Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Goal, Motivation, & Conflict - #amwriting GMC

Anytime I'm asked in an interview to suggest a "must-have" tool for aspiring writers, my answer is always the same: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, by Debra Dixon.  This book lays out the framework for commercial fiction in terms of those three building blocks, known as GMC.  Every character needs a chart, even minor characters.  Maybe their goals won't receive much time or attention in the actual novel, but if the character is in your book, he or she is there for a reason.  That character plays a part.  As writers, we need to develop every character, by giving them solid reasons for their actions and urgent goals that must be met.

As Ms. Dixon points out in her book, goals, motivations, and conflicts can shift throughout the story.  One goal may be achieved, only to set the character on a new path with a new set of GMC.  Smaller GMC scenarios may exist within the larger, overarching GMC for each character.  For maximum tension, heroes and villains should have GMC charts that directly oppose each other--if one character gets what he/she wants, the other character will fail.  Adding urgency to a goal is another way to maximize the impact.  And characters should have both external (the "outer goal" - something physical) and internal (the "inner goal" - involves emotion) goals.

I make charts for every character, using Ms. Dixon's examples as guides.  I'm sharing a few of the charts I made for Silver Lake, my debut novel, with the participants in a fiction class I'm teaching.  I've copied them below as well for reference, and I was careful to include only the major GMC arcs for the three characters I've highlighted; the smaller GMC scenarios are not revealed (no spoilers).  If you'd like to read the blurb first to get an idea of what Silver Lake is about, you can find it here.  But a simple one sentence description (it's good to have one of those too!) would be something like this: When Brandy Pierce vanished during their senior year of high school, Rain Anderson's tight-knit group of friends slowly unraveled; five years later, they agree to reunite at a lake house from their past in a final attempt to solve the mystery of her disappearance.

Each set of numbered GMC points should fit into the following sentence:  (Character) wants (Goal) because (Motivation), but (Conflict).  For example, Rain wants to find out what happened to Brandy because Brandy was her best friend, her terminally ill mother needs closure, and Rain is haunted with guilt--but the mystery is now five years old, and while Brandy's spirit seems to want help, there are barriers to communication.

A simpler, internal GMC would be: Jason wants a romantic relationship with Rain, because she's still the one he loves, but she wounded him once before, and he currently has a girlfriend.

I've bolded things within the charts that add urgency to the dynamic. 

1.      Find out what happened to Brandy
1.       Earn Jason’s forgiveness
2.       Maybe earn his love again?
3.       Renew old friendships
1.      A)  Brandy’s mom is dying and has asked for help=Closure
B)  Brandy was Rain’s best friend
C)  Guilt over the missed phone call
D)  Disturbing dreams seemingly sent from Brandy – she’s being haunted
E)  Help her friend’s spirit rest in peace
1.       She still feels guilty over the choice she made – she hurt him badly
2.       She’s still attracted to him
3.       She’s recently divorced and extremely isolated…misses her old friends
1.      A)  The unsolved mystery is now 5 years old – few clues
B)  Brandy is a ghost – seems she wants to communicate, but is unable
      1.     Heartbreak leaves deep scars
2.       It’s unlikely he’d make the same mistake twice
3.       There are still secrets and suspicions lingering between them…and they’re not the exact same people they were in high school

1.      Keep Rain Safe
2.      Spend time at the lake
1.       A romantic relationship with Rain (even though he does not want to admit it to himself)
1.      A)  He’s a black belt in Karate; owns a studio; it’s what he does=KEEPS PEOPLE SAFE
B)  He still has feelings for Rain
2.      A)  He’s done nothing but work 24/7 since starting his own business after college
B)  Brandy’s mother asked them all to participate in the reunion
C)  He wants time away from his girlfriend
1.       He loves her – she’s still the one.
1.      A)  He’s up against supernatural forces – how to fight a ghost?
B)  He can’t stay at the lake house all summer – work
2.      Reuniting with former friends—especially Rain—will bring up difficult emotions
1.      A)  Pride
B)  His current live-in girlfriend
C)  Fear of another rejection

1.       Be found
1.       Expose the truth of what happened
1.      A)   Allow her spirit to rest in peace
B)   End her mother’s suffering before she dies
1.       A)  People can finally heal
B)  Brandy can let go and move on
1.       She’s a ghost; barriers to communication
1.      Her friends need to be together to provide energy for her spirit to draw from and summer is almost over

I hope these charts help demonstrate the importance of GMC when developing characters.  Even Brandy, the ghost, has a goal with valid motivation and frustrating conflicts.  Of course, Allie and A.J., the other two friends at the lake house reunion, have charts as well, but in the interest of space, I left them out.  However, you can find their GMCs within the pages of the book--plus, you can experience the additional conflicts Rain and Jason must face as they struggle against their attraction and face the danger of a ghost willing to put her friends at risk to expose the truth. SILVER LAKE is now available electronically for only $3.99 on Kindle exclusively, as this title is now an Amazon Encore Imprint.  Print copies are available from the original publisher, The Wild Rose Press, and also on Amazon as well.

Now that I'm used to analyzing characters and plots within this paradigm, I see GMC everywhere.  Not surprisingly, if I don't see it, I'm not usually interested in continuing reading or watching.

I love comments, so please feel free to chat about this topic...Happy writing!

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