Establish characters' intentions in every scene

Every time Polarization-1201698_1920you start a story, you want to quickly establish a problem for the main character to solve and their intention of solving it. Maybe a hacked up dead body is found, and a detective intends to bring the murderer to justice. Possibly a divorced woman who’s been by her herself for the past five years sees a man she’s interested in and decides to meet him. Perhaps a starship captain finds a far-flung colony where his brother lived has been destroyed by some unknown force.

Regardless of the genre, as the story progresses, the main characters’ intentions must be established at the beginning of each scene and then played out. In fact, that’s true of every significant character in your tale.

Characters’ intentions drive your plot. When they are the focus of your writing, your story has action, tension and suspense because some characters will oppose and even temporarily thwart your story’s protagonist. The consequences of that action sets up the next scene. When those intentions aren’t the focus, the story drifts with irrelevant scenes, and character development suffers.

Wants and needs
As you outline and write each scene, always ask what each of your characters in it want and need. From that arises an action they intend to take. The scene then is about the characters in conflict with one another.

For example, our detective, in the scene following the discovery of the murdered body, decides to interview the deceased’s parents to see if he can get any leads. Because the body was of a teenage girl – and he has a teenage daughter himself – this case is personal. He understands the pain those parents must feel. He wants to solve the crime. He needs to solve it or he’ll feel like he’s failing his duty to protect – not just in his duty as a policeman but in his obligations as a father. He intends to develop a list of suspects.

The other characters in the scene – the deceased girl’s mother and father – must somehow oppose the detective. If they cooperate fully, the scene risks being quite dull. So establish their wants, needs and intentions as well. Perhaps the parents are illegal immigrants. They have a natural fear of police and of being returned to their home country, so they want and need to keep secret most facts about their identity. Possibly they even have a fairly good idea who the killer is – they think it’s the coyote who escorted them across the border and with who their teen daughter, much to their chagrin, developed a romantic relationship. Their very lives could be endangered if they name the coyote a suspect.

Such a scene between two opposing intentions can be fraught with drama, tension and suspense. The detective must use every interview trick he can think of to win over the parents and get them to talk. The parents must resist every overture from the detective while dealing with the inner conflict of obtaining justice for their daughter yet protecting their lives.

The detective should leave the interview frustrated and with no leads. But he knows the parents are hiding something. This sets up the story’s next scene – the detective knows if he can figure out why the parents are so reluctant to speak he might then be able to get them to…or he might even have some suspects.

Of course, the scene could unfold in thousands of different ways just by slightly altering the characters’ wants, needs and intentions and how they play out.

Key questions
As making those decisions about your characters, ask yourself a couple of quick questions:
What are the characters’ immediate needs? The detective’s foremost need in the above scene is to get a list of suspects so he can check out each one to determine if they are the murderer. He does not immediately need to know from the coroner specifics about the murder weapon, though that will be helpful information once he has a list of suspects.
How will the main character’s intentions be partially fulfilled? While the protagonist’s intentions cannot be fulfilled too early in the story, they must at least be incrementally met in each scene so that the story can progress. If they aren’t, the main character never will solve the story’s problem. While our detective in the above scene didn’t get a list of suspects, he did determine a new way that he might come up with a list – figure out what the parents are hiding.
How do the characters’ intentions propel the plot forward? If the characters spar over something that has little or no relationship to solving the story’s problem, then the intentions don’t move the story ahead. If the intention of the parents in the above scene was to lash out at police because officers never respond to crime in their neighborhood, that probably doesn’t advance the story. It doesn’t give the detective any information that could help him develop a list of potential suspects.

Professional Book Editor: Having your novel, short story or nonfiction manuscript proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an era where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. I can provide that second eye.


12 Tips for Creating a Compelling Plot

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Five basic elements make up a story 
Don't let a rhinoceros in the room smash your plot 
Use bait-and-switch device carefully in stories
Cut plot cliché of histrionic exit 
Utilize Chekhov's gun to make plot work 
Delete bogus alternatives from your story 
Avoid stalling as approaching crucial event 
What is a ‘blood and guts’ scene? 
Use foreshadowing to enrich your story
Avoid writing gimmick stories
Utilize plot device to move story forward 
Strengthen story with man vs. himself conflict
BONUS: “The first chapter sells the book; the last chapter sells the next book.” - Mickey Spillane

Professional Book Editor: Having your novel, short story or nonfiction manuscript proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. I can provide that second eye.



Writing prompt: Open story with foreshadowing

Suffering from Plotwriter’s block or need to add some spunk to your writing? The problem may be that you need to change up your routine. To that end, try this tip: Foreshadowing is another tried-and-true way of opening a story and can be very useful if you’ve already brainstormed or outlined the story’s premise and characters. For example, if the book is about how far one has to go to defend themselves and others they love, you might write, “I’d never really thought about how I would kill someone though I’d certainly given plenty of thought to who I might knock off.”

Need an editor? Having your book, business document or academic paper proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. Whether you come from a big city like Charlotte, North Carolina, or a small town like Butts, Georgia, I can provide that second eye.



