A story can be split into smaller chunks called scenes, or incidents. Each scene should advance the plot and stand alone dramatically.
There can be one or more scenes per chapter.
The scene goal is a character's short-term goal (or want, or need) for the scene, on top of the overall story goal.
When conflict stands in the way of these goals, it makes the reader/audience ask a question. Will they achieve this goal? (What will happen next?).
Scenes should end with further conflict, whether the character achieves the scene goal or not, creating a new goal which starts the next scene.
Scene Goals + Conflict
Goal + Conflict: Jane has to make it to a destination within ten minutes, but her car breaks down.
Question: Will she make it in time?
Goal achieved (boring): Jane makes it on time.
Goal achieved/failed + more conflict: Jane makes it in time, but something isn't right...
Goal + Conflict: John needs a job and has an important job interview.
Question: Will he get the job?
Goal achieved (boring): He gets the job.
Goal achieved/failed + more conflict: Gets the job, but only if he carries out an important task. Or, he doesn't get the job—he loses out to his best friend.
Enter Late, Exit Early
You should try to enter scenes late and exit early whenever possible. Begin scenes at an important point.
If two people enter McDonald's, order burgers, sit down, stick straws in their cups, fiddle with their phones, then start chatting, finish, go to the toilet then leave, it's boring.
Enter late by beginning half-way through the conversation if you have to, then exit early before they finish the meal and pee.
Here are some scene examples.
We arrive at Neo's office the moment he recieves a phone call —no chit-chat with co-workers (enter late). Morpheus essentially says "evade the Agents" (scene/short-term goal). The agents are the barrier in front of the goal (conflict). That conflict makes the audience ask the question, "Will he escape?" (suspense). Neo refuses to follow Morpheus's orders on the ledge of the building (active protagonist) and he gets captured (scene goal failed + more conflict), with no visuals of the capture (exit early).
Then we begin all over again in the next scene with a new goal (to not comply with the agents).
The final line should encourage the reader to turn the page. These lines are often not subtle.
Shaw replaced the phone and looked at his people. "Gentlemen, we just had a break in the Ryan case."
- Tom Clancy, Patriot Games
- Author, Title