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Understanding Scene Goals

Coming up with a scene or story goal sounds momentous and difficult.

It isn’t.

Your character doesn’t need to have a million dollar sales goal or desire to scale Mount Everest.

Writers pick goals for their characters instinctively, if not consciously. When you sit down to write a scene, your characters do and say things. What they do and say should have purpose. Their actions and words should move the story forward or cause complications or reversals.

Every story should have a central conflict at the heart of it that is easily summarized in a one-sentence logline.

A strong scene has a central conflict too. That doesn't mean only one thing happens in a scene or that only one character has a goal in each scene. It means the point of view character for each scene has a reason for being there and that he is earning his page time.

Think of a story or scene goal as having a subject, object, verb, and outcome.

The subject is the point of view character.

The verb is the motion toward or away from the object.
  • Obtain or get rid of it. 
  • Hold onto or release it. 
  • Reach or escape it 
  • Hide or reveal it. 
  • Change or keep from changing it. 
  • Tell or not tell it. 
  • Evade or capture it. 
  • Avert or allow it. 
  • Define or obscure it. 
  • Prove or disprove it. 
  • Evaluate or decide it. 
The object is the target or focus of the words and actions.
  • Person 
  • Place 
  • Thing 
  • Information 
  • Situation 
  • Physical Task 
  • Mental Task 
  • Need 
  • Want 
  • Emotion 
  • Belief 
  • Prejudice 
For every struggle there is an outcome.
  • The character can succeed in his goal and feel good about it or bad about it. 
  • The character can achieve his goal only to find out it was the wrong goal. 
  • The character can achieve his goal and find they have created a bigger problem. 
  • The character can fail and feel good about it or bad about it. 
  • The character can fail and realize he was after the wrong goal, so his failure was really a success. 
The goal of the antagonist, or antagonistic forces, is to keep the protagonist from obtaining the object and make the verb challenging.

Friends and foes provide stumbling blocks and step ladders to keep the character moving toward and away from the object and make the verb more difficult or easier.

Providing stiff opposition and high stakes equals high tension.

Movement toward and away from the scene and story goals creates satisfying S-curves readers enjoy cruising, or racing, through to reach the story’s end. It adds the requisite tension to keep the reader turning pages.
If you can complete one sentence for your entire story, you have a solid logline.

Character (subject) wants to (verb) the (object) and (outcome).

If you can complete one sentence for every chapter, you have a solid synopsis.

Next week, we'll illustrate the theory.

You can visit to download free scene-building worksheets.

For more information on scene goals, pick up a copy of Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict.

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