Judging contest entries

I more or less finished the first draft of my recent WIP. Okay, truth be told, I gave up and figured I'd fix the end in the second draft.

After pulling together a partial for my agent, I've spent the week judging contest entries.

Each year as I learn new stuff about my own writing, I pass that knowledge onto the (poor) contest entrants. This go around, they got lectures on having goals for their characters right from the start of the story.

Every single entry the characters were thrust into a situation and they reacted to it. Sure, it gives you tension. But after the character's done reacting to the experience, what then? Then you have to throw more stuff at them to react to. And what happens in between? They drink coffee. They cook dinner. They go to work. And the reader gets bored.

This goes back to the Dwight Swain method of scene development. Start the character with a goal. Throw a log in his path. Then make something horrible happen that puts him even further from his goal. Rinse and repeat.

I know I struggle with this in my stories. I love to throw something at my characters in the first chapter and have them react. Then I hit that second or third chapter and go, whoops, where do I go from here?

In my current WIP, the book starts in the hero's POV. His assistant has just resigned at the beginning of a leadership summit that he's in charge of. Great tension. Loads of conflict, but once he realizes he can't convince her to stay working for him, where do I take the plot?

Sure, it's a romance and I could spend the next 40k words having them spar and go back and forth about her working for him vs her quitting, but isn't that going to get old?

To combat that, I gave him a goal that has nothing to do with the heroine. A goal that may not happen thanks to the romance. Because he's a CEO, I gave him a business deal that he's trying to finalize. The romance complicates the business deal because the hero can't control how the heroine behaves. And since needing to be in control is his character flaw, it all gets wrapped up in a neat little complicated bundle.

Do you give your characters a big goal at the beginning of the story and start each scene with a small goal? If not, how do you shape your scenes and keep your conflict ever increasing?

On a side note. When I sell a book. I hope it gets translated into Chinese and ends up here: