In this post, I’ll show how you can use Global Story Beats with Scrivener.
What Are Global Story Beats?
A beat describes a unit of action or change, but you might wonder, what are Global Story Beats? Think of them as time-proven story patterns. Since ancient times, storytellers used these patterns to engage audiences.
The author of Story Grid put it this way:
“What’s important to remember is that these units [of action or change] have a Russian doll relationship. Story Beats create scenes which create sequences which create acts which create subplots which create a global story.”—Shawn Coyne
Beats within a Story
Because of watching films and reading books, audiences expect these patterns of action or change. If beats are missing, they notice. Well-placed beats have the potential to turn a wonderful story into a great one.
Let’s break down where beats take place:
- Scene sequences
- Global Story
Placement and language affect how audiences perceive these beats. A collection of scenes create the Global Story Beats.
Learn from The Best
Fortunately, you don’t have to research and design story patterns. Gifted writing teachers have written books on the use of beats across all genres. For example:
- Story by Robert McKee
- Story Grid, by Shawn Coyne
*Popular Story Structures
To understand Global Story Beats, I studied several structures, and the following shows the recurring patterns that permeate movies and novels:
- Care Package
- Transformation Argument
- Trouble Brewing
- Doorway #1
- Shin Kicks
- Mirror Moment (Midpoint)
- Pet the Dog
- Doorway #2
- Mounting Forces
- Lights Out
- The Q Factor
- Final Battle (Climax)
Save The Cat
- Opening Image
- Theme Stated
- Break Into Two
- B Story
- Fun and Games
- Bad Guys Close In
- All is Lost
- Dark Night of the Soul
- Break Into Three
- Finale (Climax)
- Final Image
Structuring Your Novel
- Inciting Incident
- 1st Plot Point
- 1 Pinch Point
- 2nd Plot Point (Midpoint)
- 2nd Pinch Point
- Renewed Push
- 3rd Plot Point
- Climax Begins
- Climatic Moment
Even if you’re unfamiliar with these structures, do you see the similarities between the lists? Those commonalities are good news for writers. Once you adopt a structure, you can adapt it to fit your writing style and genre. If you use Scrivener, you can keep the beat definitions within the app, making recall and use a snap.
TYB’s Global Story Beats
I freely admit how Super Structure, Save The Cat Writes a Novel, and Structuring You Novel influenced my approach to story structure. So that I don’t infringe on the copyrights of Bell, Brody, and Weiland, I’ll share example definitions of TYB’s Global Story Beats.
Principles, Not Rules!
Please keep in mind the Global Story Beats represent general patterns, and authors are free to vary the locations and percentages. As principles, these beats are useful for interpreting and writing stories, but not as rules.
This blueprint sums up TYB’s Global Story Beats.
Think about how a ski lift carries you up a mountain’s slope. Likewise, Global Story Beats have the power to transport readers from the first to last page of your novel.
Within Scrivener’s binder, you can list each of the beats and include your writing notes. For example, you could include instructions based on the powerful Act 3 advice given by Michael Arndt. In his informative and entertaining video, ENDINGS: The Good, The Bad, and The Insanely Great., he offers an insider’s view of how to enhance a story’s climax.
The Power of Global Story Beats
To illustrate the power of Global Story Beats, I’ll share TYB’s descriptions from the first act. The percentages show the estimated location and volume of content.
ACT 1: The STABLE World
HOOK: Single Scene (0-1%)
The first scene introduces essential aspects of the story and grabs readers with an intense need to know what happens next.
These critical details convey what the story is about, establish the actions required for upcoming events (e.g., characters and settings), and entertain readers (i.e., maintain interest).
The HOOK is the first opportunity to make the hero appealing (i.e., likable), and he or she does something that humanizes the character. Likewise, the hero does something that hints at one or more of his or her flaws.
Aside from grabbing readers’ attention, the HOOK starts the setup for the story in the stable world.
This setup serves as the contrast to when the hero enters the unstable world in Act 2. To be clear, the HOOK is not the TRIGGER event, but it begins the setup for the core conflict.
SETUP: Scene Sequence (1-11%)
This sequence of scenes in the stable world establishes the characters, their wants, the stakes, story theme, and the need for change.
