Let’s say my character Joe just got put on academic probation, and I know he’ll decide to buck up and focus on grades. So to find details of this situation, to find the scene, we could ask a bunch of questions about his goals and his fears. Or simply ask…

What’s up in his life right now? Well, he got put on probation, so likely hasn’t focus on grades.

What’s he thinking about? He has his father’s voice replying in his head, “youre the first in our family to attend college. Make the most of it.” What deeper meaning is he reading into these thoughts? “I can’t even tell my dad that I’m on probation. He would be knocking at my door in 2 hours. I wouldn’t have any time to spend with Susie, my current college girlfriend. Susie would think I’m immature with my father visiting me with PB&J.”

What emotions does he carry around because of this all? He feels a sense of weakness, a sense of inferiority. Grades used to be the one thing that he had over his college best friend Dave. Now, he’s second fiddle in everything. In these days, he’ll be looking to prove himself. Perhaps this emotion motivates him to go talk to a group of girls and something happens that mortifies him. And afterwards, he will retreat from a social life into books, spending most his college from that day forward in the library.

Like that, just by looking at what’s happening in his life at that moment, what he’s thinking about and feeling, the complex layers expanded. Now our feet are on the ground within our character’s life. From here we can begin to see how this plays in with his more abstract goals.