Most writers know the protagonists of their novels must have an overall goal that propels the length of the novel. Without it, their story falls flat and readers stop reading. But what we authors sometimes forget is that the protagonist in each chapter/scene also needs to have a specific goal he wants to accomplish in that scene or chapter. Furthermore, that goal needs to be related to the character's main story goal, and the scene/chapter must have an obstacle to that goal.
CHARACTER GOAL + OBSTACLE = CONFLICT and CONFLICT ENCOURAGES ACTION. Action is the cornerstone of great stories.
Keep this formula in mind as you begin your chapter, Better yet, figure out each element before you write your chapter. A quick outline of the main points of the struggle between your protagonist and his opposition (it's often another person) can not only help you organize your story and keep your characters moving toward their goals, but it can also help you hasten your writing process. I've always found it much easier to write quickly when I know beforehand what I want to accomplish and/or write. Figuring it out as I go always leads to more rewrites.
Finally, according to Evan Marshall's The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing (and I've found it to be true), when you reach the end of your scene or chapter, make sure your character does one of these three things as it relates to his current goal:
1. He fails to accomplish his goal,
2. He fails to accomplish his goal and learns of a new, even larger obstacle.
3. He succeeds in accomplishing his goal, but he also learns of a new, even larger obstacle.
Each of these endings will keep your reader wanting to know what will happen next. On the other hand, if your character only succeeds, your story ends, and your reader closes your book.
(This article was originally posted on September 10, 2015 on the Author's Think Tank blog.)