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Why this Question is Being asked

In a previous question it was suggested that I write a treatment to assist with revising & cutting. A treatment is essentially a multi-page, spoilerific summary of exactly what happens in a written work; but, the term comes not from the Novel, but from screenplay writing and is made up of beats. A beat is not standardly defined across the writing community and it is used in multiple ways.

Known Deficient Definitions/Examples/Uses of Beats/Treatments

At the time that question was asked, I had seen a couple examples of treatments or beat-sheets and I found the documents compelling and likely useful for revision process, but did not know how to convert an active work into one, which meant finding the beats and collecting them all in one place. That's because most of the places you read on the internet are going to contain partial or limited versions of one or two of the following:

  • an example of a beat sheet
  • an example of a treatment
  • a loose definition of a beat as the smallest unit of any action (essentially every action in the movie)
  • a loose definition of a beat as the smallest unit of plot (once every five minutes in a movie; a turning point for characters; or every swing of momentum within a scene, this could literally be nearly every second of staging)
  • a very detailed definition of a beat: all of the character considerations backing any action in a scene of the film which is great for directing a movie or play, but not good as a summary for revision purposes if you're going for a smaller document.

This is further complicated because a script is a very different thing than a novel. A script is usually shorter (only providing dialogue and very minimal setting/action descriptions) and, due to the medium, is often simpler, in terms of complexity, than a book.

So the question is, which of these definitions is most useful when writing a treatment for revision of a novel? And once I've picked the definition I want to target, what is the right way to construct said beats? Which moments in the book should qualify for beat status and which should be discarded as superfluous? And the next level, even if it qualifies as a beat for the treatment, how do you know you need to cut it from the work anyways? The definition of a beat within the context of a revision treatment should make it obvious why you'd want to use beats & treatments for revision; and based on previous discussions I'd expect (but here's an opportunity to correct me) that the act of summarizing the important and/or extraneous moments in a novel lets you focus the book on what it is about and cut the superfluous chunks of text; but you can only get there if you can differentiate "superfulous-but-recordable" beats from "additional-details/happenings-that-aren't-beats."

And why this is different from other questions.

A good answer to this question will provide actionable steps to create useful beats and a useful treatment for the revision process; it will define the components to assist in the actionable desired end result result; and it will be clear how the construction and use of this document will lead to a better novel. An unhelpful answer would simply list examples or one of the myriad definitions without talking about why this is important and how its helpful in the revision process.

  • I'd also agree that you seem really, really competent. It seems hard to give advice on this topic - To me, it seems that what one person sees as a beat another will not. Everything is more and more tenuous the more you dissect out. Can you find a writing partner working on similar projects? Have you tried other possible avenues where critiquing is allowed? – DPT Mar 15 '18 at 23:56
  • I do not feel competent. I decided to write a book last year. I have a minor in creative writing with only 2 courses in fiction writing under my belt. What I'm looking for is an effective revision method; and since people know how to write treatments this doesn't seem like a huge ask to extrapolate to writing a treatment for a novel. Everytime I sit down to write this I find myself just summarizing and it feels boring (maybe I wrote something boring?)? – Kirk Mar 16 '18 at 14:51
  • @Kirk Does the draft itself feel boring, too, when you read it, or just the summary? Are you summarizing the relevant parts? If you can, join some writing group (I don't have one in my city so joined one on Facebook, just search for "beta readers" or "writing critique" or some such) and get some feedback on your summary. Do others find your story boring, too? Ask them, why. – user29032 Mar 18 '18 at 9:37
  • The writing is a mix; I am in a writing group, first session with this novel is Thursday. There are sections of the work that are boring, and sections that are not. My largest problem is the work is >200,000 words, and it will take 3 years to workshop at the group's current rate. – Kirk Mar 20 '18 at 18:34
5

I don't need the bounty so will answer to get the ball rolling.

