A beat is a unit of conflict.
Actually, there are many definitions of “beats” in writing fiction, but for the purposes of this series, beats are a unit of conflict, analgous to the acts in a story. They’re a tool for finding out what’s wrong with a scene, for strengthening a scene, but probably not for writing one. If you’ve written a scene you think is great, don’t bother with beats. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But if a scene isn’t working, then looking for beats is an excellent way to tighten and focus it.
A while back (a long while back), I did a series of writing posts on another blog that I called Writing/Romance. I took that blog offline for admin reasons, and an Argher just asked for the conflict box post back, so I think what I’m going to do is keep the old blog defunct and just do a. Writing/Romance category here. So the Conflict Box post is back up here.
Let me know what other stuff you want me to move front and center in the reposting job; eventually everything but the old Cherry. Saturdays and Happiness Sundays and general admin posts will go back up, but there are hundreds of the suckers and it’s taking me awhile.
The key to a great conflict is that neither the protagonist nor the antagonist can resign from the action. They must keep fighting each other to the bitter end because they need their goals and because they cannot escape each other’s actions. One way to analyze the strength of your story conflict is with a conflict box.