Today's writing tip comes from Make a Scene by Jordan E. Rosenfeld and focuses on scene intentions, or goals for your protagonist. Read on to learn four questions to ask yourself when writing scenes to help your protagonist achieve his/her goal in every scene.
A Character's Intentions in a Scene
An important way you keep your protagonist from wandering aimlessly about your narrative is to give him an intention in every scene—a job that he wants to carry out that will give purpose to the scene. The intention doesn’t come from nowhere—it stems directly from the significant situation of your plot and from your protagonist’s personal history. To clarify, an intention is a character’s plan to take an action, to do something, whereas a motivation is a series of reasons, from your protagonist’s personal history to his mood, that accounts for why he plans to take an action.
In every scene these intentions will drive the action and consequences; they will help you make each scene relevant to your plot and character development. Intentions are an important way to build drama and conflict into your narrative, too, because as your protagonist pursues his intention, you will oppose it, thwart it, intensify his desire for it, and maybe, only at the end of your narrative, grant him the satisfaction of achieving it.
4 Questions to Ask Yourself When Writing a Scene
Every time you begin a scene you want to ask yourself: What does my protagonist want, need, and intend to do? To answer this, you’ll need to consider the following:
1. What are the most immediate desires of the character? An intention is often a character’s desire or plan to do something, whether it’s to rob a bank, propose to a woman, go to the store for cigarettes, or tell off a misbehaving family member.
2. When will your characters achieve their intention or meet with opposition? A scene intention should meet with complications to build drama and suspense. Therefore, try not to allow your characters to achieve their intentions right away, or too easily. Know when and where you will complicate or resolve things. Some intentions will have to be achieved, or else your plot will stop cold.
3. Does the scene intention make sense to your plot? Be careful not to take tangents and side paths that, while fun to write, don’t contribute to the drama already unfolding. Every intention should be related to the significant situation and its consequences.
4. Who will help your characters achieve their goal? Who will oppose them? Decide what other characters or conditions will support or thwart your protagonists’ intentions, and try to keep some resistance in the scene so that intentions are not achieved too soon, nor delayed beyond what feels realistic.
These basic questions will help direct you when you begin thinking about the actions your characters need to take in a new scene.