We all want that perfectly crafted scene. The one that leaps off the page and captivates our readers. The trick to writing scenes that turn pages is using the technique of goal, conflict, disaster.
This is the brainchild of Randy Ingermanson who created the “Snowflake Method,” which is an extension of Dwight Swain’s ideas from Techniques of the Selling Writer. The key take away from both of these is the idea of escalating conflict or problems.
Give Your Character a Tangible Goal
This is what your character is after at the start of the scene. It must be clearly and easily understandable by the reader.
For example: The main character wants to ask another character out on a date.
The goal is there, but our main character can’t simply sit by passively waiting for this goal to realize itself. They must take action, by whatever means at their disposal, to realize this goal. Active characters are interesting to readers
Throw in Conflict
Let’s say our main character asks someone out and they say yes. Well, the scene is over and also any possibility of dramatic tension. There has to be a hiccup or obstacle to stand in your character’s way.
The conflict can be internal (I’m not good enough to ask this person out) or external (they already have a significant other). The reader wants to see your character struggle. This can be to overcome one or several obstacles.
Yet this is where most writers stop. They give the character a goal, some conflict and then everything goes right at the end.
Disaster (Where Everything Goes Wrong)
Escalate one step further by turning the scene into a disaster. Don’t let your character win so easily. This is boring. Target your main character with the worst possible scenario they can endure.
In our ongoing example, perhaps while getting up the nerve to ask this person out in the cafeteria, the main character slips and spills a plate of food all over their clothes. Everyone turns to stare. Now we have added embarrassment (which might fuel their ongoing belief of inadequacy).
You don’t even have to have your character ever succeed. Perhaps the goal they have sought after for so long is not the best fit for who they are as a person. This can lead to character growth.
Bottom line, don’t make it easy on your characters. Torture them page after page and your readers won’t want to put the book down.