The scenes introduce the supporting cast of characters, the hero’s external goal (i.e., the personal “want” that may differ from Story Goal), the hero’s reluctance to change (i.e., the “need”), hints at the stakes (i.e., the bad things that will happen if hero is unsuccessful at resolving the Story Problem), and something happens that endears hero to readers.
As per James Scott Bell, the Q-Factor is a person, place, or thing mentioned within a scene that will become essential to the hero’s outcome in the CLIMAX. Imagine the character Q in a James Bond film giving 007 an invention that he’ll use later to defeat the villain. That device serves as an example of the Q-Factor. Instead of an invention, you could make the Q-Factor a person or a place.
A character (typically not the hero) hints at what the hero must learn (i.e., the Story Theme) to satisfy the protagonist’s need (e.g., forgiveness, love, acceptance, faith, fear, trust, survival, selflessness, responsibility).
The SETUP combines elements intended to resonate with readers’ emotions.
TRIGGER: Single Scene (12%)
Somewhere close to halfway through Act 1, a major event triggers the disruption of the protagonist’s Stable World, stopping hero from continuing as before.
The event is so disruptive (i.e., the Story Problem), it will eventually thrust hero into Act 2’s Unstable World. In Act 2, the hero cannot return to the way things were before the TRIGGER event.
In the upcoming WRANGLE sequence, the hero resists the urge to engage, and instead, searches for some way to return to the way of life before the TRIGGER event.
Identify the central life-changing event that forces hero to recognize the Story Problem. The challenge is so significant, the hero cannot retreat but has yet to accept the Call to Action (i.e., hero resists the Story Goal to resolve the Story Problem).
WRANGLE: Scene Sequence (13-24%)
In this sequence of scenes, the hero wrangles with the move-forward choices, but resists the need for change. As the protagonist debates the situation with self and others, this scene leverages the doubt and resistance established in the TRIGGER scene.
THRUST INTO 2: 25%: Single Scene (25%)
In this scene, the hero acts on the choices made in the WRANGLE sequence, thrusting him into an Unstable World.
The epic moment happens when the hero moves forward, leaves the comfort of the Stable World, tries something new, or thinks in different ways. It’s a decisive action scene that separates the stable world of Act 1 from the Unstable World of Act 2.
Throughout Act 1, the hero grows aware of what will become the plot’s Story Goal: the effort is will take to resolve the Story Problem. This event solidifies the Story Goal as the hero is THRUST INTO 2, an irreversible action—a point of no return.
Develop Beats with Questions
Stories progress based on answers to questions. To illustrate how questions can help you flesh out beats, I’ll share the prompts for THRUST INTO 2. These questions will help you transition the story from the Stable World of Act 1 into the Unstable World of Act 2.A.
Example Questions to Progress Story
- Departure: Will hero leave old life in Stable World and do something new in Unstable World?
- Change Mirror: Is the new opposite of the old?
- Want Choice: Does the protagonist choose based on want (not need)?
- Wrong Choice: Is it clear why this might be the wrong choice?
- Conscious Choice: Was the hero’s choice a conscious one?
- Clear Aim: Does the hero have an obvious goal going into Act 2?
- Helper: Which character will help hero learn the Theme?
Let Scrivener Do the heavy Lifting
When you adopt TYB’s Global Story Beats, keep in mind you can adapt the patterns to meet your needs as a writer. Scrivener simplifies several tasks and makes it easy to reference your notes.
For example, I’ve entered and color-coded beat definitions, questions, and answers into Scrivener. These notes stay in the binder next to scenes and are always available for immediate reference. No more back and forth between sticky notes and other apps.
Here’s a look at Scrivener’s binder with Global Story Beats for Act 1 shown in blue and the individual scenes shown in black:
Within the binder, HOOK, TRIGGER, and THRUST INTO 2 are single scenes, but SETUP and WRANGLE contain scene sequences. If I click on THRUST INTO 2, I immediately see the beat definition and questions. There’s room to record an answer under each question.
To keep things straight, the acts are color coded:
I’m still amazed by Scrivener’s ability to organize and track Global Story Beats.