A good answer to this question will provide actionable steps to create useful beats and a useful treatment for the revision process; it will define the components to assist in the actionable desired end result result; and it will be clear how the construction and use of this document will lead to a better novel. An unhelpful answer would simply list examples or one of the myriad definitions without talking about why this is important and how its helpful in the revision process.

I'm going to assume that by 'better novel' you're looking for something people will want to read. Something that is a page turner, and maybe has commercial success. (IOW, not something successful because you feel at the end of the process that you have left an obscure legacy for your children or some such.)

  1. Create a spreadsheet.
  2. Dissect your work into scenes and sequels using definitions found online. -> If they don't alternate, or they don't all fit, make a note. You might rework these bits or you might not, depending how formulaic you want to sound.
  3. Dissect each scene or sequel into it's three beats: Goal conflict disaster, Reaction Dilemma Decision. -> So far, in my 32 chapter project, I've identified about 50 scene-sequel pairs. That's going to be about 300 beats.
  4. For each beat, rate it's emotional impact on a scale of 1 - 10.

Perhaps your early hooks have emotional energy, perhaps your climax too. What does the bulk of your project look like?

  1. Plot it out. In my case, so far, I have 600 beats. X axis. I have a few chapters in the middle that sag. They'd get scores of 0 or 1 on my 1-10 scale. Y axis.

  2. Areas that sag, add conflict. There are pages online to help. Weave in a subplot, bring characters together that you've kept apart, introduce secrets that characters are keeping (this is huge).

  3. When your graphed data looks generally like rising tension through the novel to climax and denouement, set it aside for a few days, then read for flow, then give to betas.

Disclaimer: I'm an egg.

  • I assume {goal/conflict/disaster} and {reaction/dilemma/decision} are just two groups for roughly the same thing. One, perhaps, being more external than internal. One of the things I have seen in treatment examples that follows this that I like is where the character's actions are couched in this, often in terms of what they want and what's blocking them and then what they do (usually in a personal, identifying way) to attempt to progress their goals. -- I like the scoring system and will at least explore this when I have the discrete points. Thank you. – Kirk Mar 20 '18 at 12:01
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+200

It should be easy for you to divide your book into scenes, a continuous segment of time in which your characters interact. By this definition, it is still a scene if it is in multiple locations, I have written a long and continuous conversation occurring as my characters make their way from one place to another. It may be interrupted briefly by getting on an elevator or looking for a room number, but I consider it a scene because they keep returning to the same conversation and it is all in a continuous time.

Then: What happens in this scene? Every scene should accomplish something. By that, I mean the reader learns something, the character learns something, something happens that is important to the story. A character is betrayed, or fails, or is successful, or gains a new understanding: Alice learns what Bob's mother is like. Or Bob understands something about what is driving Alice's previously inexplicable actions.

You need to figure out what the scene accomplishes, and those are the beats. (There can be more than one in each scene.) What did you do to advance a character, or the plot? Did you show a new character trait? Add more to a previous one? Is there some revelation or discovery (about a person or a plot point, a step closer to a goal or further away from it)?

It is also possible you are writing "fan service", which may be legitimate. Fan service is a scene that doesn't reveal anything new, but fans of your character might like it anyway, or expect it. So while some sex scenes are character defining or revealing, many are fan service. James Bond movies ending with a romp in the hay are fan service. The consummation of a romantic relationship is not, it is often the climax of the plot. Pun intended!

Since you studied treatment (synopsis is another good word for it), you should see the point is to capture what important happens in this scene, in as few complete sentences as you can.

What is "important"? New knowledge or events that have consequences. They must shape what comes next; they influence the characters in some way and the story would not make sense without them. You need to answer why did you write this scene? Read it, then without looking at it for three minutes (or reading anything else, go have a glass of water) what is the takeaway from it that the reader cannot do without?

On conflict: We like a lot of conflict in scenes, but some conflict is "local" to the scene and will have no impact outside it. A disagreement in dialogue that is explained and forgotten. We can forget that, it is scene dressing. Other conflicts do have consequences and it is important to note them. The more far-reaching the consequences, the more highly the conflict ranks as worthy of inclusion in the treatment.

