I've been reading a lot of books on scene writing. One thing in common--found in every single book--is that the main character in the scene should have a goal. That goal should be made obvious as early as possible and repeated often to make sure the reader has clarity. This is said over and over in writing craft books.
Of the approximately ten most popular books on scene writing, there is only one that even hints at anything different. That is the 1965 grand-daddy of scene structure, "Techniques of the Selling Writer" when he casually refers in one sentence to the idea that some scenes are happenings, which bring people together, but no goal or conflict is involved.
One sentence in the history of advice on scene writing suggests there might be the rare scene without a clear goal.
But when I read scenes from bestsellers, like Dan Brown's Origin or Dean Koontz's Devoted, they often begin with either a slice of life, some back-story, internal thoughts, or a character bumbling along observing their surroundings. There is no clear goal at all in some cases or else it may only appear very late in the scene and then often it's a passive goal like "avoid some rowdy people" or "tell someone it's bedtime."
Dean Koontz Devoted, Scene #1: Megan Bookman feels time is running out. Looks at her non-verbal eleven year old son. Loves him, but struggles. Tells him it's bedtime soon. [Goal of telling her son it's bedtime, only revealed in the last sentence.]
Dean Koontz Devoted, Scene #2: Woody Bookman saves a story he's writing on the computer. He is smart. Lying in bed, he contemplates his gum transplants and whether a girl would ever want to kiss him. [No scene goal. Just reflection.]
Dan Brown Origin, Scene #1: Robert Langdon sees a bunch of crazy things: 40 foot tall dog, giant spider, wobbly stairs. Then he talks to a host who welcomes him to the museum and to the secret meeting. Contemplates his invitation and the person who invited him. Langdon is now [several pages in] "eager to learn what his former student was about to announce." [First hint of a clear goal.]
Dan Brown Origin, Scene #3: Langdon is wandering along in the museum looking at symbols and people. [He's just thinking. I suppose we could say that his goal is to attend the gathering mentioned in scene #1, but this scene is just observations and reflections.]
What am I to make of this? I find the scenes mostly engaging because they are revealing character, backstory or setting in an interesting way.
But why then, does every single writing craft book say that the goal should be so crystal clear from the beginning of the scene.
Am I reading too much into this advice?
Can a goal be as simple as "observe my surroundings," "remember my past," "reflect on what I care about" or "get ready for bed while I think about something"?
If so, why don't craft books communicate these subtleties?