Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Writing Scenes, Part 1

I was working on a scene right now in my I LEFT MY UNDERWEAR IN SAN FRANCISCO and it was causing a bit of trouble for me. It made me go back and review what I was doing, since I know how to write a scene. I learned how from Dwight Swain in his book, TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER, a "must-have" book on writing. In it, you'll learn how to write Scene and Sequel.

Scenes have three parts:
1) Goal
2) Conflict
3) Disaster

Today, we'll discuss "goals.

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 all of her twin brothers' pranks. She thinks she wants relief from a younger sister's insistence on imitating her. She thinks she wants her parents to come down heavy-handed on 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 how to get them back. She decides to wait until the twins are sound 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. Readers want to read about active characters, because these characters are more interesting, more engaging.

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.

Tomorrow I'll discuss "Conflict" within each scene.


  1. Great post, Pam! I'm doing Nano for the first time, and so far I'm keeping up. But each day, even though I know about where I need to go and what's going to happen as I write, it's taken me longer than I expected to get cranking. Tonight, as I plan for tomorrow's writing, I'm going to keep that goal/conflict/disaster sequence inthe forefront. It will help me jump to it much faster in the morning!

  2. Hi Pam...I saw you on Facebook and decided to check out your blog. In writing my novel, I find that some of the scenes are static. I know that I need to ramp up the tension. Sometimes I wait to do it till I get to the editing process. Your points here are beneficial. I will even check out Swain's book.

  3. Thanks for the tips, Pam