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12-23-12 Options for Goals in a Scene

12-23-12 Options for Goals in a Scene

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Published by K.M. Weiland

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Published by: K.M. Weiland on Dec 23, 2012
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The story as a whole and every
scene
* within it begins with a goal. Yourcharacter wants something—something he will have difficulty accomplishing.What he wants frames the plot on both the macro and micro levels. What hewants defines him as a person, and, by extension, the theme of the book as awhole.The possibilities for
scene
goals are endless—and very specific to your story.Your character can want anything in any given
scene
, but within that universe of options, you must narrow down the desires expressed within your
scene
to thosethat will drive the plot. Wanting to buy pink carnations for Mother’s Day is aworthy goal, but if your character’s mother is a nonexistent player in your storyof a nuclear war, it’s not going to belong in your story—and certainly not as a
scene
goal.
Scene
goals are the dominoes I’m always talking about. Each goal is a stepforward in your story. One goal leads to a result that prompts a new goal and onand on.
Bing-bing-bing
—they knock into each other, one domino after another. If they don’t—if one goal is out of place in the overall story—the line of dominoeswill stop and the story will falter, perhaps fatally.
Plot Goals vs. Scene Goals
Your character’s overall plot goal will be a dilemma that will take the entire storyto solve. He may want to become President, he may want to rescue hiskidnapped daughter, he may want to marry the girl next door, or he may want tofind healing and a fresh start after the death of his father. If we break thisoverall, story-long goal down into bite-size pieces, we find that it’s really madeup of one small goal after another.Your character may not even start out
knowing
that he wants a fresh start orthat he wants to marry the girl next door (although it should be immediatelyevident to the reader by implication if nothing else). But in the very first
scene
,he’s going to know he wants
something
. Maybe he knows he wants the neighborgirl’s dog to stop chewing his petunias. Then he knows he has to meet her andconvince her to chain up her dog. Then he knows she’s infuriatingly cute. Then
Options for Goals in a
Scene
http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.comhttp://www/kmweiland.com
 
he knows he wants to go out with her. Then he knows he has to overcome hisbad first impression. Then he knows he should buy her flowers. Etc., etc., etc.Before you know it, all these little
scene
goals will have led you right up to theoverall story goal.The most important factor to keep in mind as you identify each
scene
goal is itspertinence to the plot. Subplots may provide opportunities for goals that aren’tdirectly related to your primary goal of marrying the neighbor girl, but they, too,must eventually tie into the overall plot in an impactful or thematically resonantway. If the accomplishment or thwarting of any given
scene
goal won’t affect theoverall outcome of the story, it’s probably not pertinent enough.
Options for
Scene
Goals
Scene
goals will manifest in wildly different ways. Your character may want toburn a packet of letters, take a nap, hide in a closet, or sink a boat. But most
scene
goals will boil down into one of the following categories.Your character is going to want:
1.
Something concrete (an object, a person, etc.).
2.
Something incorporeal (admiration, information, etc.)
3.
Escape from something physical (imprisonment, pain, etc.).
4.
Escape from something mental (worry, suspicion, fear, etc.).
5.
Escape from something emotional (grief, depression, etc.).His methods of achieving these things will often manifest in one of the followingways (although this list certainly isn’t definitive):
1.
Seeking information.
2.
Hiding information.
3.
Hiding self.
4.
Hiding someone else.
5.
Confronting or attacking someone else.
6.
Repairing or destroying physical objects.
Partial and Overarching Goals
Although
scene
goals will always be short-range (as opposed to the long-rangeplot goal), they won’t always be confined to and completed in a single
scene
.
 
Sometimes your story will demand overarching goals that span several
scenes
.For example, your character may know in
scene
#3 that he wants to go out withthe neighbor girl, but this isn’t a goal he can accomplish in just one
scene
. Hemay not achieve this particular goal until
scene
#11.That’s where partial goals come into play. Just as
scene
goals build up to theoverall story goal, partial goals build up to fulfill overarching goals, whichthemselves eventually lead up to the overall goal. In our example, thecharacter’s journey to reach this particular overarching goal might include partialgoals such as purposefully bumping into the neighbor girl several times, gettingher phone number, buying her flowers, and apologizing for yelling at her dog.Overarching goals that require several
scenes
to accomplish do not negate theneed for individual goals within each interim
scene
. But don’t limit yourself withthe notion that each
scene
has to be an island unto itself. Each
scene
is just asmall part of the larger whole. Since everything must integral, everything can’thelp but be intertwined.
Questions to Ask About Your
Scene
Goals
Once you’ve identified your
scene
’s goal, stop and ask yourself the followingquestions:
1.
Does the goal make sense within the overall plot?
2.
Is the goal inherent to the overall plot?
3.
Will the goal’s complication/resolution lead to a new goal/conflict/disaster?
4.
If the goal is mental or emotional (e.g., be happy today), does it have aphysical manifestation (e.g, smile at everyone)? (This one isn’t alwaysnecessary, but allowing characters to outwardly
show 
their goals offers astronger presentation than mere
telling
, via internal narrative.)
5.
Does the success or failure of the goal directly affect the
scene
narrator? (If not, his POV probably isn’t the right choice.)
Scene
Goals in Action
Let’s examine a few
scene
goals in action. Just for continuity’s sake, I’ll be usingexamples from the same four books and movies I used in my Secrets of StoryStructure series.
Pride & Prejudice
by Jane Austen: Mrs. Bennet’s goal in the first chapter is toconvince her husband to call upon the newly arrived Mr. Bingley. Even thoughshe’s not the story’s protagonist, she is the primary actor in this first
scene
, so

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