Get FREE ebook 'Your Story's First Page'

Want a Your Story's First Page PDF cover FREE book about writing from an award-winning author and editor?

I’m now offering my latest ebook – “Your Story’s First Page” – for free.

We know a tale’s opening lines draw readers into your story, hook them on it, make them want to read on, and even allow them to put up with a scene they later find dull. Accomplishing that, though, is a challenge, especially for beginning writers. This ebook shares 11 useful tips that'll ensure your story's first 250 words count. The tips come from what established authors advise, what I’ve learned as a writer and editor, and what my many novelist clients have shared with me.

To receive the free ebook, simply click here. Within 24 hours, I’ll send you a pdf of “Your Story’s First Page” for free.

Enjoy – and thank you for reading my book!

Professional Book Editor: Having your novel, short story or nonfiction manuscript proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. I can provide that second eye.



How to use scene breaks in novels, short stories

Often 39in novels and long short stories, a scene break is needed. A scene break is a visual marker that lets readers know the setting has changed.

The scene break is important as it skips over the unimportant stuff in the story. For example, if our protagonist secret agent learns that another character in a different location has information he needs, there’s no need to show him driving to that site, stopping off for dinner along the way, or filling his sports car with gas afterward. Instead, just jump to the point in the story where he’s already arrived and is scoping out the locale to find a way to sneak in.

A scene break can be visually created by simply placing a blank line or three centered asterisks between the two scenes, as in:

“It was Gravin – Gravin was the one who smuggled the diamonds,” the scar-faced man gasped, as the cord around his neck tightened.

Ryan loosened his hold on the cord and gently set the scar-faced man’s head against the concrete floor. Then Ryan kicked the man’s head, pulled out his Glock G-43, and pressed his thumb against the trigger.

***


As Ryan’s head peeked above the shrubbery, his eyes scanned Gravin’s compound for an easy entry.

Dispensing with the here-to-there action ensures you keep the story’s level of suspense high. Readers are savvy enough to know that time has passed and could care less what the main character did during the interim.

A scene break can be used for other dramatic purposes than showing a change in setting, though. For example:

Jack wished they'd move on; he didn't know how much longer his sweaty hands could hold on to the cliff's edge. And then the dirt beneath his thumbs crumbled.

***


Sarah wrung her hands as gazing at the sunlit cliff above. Jack never was late.


In this case, the scene break occurs when the characters that the narration focuses on changes. (One scene is about Jack, and the other is about Sarah.) or when the point of view of view changes. (If Sara also was hanging over cliff with Jack and the narration switches from Jack's to Sara's perspective, then a scene break also is needed.)

The three centered asterisks aren’t the only way to show a scene break. Other symbols can be used; for example, a novel set at a marina might use a centered sailboat rather than asterisks. Or you may simply place a blank line between the two scenes; this can be problematic, however, if already using a blank space rather than indentations to mark the end and start of paragraphs, as is often done in ebooks.

Professional Book Editor: Having your novel, short story or nonfiction manuscript proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. I can provide that second eye.


How to tell your story in four stages

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Telling a story requires taking your protagonist through a series of stages in which he resolves the central problem that set the tale in motion. Here’s a set of articles about those stages:
Parts of a plot
Inciting incident
Rising action
• Sidebar: Your main character must fail 
Climax
Falling Action/Denouement

Professional Book Editor: Having your novel, short story or nonfiction manuscript proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. I can provide that second eye.



Hint at Your Theme in Your Story's Opening

Opening lines theme

Professional Book Editor:
Having your novel, short story or nonfiction manuscript proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. I can provide that second eye.



Story elements work together as organic whole

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No part of your story exists in isolation. They are merely a component of a greater whole; just as walls and a roof disconnected from its foundation would collapse, so also will your story if each element doesn’t dovetail into the other. Because of this, writers need to understand how each part of the story fits together.

Here are some articles that examine a story’s major components and how they work together:
Five elements of a story 
Five parts of a plot 
Types of conflict (the heart of every story) 
Character arc

Professional Book Editor: Having your novel, short story or nonfiction manuscript proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. I can provide that second eye.



6 Tips for Creating a Great Opening page

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Don’t underestimate first page's importance 
How to write your story's opening line
Always start your story in the middle
Hint at protagonist's internal motivations
Don't fully commit protagonist in opening scene
Establish story's point of view in opening lines 
• BONUS: “Writing is an occupation in which you have to keep proving your talent to those who have none.” – Jules Renard

Professional Book Editor: Having your novel, short story or nonfiction manuscript proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. I can provide that second eye.



3 Tips For Creating a Great Villain

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How to create an interesting villain for your story
Develop complex antagonist to maximize conflict 
Consider employing a deceiver in your plot
• BONUS: "When someone is mean to me, I just make them a victim in my next book." - Mary Higgins Clark 

Professional Book Editor: Having your novel, short story or nonfiction manuscript proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. I can provide that second eye.