Writing A Novel: The Seven Story Beats

A writer friend of mine drew my attention to this post from Billy Mernit, who shared the seven story beats in his book, Writing the Romantic Comedy. Mernit breaks the romance storyline into seven basic pieces, or “beats.” It’s well known that novelists structure novels like plays or movies: in three acts. In a romance, the three acts can be broken down by the plot points: the meet, the lose, and the get. But Mernit breaks it down even further into these seven elements that are important to all novels not just romance. 

The Setup/Hook

A scene or sequence identifying the exterior and/or interior conflict (i.e., unfulfilled desire), the “what’s wrong with this picture” implied in the protagonist’s (and/or antagonist’s) current status quo. (p.110)**

Gail says: : The unfilled desire also refers to the unfulfilled need or goal of the protagonist.

The Meet/Inciting Incident

The inciting incident brings man and woman together and into conflict; an inventive but credible contrivance, often amusing, which in some way sets the tone for the action to come. (p. 111)

Gail says:  In other than romance, the inciting incident is the time of change when the status quo is challenged and the protagonist must act upon the want, need or goal with the surety that conflict will present.

 The Turning Point

Traditionally occurring at the end of Act 1, a new development raises story stakes and clearly defines the protagonist’s goal; most successful when it sets man and woman at cross-purposes and/or their inner emotions at odds with the goal. (p. 112)

Gail says:  This is that moment in time when the situation takes a turn for the worse, when the goal, need or want seems even further away and to succeed in gaining the goal will likely mean losing something else important to the protagonist.

The Midpoint/Raising the Stakes

A situation that irrevocably binds the protagonist with the antagonist (often while tweaking sexual tensions) and has further implications for the outcome of the relationship. (p. 113)

Gail says: Since many books do not depend on sexual tension, the midpoint will make the stakes even more personal and more dire to the success of the protagonist to reach the goal.

Swivel: Second Turning Point

Traditionally occurring at the end of Act 2, stakes reach their highest point as the romantic relationship’s importance jeopardizes the protagonist’s chance to succeed at his/her state goal—or vice versa—and his/her goal shifts. (p. 115)

Gail says: In non-romances, this is the time when an unexpected crisis descends upon the situation that makes it often life and death—whether the death of a person, an idea, a treasure, a solution. In a thriller, it might be a time when the villain is at hand and they learn another murder was committed that he couldn’t have accomplished, meaning they have been chasing the wrong the man.

The Dark Moment/Crisis

Wherein the consequences of the swivel decision yield disaster; generally, the humiliating scene where private motivations are revealed, and either the relationship and/or the protagonist’s goal is seemingly lost forever. (p. 115)

Gail’s says: This is the moment in the thriller when the real villain in cornered but turns the tables and, in fact, has the protagonist at gun point with no hesitation to shoot him.

 Joyful Defeat/Resolution

A reconciliation that reaffirms the primal importance of the relationship; usually a happy ending that implies marriage or a serious commitment, often at the cost of some personal sacrifice to the protagonist. (p. 116)

Gail says: In a story that is not a relationship novel, the joyful ending is the saving of the protagonist and capturing the real villain. Included is also an explanation as to how the villain accomplished the crimes and/or why. It’s tying together all the loose threads of the story.

**Page number references are from Mernit’s book, Writing the Romantic Comedy

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  1. Jill W December 18, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

    This is great stuff, Gail. I plan to use this as a guideline for my editing. Thanks so much! Merry Christmas to you and your family!

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