Lunch with Bob's Mom: Alice learns Bob's mother is a manipulative bitch and he is apparently incapable of standing up to her. His mother forces him to take his sister to a dinner, using words nearly verbatim to words Alice used earlier, and she regrets it.

You can describe the restaurant and should, perhaps the waiter, the other patrons, the pricing, all to aid the reader's imagination in what is going on. Perhaps what our characters are wearing, and what they order. But it doesn't really have a lot of consequence or push the story in some direction or instigate new actions on the part of Alice. What she learns at the lunch does have consequences, she will behave and feel differently now, and the story cannot be the same story without this knowledge. That is the "beat" you are looking for.

The first thing to fall in my revisions (I am revising a first draft now) are scenes that I feel accomplish nothing, or are repeating (without expanding upon) stuff I already did earlier. I may only realize this when I am reading the story all at once. (I am a discovery writer without a plot plan or character arcs, so this happens to me frequently).

Yesterday I scrapped 1500 words completely and did not replace them with anything: Because when I analyzed the scene, I realized what I had accomplished in this scene was repeating a much early accomplishment (showing a defining trait of my main character). It was nothing new for the reader; I probably wrote it because it had been a month since I wrote the earlier scene, so I had seen an opportunity for a scene to illustrate this trait and wrote it. No big deal for a discovery writer, but between the two scenes, I thought my earlier one worked better, so, highlight, delete the second, and patch the transition to the next scene.

You want your treatment to be a concise synopsis. I'd recommend no more than 3% to 5% of the length of the story. For a first time novel of about 110,000 words, that would be 3300 to 5500 words. Obviously I don't mean select every 25th word; but we are talking about condensing 500 words to a few sentences.

Even if you don't follow the length guideline; try the part about stating concisely what each scene accomplishes for you, why it is needed. That kind of distillation is what will help you fix any story problems, character motivations, or out-of-character actions or implausible decisions.

  • This is largely the "practice" I'm using to extrapolate my definition and direction for revisions; which makes sense as your last answer is what inspired this question. – Kirk Mar 20 '18 at 11:52
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Structure

As you have already found out, different screenwriting teachers give different definitions of a "beat" or use other narrative units to discuss script structure. I don't know which definition and approach you will find most useful for your revision, and you will have to find that out yourself.

Given your advanced knowledge, I believe what you need is more in-depth information than any answer on this site is likely to give you. I therefore recommend that you take the time to pick up a few books on script (or novel) structure and study them until you find a structuring principle that resonates with how you subconsciously structure your own stories. In a comment, I have already given you the best books on screenwriting structure (according to a list given to students of screenwriting at the local film university):

  • Blake Snyder, Save the Cat
  • Keith Cunningham, The Soul of Screenwriting
  • Paul Joseph Gulino, The Hidden Structure of Successful Screenplays
  • David Howard and Edward Mabley, The Tools of Screenwriting
  • John Truby, The Anatomy of Story
  • Robert McKee, Story
  • Syd Field, Screenplay

I would also recommend that you look at books on plot structure for novelists. You don't have to read all those books from front to back. Get them at a local library and skim them, reading only those parts that "speak to you".

The book that I found most helpful in the approach I'm going to explain below is in German, unfortunately. In the second chapter, "Die Struktur der drei Akte" [the structure of the three acts], of his book Plot & Struktur, Stefan Waldscheidt lists a series of narrative "points", where in a novel they commonly happen, and what they are. His view is basically a combination of three-act structure with the Hero's Journey and the screenwriting idea of plot points (such as the two plot points, the midpoint, "Sex at Sixty", and the "Mirror Moment"), plus some extensions (such as "catalysts" for the plot points and midpoint). This brief chapter is the most comprehensive, complete, and concise overview of plot structure that I have found, and it was the most useful one for me. I cannot explain it here in detail for copyright reasons, and you may find another approach fits you better anyway. If you want to look at that book and maybe use Google Translate to read the relevant ten or so pages, a preview of the second chapter of the Kindle edition is available on Amazon.de (possibly only if you are logged in). The relevant pages are missing from the preview of the print edition, so make sure you look at the ebook preview.

