Story beats explained

reveal beat

Story beats provide a way to analyse narrative and they provide reference points writers can use when looking at particular stories. The type tells you the purpose performed by the beat. The resolution marks the emotional state in the audience by the beat.

Beat types

The procedural beat.

procedural beat

This moves the protagonists closer to his goal by fulfilling hopes or moves him away by realizing the fears. The protagonist is usually in (in)directly in danger or suffers some setback. A feeling of suspense is created in the reader.

The dramatic beat

dramatic beat

The reader is invested in the protagonist’s inner goals. This can move him to positive inner transformation or negative inner transformation. Conflicts in this beat are usually verbal, calmed down by affection, reassurance or submission from one of the parties. This beat goes hand in hand with the procedural beat.

The commentary beat

commentary beat

Moving towards or away from the goal is momentarily suspended so the story’s thematic elements can be emphasized. It stops the action. Ideally, this is seamlessly interwoven with the rest of the narrative.

The anticipation beat

anticipation beat

An expectation is created of coming procedural success, foreshadowing a success or gratification to come. It is the opposite of danger or suspense. The reader is not worried about the protagonist.

The gratification beat

gratification beat

A positive emotional moment, flowing free from the main narrative. It is a rest between major sequences. This beat risks reminding the reader that he is reading a book, rather than keeping him submerged in the story. It breaks the fictional illusion, so use it with care.

The bringdown beat

bringdown beat

The reader experiences a negative emotion moment, that flows free from the main narrative.

The pipe beat (information beat)

pipe beat

This beat provides information that is needed later, without giving away its importance. Avoid adding so much information that the reader becomes confused, yet disguise it well so the reader won’t predict the associated reveal ahead of time.

The question beat (information beat)

question beat

Introduces a point of curiosity the reader will want to see satisfied, often used in mystery stories. Procedural beats make the reader wonder what will happen next, question beats makes them wonder about what has already happened. The lack of information teases the reader and poses an obstacle to the hero.

The reveal beat (information beat)

reveal beat

The reveal provides information to answer a previous question beat, or to surprise with new information. Exposition is more engaging if the reader was teased by a prior question or when the impact on the hopes and fears is clearly seen.

The question + reveal beat knock out combo

The question –  reveal duality is a vital source of suspense. They keep the reader engaged by hinting at plot points before revealing them fully.

The hope / fear cycle

Though humans have a wide range of emotions, two of them rule above all others. At any given time we hope something good will happen and fear it won’t. If the reader isn’t experiencing either emotion in any degree for the character, it’s game over.

Having the reader experience one of them, is not enough. Success comes from the balancing act between the two. Give enough hope to keep the reader from disengaging. Give enough fear to prevent the reader from becoming bored.