(Sixth lesson in my writing class.)
Each scene of your story should be based on three things in this order: Goal, Conflict, Disaster.
Each scene should heighten the suspense of the story until the very highest point of the climax. Each scene should be made up with those three things, Goal, Conflict, Disaster.
The hero has a goal, but he comes into conflict with something, and disaster is the result. This doesn’t mean your story has to be a tragedy, it simply means that your hero doesn’t win every time he’s confronted with a problem.
The reason each scene ends in a disaster is because it’s compelling. If the character gets everything he or she wants, then it’ll be boring. Putting in the Conflict and then Disaster tells the reader that there is really a chance things might not end up well. Something real is at stake.
Of course, you can’t just end a scene with your character being defeated, and then in the next scene he’s already coming up with a new Goal. No, that’s why you need to have a second format for the next scene. A Reaction, a Dilemma, and a Decision.
A Reaction to the Disaster in the last chapter. Your character is regrouping, recovering, maybe even grieving? But definitely defeated and discouraged. If you write it authentically - with an understandable reason for the way he or she is acting - the readers will be sympathetic, and maybe even feel defeated and discouraged with the character. After your character is defeated, give him or her some time to reflect on it. Even the sprightliest of people will get discouraged and it’s going to take them a while to recover - this is the time for the character to react, not act. Not yet, anyway.
The second part of this follow up scene is the Dilemma. When there are several possible solutions the character can make - and they all seem bad. The Disaster was so crucial that there is seemingly no hope. But now, he’s recovered just a little, so that he’s decided he has to continue, or maybe a friend keeps talking to him until he finally gets out of his Reaction stage, when he doesn’t do anything to keep going. Now he’s going in the right direction, but he suddenly realizes he has to make a choice between a few ugly possibilities. I can’t stress how much you want to make these possible choices all bad. If one is an easy pick, add something into it to make it more difficult. Let your character ponder over this.
I suggest you write out a full page of your character simply questioning what options he has. Should he sell his house or his car? Selling the car would be the more preferable choice, yes, but now you need to throw a wrench into the gears. What if his car is the only way he can get to work, even if it is a low paying job? Make the decision matter.
And finally the third part of this second scene; the Decision. Now that he’s thought over the possibilities, he has to make an action. This is a very important part in this scene because once more it’s giving the character the ball. His actions determine his fate. He then decides what Decision he will make. As I said before, don’t make it an easy decision, but make it a decision that the reader will respect, because when a reader thinks about what the possible decisions could end up in, and considers them, he or she will relate to the character, which is always a good thing.
Look at it in another way. What if the reader is holding his breath to see what the character will do, and then suddenly, with no rhyme or reason, the character picks the absolute hardest one. Then the reader will think, “well that was a stupid thing to do.” And that will annoy him. The most important thing for this part of the scene is to get the reader to wonder what he or she would do in that situation, and then give them a satisfying answer as to what the character did. If you can do this, you’ve got a great scene.
Now, as you see, the character knows what he wants to do. The Decision at the end of this scene is what he will do, in the next scene we’re back to Goal again. The character has Decided what his Goal will be.
This is why you interlock the two types of scenes every other time. Using there initials, you can create the pattern they are in.
GCD, which is Goal, Conflict, Disaster.
And RDD, Reaction, Dilemma, Decision.
And repeat it.
and so on. It’s a full scale of ups and downs for the reader and the character. It visits both despair and hope in one full cycle. If you keep this up, not only will a reader be interested, you yourself will be compelled to keep writing. The best way to get interested in writing a story isn’t just to write it, it’s to get into it. Write the character’s emotions as if you were there. As if you were just encountered with your Disaster. And now your hurting, and finally you come to the Dilemma. Make the reasons compelling, so that you yourself would say, “which one would I choose?” and then you know you’ve made a great scene.
So have your next scene, be it your first or fifth, planned out in this method.
I want you all to get out a pencil and paper, and write at the top “Scene 1", then on separate lines: Goal, Conflict, Disaster.
Then take out a new sheet and write at the top “Scene 2", and in separate lines below Reaction (to the Disaster), Dilemma, Decision.
Take some time in club today to write beside those words what your character is faced with for that part of the scene, the Decision he makes, and/or the Disaster he faces. Just something simple, just so that you have an idea.
If you do this with all your scenes, you’ll compel not only your reader to keep reading, but you as the writer to keep writing.
Do as many scenes as you can.
Also take time today to share, or listen to, any writings you want to have your audience’s feed back on.