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Guide Writing AI

What is a story beat, and how do I write one?

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What are beats and where do they come from?

You may have heard this term bandied around a lot in the AI sphere, both regarding super prompts and in writing beat-by-beat.

However, they are not a new concept and have their origins in the screenwriting industry. To put it simply, story beats are the smallest unit of structure in a story that pushes the narrative forward. They can include actions, events, emotional shifts, or a conversation. You do not need to be writing with AI in order to use story beats to improve your writing.

Novel Structure

A novel comprises of acts, chapters, scenes, and beats.

Just like how chapters break down a story into manageable chunks, beats break down a chapter.

Each chapter within a novel should have its own arc (albeit a mini one), with a start, middle, and end, and a specific goal for the characters. Once you know what you want to happen in the chapter, you then work on how best to accomplish those goals.

Beats are instructions that show us as a writer (and by extension the AI) how the scene will progress.

Why do we use beats when writing with AI?

Using story beats in AI originates from when Large Language Models first became available to the public. These initial models had very poor context windows (8k tokens and below), and so it wasn’t possible to input all the information you would need for a chapter.

Of course, now we have context windows of up to 200k tokens, but they are not yet reliable for writing an entire chapter using simple prompting - just because AI can read your entire book doesn’t mean it can do it well! Even with precise instructions, AI can often add its own flair, or misinterpret what you have inputted.

Furthermore, if you are a “pantser” style writer, or like having greater control of your story, you might not want to plan out an entire chapter and have it written in one go.

Think of writing with AI as akin to being a film director. You have an image in your head, and you want to convey that. Because AI models cannot read minds, in order to get the image we want onto paper, we need to provide instructions. Treat AI as you would a writing partner - they will not know what you want unless you give clear descriptions.

This may be a new skill to learn, but it is valuable. Don’t be disheartened if your initial attempts do not give the prose you want. By working iteratively, and making slight changes each time, you will get the feel of how these work.

We will go more into troubleshooting later.

But how do we actually write beats?

The short answer, is that there is no one specific way to write beats, however this class will go into the various ways that our users employ. We suggest you play around with multiple of these, or even use them with one another, in order to find a workflow that works for you.

For this tutorial, we will look at some well-known scenes from Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Let’s get into Novelcrafter.

Summary Beats

Think of beats a summary for the next passage of text, akin to how we summarise a chapter before writing it. This type of beat only contains general directions and not tiny specifics.


When to use: When you want to give the AI most creativity in writing.

Uncle Henry is watching the weather outside, and spots a cyclone. He orders everyone in.


When to use: If you have a clear idea of how you want your scene to go, but are unsure how to phrase the prose itself.

Dorothy retrieves Toto from under the bed, and heads to follow her Aunt Em to the cellar. Before she can make it the house shakes and she is knocked over. She feels the house whirl around in the air as it gets caught in the middle of the cyclone. Whilst Toto does not like the sensation, running and almost falling through the trap door, Dorothy finds that it is quite soothing and is lulled to sleep.


When to use: If you want to add in a tiny details to your novel while editing

Add a description of the scarecrow.

With microbeats, it is advised to limit the token output of the AI, so it doesn’t write a full essay on your microbeat.

Guided Beats

Whereas summary beats still give the AI some freedom around your instructions, guided beats are there to make sure your digital intern actually follows your vision closely.

Time/Location Beats

When to use: When setting the initial scene, or if there is a change of location/time. If you have codex entries for your locations, this is where mentioning them will allow your prose to shine.

Time: A bright sunny day, time unknown. Location: Dorothy’s house, displaced and now laying in a luscious countryside. Dorothy wakes up and explores her surroundings, realising that she is not in Kansas anymore.

Dialogue Beats

When to use: If you know how a conversation will go, but don’t want to write all the action between the phrases. I like to write these in a script format.

Female: You are welcome, most noble Sorceress, to the land of the Munchkins. We are so grateful to you for having killed the Wicked Witch of the East, and for setting our people free from bondage. Dorothy: You are very kind, but there must be some mistake. I have not killed anything. Female: Your house did, anyway, and that is the same thing. See! There are her two feet, still sticking out from under a block of wood. Dorothy: Oh, dear! Oh, dear! The house must have fallen on her. Whatever shall we do?

Instruction Beats

When to use: If you want to direct the AI closely without having to specify every action.

Describe Dorothy preparing some food, and exploring the local area. Write the conversation Dorothy has with Toto as she debates whether to put on the shoes on or not.

Character Motivations

When to use: If you want the AI to write character driven prose, without dictating the specific interaction.

Dorothy meets the scarecrow. They have a conversation. Dorothy wishes to get to the Emerald city so she can find a way home. The scarecrow wants to remove the stick in his back, holding him to the ground, and get a brain.

Troubleshooting your Beats

You’ve done all the work, hit go but it still doesn’t seem to want to work. What if I’m not getting the prose I desire from my beats?

Let’s go over some brief troubleshooting.

  1. The AI continues to write beyond the scope of my beats! As a quick fix, try using bracketed instructions [Stop at this point do not go any further] or [end here] in your beat.

    However, often this issue occurs when you are not specific enough. If the AI isn’t guided sufficiently, it will go off the rails, making up new locations, and trying to find a natural conclusion to the “story” - AI likes to wrap things up in bows, so it is our job as writers to ensure it does not do that.

  2. New characters keep being invented!

    Try adding some more codex entries into your beat - if you know the characters that are present, then mention them! Ensure that the AI does not forget everyone in your scene.

  3. There is no dialogue/the AI is summarising the beats. Try using the “dialogue beat” type if you know what you want them to say.

    If you don’t know, use an instruction beat: “Show X and Y having a conversation about Z”.

  4. The Characterisation is all wrong! Experiment with your codex entries. If you want the character to do something specific, then mention it in the beat.

You can also try cloning and editing the system prompt if you are finding issues are continuing. Simple changes you could try are:

  • Reducing word/token output for when too much is being written.
  • New instructions to manipulate the prose (caveat: this works best when using models that listen to instructions more)

If anything goes wrong, try the beat with your system prompts and go from there.

Additional Tips for getting the best from your beats when working with AI

  • Use names instead of pronouns; this is especially important if you have multiple characters of the same gender, as the AI will not always infer your intent.
  • Different AI models have been trained on different material, for different purposes. As such, you find that some are better at following instructions, whereas others might give lovely prose, but prose that veers off of your original intent. The system prompts include models with settings as tested by the community, so are a good place to start.
  • Trying combining beat structures within your chapter - you might find you prefer to control the dialogue, but in an action or fight scene you want the AI to have a little more freedom.
  • In novelcrafter, the system prompt will read your previous words written. By beginning the chapter yourself, the AI will pull from your style, and it will improve continuity.
  • Likewise, if you edit the output prose as you go, the AI will come to mimic this more as the chapter progresses.
  • The codex entries are your best friend. Novelcrafter pulls information from any mentioned entry and so keeping these concise and with all relevant data is essential to getting prose that is relevant and cohesive.
  • Global codex entries are a great way to influence the writing of the AI too. Instead of having to mention the relevant data every time, have your world building always be in the context! This includes keywords for your genre to help direct the AI. Simple words like “noir western” or “hardboiled science fiction” have a big influence!
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Kate Robinson