The important message from me to you at this moment in my answer is that you appear to be fixated on understanding "beats" as the solution to your problem, whereas I recommend that you forget about terminology and instead look at a few story structure theories to find out which one(s) feel right for you.

What I did, and what I recommend to you, is the following:


How to use how-to-write books during revision

  1. Do not look at how-to-write books while you write.

  2. Write the first draft of your story.

    You can plot and write from an outline or discovery write, it does not matter.

  3. After you have written the first draft,

    a. let your work rest for at least three months and then,
    b. without rereading your text, your notes, or your outline (if you had one),
    c. write a brief summary of your story.

    This summary can be half a page or ten pages long, depending on the complexity of your narrative. The point of this summary is for you to better understand the basic "contentual" structure of your story as it has been created in your mind through the process of writing.

  4. Study books on novel writing or screenwriting structure and find a structure that most resonates with your story as you know it now.

  5. "Overlay" that structure over your story and see how well one fits the other.

    Identify the plot points or steps or beats or other narrative units in your story.

  6. Look at where the structure and your story deviate, try to understand why there is a deviation, and decide where you want to change the story to either fit the structure better or deviate from it more.

    Deviations might be:

    • missing narrative units
    • additional narrative units
    • differing direction in the suspense curve

    It is important to understand here that the narrative structures expounded in how-to-write books are an abstraction and simplification. None of them will ever perfectly fit any existing narrative work. A deviation might therefore not be a problem at all, but may be what makes your story work. So don't blindly follow the "prescribed" structure, but rather use it as a guide that only roughly points you in the right direction.

  7. Write a new outline.

  8. Rewrite your story.


A "beat"

Given my approach and recommendation, the most useful definition of a "beat" is the one by Blake Snyder in his book Save the Cat.

Although Snyder calls his narrative units "beats" (he counts 15 of them), what he describes is a step model like those by John Truby (22 steps) or Keith Cunningham (16 steps), and closely related to the 12 (or 17 or 8) stages of the Hero's Journey.

Snyder's book contains a beat sheet (which is nothing but a list of the names of his fifteen "beats") which is followed by one page-and-a-half-long description for each "beat". I won't paste the beat sheet here (the are a number of example beat sheets for existing movies available on Snyder's website), but among those beats are the inciting incident (by the name of "catalyst"), the midpoint, and other common narrative points or units.

All structural models are comparable and all contain some of the same units. They are all useful for structuring an outline or treatment, and which one works best for you, you must find out by familiarizing yourself with more than one of them.

In all other definitions, a beat is a small pacing element (such as "every five minutes") or a story element (such as "one character deciding on an action and executing it") which are too small to be helpful in the outlining or treatment stage of a revision. They can be useful when you want to analyse your draft itself, to see if the narrative units are well structured internally. They are invisible at the level of a treatment.

  • You are likely correct that what i need to do is read more books; It is never a wrong answer; it, unfortunately, requires the resource I have least of: time. I appreciate the recommendations, though, and someday I'll have a chance to at least peruse these books or read a summary. Thank you. – Kirk Mar 20 '18 at 11:57
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Although this may not seem like a direct answer to the question as asked, I hope it will be useful to you.

In plays, and television, a beat is not a unit of plot. It is used to mark a significant moment. The action (and sound) is frozen for a 'beat' to indicate an important event. In television and movies this technique tends to be used more for comedy than serious drama, but it can be used quite a lot in theatre.

When directing a play, I (and as far as I know other) directors, work out what the key moments are. One approach to directing is to 'organise' the freeze frames for these moments and then work all the other action so that it ends up at these freeze frames. These can be, though don't have to be, marked with a pause, a beat. The audience is meant to focus on particular points and afford them significance.

