by Pam Zollman
I was working on a scene in my WIP middle-grade novel and it was causing trouble for me. It made me go back and review what I was doing. I learned how to write scenes from Dwight Swain’s book, TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER.
Scenes have three parts:
Every story has a goal.
Your character has an overarching story goal -- the problem he or she has to solve, something he/she wants to achieve. My character, Joetta, wants respect from her family, but she doesn't understand at first that *that* is what she wants. She thinks she wants revenge for her twin brothers' pranks. She thinks she wants relief from a copycat younger sister. She thinks she wants her parents to punish her siblings, while giving her a break. This is what drives her through the story.
Every scene has a goal.
Her brothers continue to prank her, and in the previous scene attacked her with pillows until she screamed for help from her parents, who were unhappy at being awakened. So now she's lying there in the dark in her great-grandmother's home, thinking about revenge. She decides to wait until the twins are asleep and then write on their foreheads, "dumb" and "dumber." Her goal in this scene is to write on their foreheads without waking up them -- or her parents -- and getting away with it.
Goals create active characters.
Scenes are action. You want your character to be active, not passive. Passive characters react to what happens to them; they seem to allow things to happen. Active characters make things happen, good or bad. They don't wait for something to happen. Not all of their decisions are good, but they do make decisions and ACT. These characters are more interesting and engaging for readers.
Every scene goal leads eventually to solving the overall story goal.
As your character moves forward, scene by scene, goal by goal, he or she gets closer to solving the problem or achieving a desired outcome. Your character will not only reach the final goal, but will grow in the process. As your character handles each problem presented by each scene, he stretches and grows and is able to make new and better goals.
So give your character a goal in every single scene. It's what moves your story forward. Next time we’ll talk about “conflict.”