and Chuck Wendig’s post about […]

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[…] Jami Gold’s Romance Beat Sheet. This is basically a list of major romantic plot points, and where they should happen in the story. You can plug EVERY chick flick EVER into this list. […]

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[…] (And if you write romance, check out my Romance Scrivener Template based on my Romance Beat Sheet.) […]

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[…] that I love Michael Hauge’s story structure for emotions (and integrated his teachings into my Romance Beat Sheet). He emphasizes the emotional growth of “two steps forward and one step back”—or […]

Dar
Dar

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?

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[…] Romance Planning Beat Sheet […]

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[…] more reading, check out Jami Gold’s romance beat sheet, and Michael Hauge’s lectures on mask and […]

SANDRA MASTERS

Hello Jami:
First heard of the words “beat sheet” from Nicole Evelina when she did a presentation at our chapter meeting in Fresno, California. I seen the reference to “Bible Stories” on the PAN loop. Either way, am impressed with your work. Hope to attend. I’ll be reading this again. Thank you.

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[…] take wending my way through the plot twists and character developments of my NaNo novel: a romance beat sheet from Jami Gold, since I’m writing a full-length work in the erotic romance genre for the […]

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[…] different beat to every other book I’ve written and I cannot thank JamiGold and her wonderful Beat Sheet Guides for keeping me from wandering […]

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[…] this is a tool.  Don’t get stressed about having to follow it exactly.  Jamie even has one for romance.  Good information in the entire […]

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[…] of my blog know I’m a big fan of beat sheets, even creating a beat sheet for romance stories. Because of that, writers ask me what beats they should include in their mystery, thriller, or […]

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[…] two resources I’m most well known for are the Basic Beat Sheet and the Romance Beat Sheet (along with their matching Scrivener templates). But writers of other genres look at that […]

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[…] Gold romance. I was looking up Jami Gold’s fabulous Romance Beat Sheet to send to a […]

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[…] (And if you don’t want this Frankenstein monster, check out my simpler Scrivener Template based on my Basic Beat Sheet or my Romance Scrivener Template based on my Romance Beat Sheet.) […]

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[…] a paranormal romance author and all-around genius when it comes to planning, definitely has the best beat sheet around, but we’ll hit some of the key points […]

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