If you tranfer this to writing a novel, you have to work out what the key moments are. What are the moments that would be frozen for the audience to see the significance of? When you strip your story down, what is it you want your reader to remember? What lines of dialogue do you want implanted in a reader's memory? Not everything is vitally important in a story (though if it isn't important at all, why not cut it out?). What is most significant? Think back to good novels you have read: some events stick out. What do you want to stick out?

There isn't a formula for writing beats. You have to create the rhythm and structure of your story.

  • This is not what I'm looking for, but it may be helpful information for someone who is trying to understand what a beat is when they've been told to write one. Thank you for the information, it is additive and at the least a confirmation of the use of the term as I have read it elsewhere. – Kirk Mar 20 '18 at 11:53
1

There's a lot to like in each answer, but I want to attempt to answer this myself, both for feedback and to bring it all together into one answer.

A treatment is...

... at the highest level, a treatment is a summary which presumes the reader wants to know all of the important pieces of a story. Everything should be spoiled. This is typically used as a document for the sales process; but if one's goal is to sell a book, being able to write a treatment for said book should be one of the benchmarks used to determine if the work is "good enough".

Elements of the story that do not find their way into the treatment are potential targets for elimination. However, many elements do not belong in a treatment by necessity. What we are looking for when cutting at this level in revision are elements that are superfluous (too much of a thing), extraneous (off topic), or inconsequential (having no meaning or desired effect).

What we are looking to change at this level are things which do not serve to construct the type of story we are looking to write. A good treatment will show a steady rise in tension until we reach the primary conflict resolution. Things which distract from that graceful arc or muddy the waters ultimately need to serve some great purpose in the work to persist unchanged.

In order to assure that rise in tension, we construct a treatment out of beats.

What is a Beat?

A beat is many things to many people and has very specific meaning in staging. But, for the purpose of a treatment, a beat is a discrete element which furthers a primary consideration in your story: It is the moments of decision, characterization, conflict, etc that are the figurative struts of your novel that change its direction or reveal consequential information to the reader. An impactful beat will be one that strongly resonates with the readers emotions. For instance, a good characterization beat will make the reader feel that that person is real. (Aka, save the cat / pet the dog)

But what it ultimately is, is an explanation. It is the act of telling instead of showing. “Showing” is an act of expansion, while telling is often an act of compression in writing. You want to strip out most of the description and facets that help describe your setting and world and make it feel real and instead boil it down to exactly what happened and why. Even better if you can tie this immediately to emotional consequence. Cause and Effect. And do it succinctly for each point.

A scene is usually made out of several of these explanatory sentences, but the beat itself is the unit of sentences that leads to critical development in the understanding of the story, characters, or conflict. The number of beats per scene should not be very high, but it will vary per chapter depending on what that is accomplishing.

A beat, in these purposes, is the smallest story in your story. Which makes them easier to write: BEGINNING! MIDDLE! END! with a heavy emphasis on compact meaningful explanation.

If you are writing a treatment for the purposes of revision, then your beats need to look a bit different than they would for a sale. One, because when you are selling your book you are talking it up; but when you are revising, you're looking for both your weaknesses and your strengths. In both cases you should be honest, but there's a difference between a blue print and a fully constructed building which hides all of the mechanical details and invites someone to come inside. When the revision process is done, the treatment shouldn't be too far off from the sale-able version, and if you're looking for something to measure it's likely that the treatment itself has become a positive advocate for your story.


How to write a beat?

There aren't many articulated approaches on this, which was the main reason I asked this question. Most people who understand beats, understand them intuitively. Ask someone who plays the violin at an expert level how you, a novice, can learn to do this and you should be prepared for a lot of well intentioned abstract ideas that won't help you progress; when what you really need is a boring step by step guide to the basics.

Step 0: Outline or Reverse Outline your work; Or, look only at a specific scene; Or, if you're not a discovery writer and you're doing this on the front end, be prepared to make things up.

