Setting Scene Goals and Intentions

When I first sat down for NaNoWriMo 2012, I realized that although I had plotted out my story, had an idea of where I wanted things to go, and had crafted characters that I liked, I had no idea how to write a scene!

I had outlined chapters and their progression, but how do you accomplish that chapter without knowing the scenes that you are going to add in and what they need to accomplish in order to truly make the chapter that you had imagined?

Well, one of the things that changed my writing completely from that first NaNo to the past few years was not only plotting using a little bit of each of the methods I’ve talked about in my previous post about plotting methods, but it was to figure out the scene goals and intentions as well.

Yes, but/ No, and

I first started thinking about this when I heard about the “Yes, but/No, and” concept on the Writing Excuses podcast. It takes this idea that in each scene, the character has a goal and whether or not they accomplish it can fall into two categories: “Yes, but….something unexpected happens” or “No, and….now they also have to deal with ____.”

This concept totally floored me and I began writing my notecards on Scrivener to include a goal and the Yes, but or No and, answer to that goal. It helped tremendously.

Setting scene goals with yes, but no, and method
Here’s an example from my old WIP. Just this much gives me enough to get the scene started


Similarly, when I read Make a Scene by Jordan E. Rosenfeld, the concept of setting scene intentions went right along with this. The book deals with two types of intentions (similar to goals).

1. Plot-based intentions

These intentions are the overarching intentions that your character is striving towards throughout the plot. In a given scene, your character should be aiming towards these overarching intentions. Otherwise, your scenes will feel removed from the overall plot of the story.

2. Scene-based intentions

These are the more immediate, reactionary intentions that a character has in a scene. For example, if your character’s goal is to survive in the wilderness without food or shelter (plot-based intention), the scene-based intention may be to set up a shelter or start a fire before night falls.

Setting scene intentions
I love these guiding questions when considering how to set up my scenes

By combining the “Yes, but/No, and” and scene intention strategies, I feel so much more prepared when it comes time to start a scene because I know exactly what is driving the character both as a part of the story as well as just temporarily, but I also know the conclusion and how it will help raise the stakes or resolve things by understanding the outcome.

Emotional Dominoes

Finally, the piece that tied everything together was listening to Susan Dennard talk about “emotional dominoes” that your story must follow. By considering the logical progression of emotions and change that the character goes through, I was able to tie in not just plot and scene-based goals and intentions, but make sure that they tied in with character development and a logical progression throughout the story.

Whew! I’m exhausted just thinking about doing this for my new project, but I can guarantee that I’m going to do it because I feel so much more prepared to tackle each and every scene when I do these things ahead of time.

What do you do? I’d love to hear about what you use for scene goals and intentions in the comments below!

Published by Leslie

I'm an author, teacher, wife, and mother of three who just finished an MFA program and is working on a YA fantasy novel.

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