Step 1: Identify points of conflict at the point you are currently working on.

Each beat is going to circle around a conflict. This is either the inciting incident for your beat, a point of raised tension, or the climax right before the resolution.

Step 2: Identify the players and figure out who the "protagonist" and "antagonist" are for this beat.

Note, this could be man vs self (internal), man vs external (nature or man), but you should know what it is. This is your opening to the beat. Explain, why each opposing/conflicting force is the way it is. Then explain how this conflict interacts. Then explain how this causes a change, either in situation or understanding. The beat is resolved when the "moment" ends with the story going in a determined direction.

This should be done in 2-5 sentence. Be concise, whatever the opposite of purple is, and most importantly forget everything you learned about show. Now it's time to simply tell the reader what's going on. No mysteries.

Step 3: Making your Beats useful

Collecting all of these beats should create a concise narrative that tell the core of your story. For purposes of revision, you may wish to have a second column or track changes comment attached to each beat that has the meta data you will find relevant for revisions. The meta data (or data about data) can be helpful when you're trying to make sure you have earned your moment or it may just be word counts so that you know where your document is dense and where it is light.

Note that the beat is the story, but it is not the details. The beat is useful by telling you what the moment accomplishes in your story, while being bereft of the explicit detail involved in making that happen. This gives you the power to keep your beat, while changing your implementation. Your beat should be an abstraction.

Step 4: Choosing Your Beats

At this point you want to take all of your tools out of your tool box that help you understand narrative structure. You may also want to apply a theoretical story framework: 3 act (google: hollywood), 7 point plot (google: Dan Wells), Scene-Sequel, etc.

All of these tools are optional and should be chosen to create the pacing and effect on the reader that you think best suites and will sell your story. You now need to identify what each beat is doing in the terms you have chosen to work with:

  1. Raises stakes
  2. Characterizes someone/something
  3. Releases tension
  4. Reveals information which changes someone's understanding
  5. Generates an emotional response in the reader

Each beat should do something that enhances your story, but that does not mean that everything you've written down at this point is actually doing that. A weak story will often have a bunch of disconnected beats that are more like a pile of bricks than a wall.

Step 5: Make choices.

Once everything is down in front of you, you seek external input or you may be able to see for yourself exactly where your weak points are. Use this as a guide to keep your story on target and potent. When a chef makes food, they cut away that which they don't need; when they make a sauce, they boil off the water. That is what this process is about: finding your flavor and intensifying it by removing the bits that are in the way.

You have only a few choices to make at a macro level, though they'll have infinite variation once you get down into micro:

The continuum of possible revisions:

Compression/Refactorization

  • Remove a beat that's not doing important work
  • Merge multiple beats into a single more effective beat
  • Minimize a beat that's not important, and is simply too "heavy"

Performance/Verification

  • Leave a beat the way it is if it's working
  • Re-order beats to enhance their performance

Development/Expansion

  • Alter a beat so that it serves a more specific purpose
  • Add in beats that are missing to strengthen the story
  • Reconstruct a series of beats to hit a specific target

Step 6: Apply to Manuscript

Either write your manuscript, or if revising as I am, remove anything that correlates to beats that should have been removed. Re-order your information and connective tissue to serve your treatment. Write what is missing. Identify the information that wasn't part of a beat, and if it doesn't serve your narrative goals, remove it.


How do Beats help the revision process?

At this point it should be relatively obvious how beats help the revision process, but to state it concisely: Once you know all of the little stories that make up your story, you can make sure that all of those stories are relevant to the story you want to be telling AND the story that people want to be reading. The treatment is the map, each beat is a hash in a dashed line showing the way to your X. By writing a treatment you will have:

An understanding of your narrative strength

Once all of your beats have been listed out, you have to know what your goals are. At this point it should be relatively easy to tell what your story is about. If it’s not easy, that’s a good indicator that the beats need to be tightened up, that they don’t lead smoothly to the end.

An understanding of where you are speaking for the sake of being heard, but not developing your ideas.

If your problem is one of length, then keeping track of your word counts per beat is a really good way to figure out where you should focus your cuts. And the beat itself should help you figure out what is actually necessary in the scene, helping you get in late and out early. But, also you can tell where you are being excessively repetitive. Note, you need some repetition for things like foreshadowing, but if you do it in the same way ever time it will become repetitive for your reader; or worse, you simply won't be presenting them with novel ideas.

A map to enhance the emotional impact of your story and earn your consequences

If your problem is one of tension, then you have at your hands the entire structure of your story. So, you can figure out where you need to up the tension by raising the stakes appropriately or where you need to cut something that is throwing off the pace. On the reverse, you can also make sure that your beats are constructed in a way that makes your readers identify with your characters. This is a great way to tell if you have done the work to earn your big moments.

In "Sandersonian" words: We're going for, Surprising yet inevitable; which means your work should lay the ground work for the motivations that lead to the unexpected, but entirely believable points at which the book turns. A treatment with appropriate beats should have all of these moments and you should know where each moment is earned in your book.

An understanding of what you are good at and what you need to work on

At this point it should also be obvious where you are repeating yourself or duplicating your work; which should give you more goals for revision. If the treatment looks like a bunch of things happening instead of stacking up and developing a sequence of interesting events that compound and interact, that make you better understand your characters and their challenges, then the focus needs to be on figuring out which beats are working and trimming away the ones that don’t contribute to the story you want to tell.

Another possibility, and one I'm finding in my own work, is that my characters often do things because they "should" because external pressure and expectations have guided where I take them. But, this means they lack agency. So, I know that one of the things I need to do is work on that unique agency that makes these people feel like they are real and gives people a reason to be attached. The tell or smell for all of this is that in the beginning-middle-end my explanations for my character's movement through the conflict is often weak.

TL;DR

Hopefully someone else has found this answer helpful. I have learned more about this process by writing it out and combining all of your ideas and others and I have at least convinced myself this is the right thing to do during the revision/editing process. I will likely continue to work on this definition and guide as I apply this tool to my process or receive feedback. For those of you looking for a TLDR, here it is:

Beats are the smallest stories in your story, comprised of a beginning, a middle, and an end. A successful beat's climax alters the direction of the story and causes the reader to buy into the book further. Beats should be 2-5 sentences and abstract explanations of what has occurred, bereft of the the specific details that make the moments work. When combined into a very short narrative, Beats can be used to construct a treatment or summary. Once you are working with the emotional levers of your story, you can find the weak or missing points or cut the extraneous ones. At the end your manuscript will be more concise, more impactful. It will be easier to explain as well as sell.

  • If I'm missing something critical, I'd like it pointed out. I may not accept this as the answer to the question. It will depend on what happens over the next few days. Either way this answer wouldn't have been possible without the other answers on this page and massive amounts of research. I want to make it available for others if it could at all help someone struggling with revisions as I have been. – Kirk Mar 20 '18 at 3:55
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    +1. I'd add to tend toward "abstraction". The important thing for the beat is that we show Alice is distracted. Whether she spills the milk, forgets her phone or drives past her exit may not matter. Understanding the intent is distracted, your beat may be necessary but you can make the scene stronger: Aha, a better show than spilling milk is missing her exit, being late to work and her morning meeting. More conflicts. Even though this conflict in inconsequential and left behind, i.e. nothing comes of this stumble, reader will be more engaged if you trip Alice once in a while. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Mar 20 '18 at 14:16
  • I'm bucketing things like that in a category I'm calling reader engagement in my own head: That "beat" would serve to increase sympathy, attachment and possibly raise the stakes by simply making it look like Alice's job is harder or she is poorly equipped and must achieve some internal development. -- Leaning towards abstraction seems like good advice and is a clearer way of saying some of what I thought I was alluding to. I'll see if I can work that concept in to make a better, more concise answer. – Kirk Mar 20 '18 at 14:38

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