View Full Version : Day 6: taking a deeper look

April 22nd, 2011, 01:46 PM
A deeper look: explaining internal GMC

Now that we've worked our fingers to the bone on external GMC it's time to switch gears and look at the more difficult and frankly more important (at least for romance novels) side of GMC. The internal. On the surface they can seem quite similar, but differentiating between the two can be trickier than we think.

Internal GMC is made of the same elements as external GMC, but don't be fooled, it is different. This is the stuff that’s subconscious, meaning your character, more than likely, isn’t aware of it. If you have your heroine so aware of the fact that she doesn't trust men and that without doing so she'll never have a complete life, then she really has no growth and she should probably be a secondary character, not to mention a therapist. So keep the internal stuff where it belongs, inside.

The most important thing to note about internal GMC is that it exists with or without the hero/heroine or the events of the book. Let me rephrase that for clarification. Your heroine’s internal GMC exists before she meets the hero and unless you’re writing a reunion story, doesn’t have anything to do with him. He might exacerbate the issue, but he certainly didn’t cause it.

I see this all the time in classes and when I'm judging contests. The heroine's internal GMC, all of her internal conflict is solved simply by meeting the hero cause he’s a nice guy and he’ll love and accept her just as she is. Nope, you can't do it. That's cheating. It's the easy way. Let's use a trite example for this, let's say you have a formally abused woman (we'll make her verbally abused) and we'll say she comes from a father who did the same thing. Well, if all she needs to break the cycle is to meet a man who won't verbally abuse her, then that should be easy enough, but what does she learn? How does she change?

Learning a lesson and growing and changing is what it’s all about. That's the whole point about internal GMC, it's about the character arc (which we'll get to in a moment) and growth and change are CRUCIAL to character-driven fiction. So with that abused woman, she must work out that issue before she can have her happy ending, even if the hero will never abuse her, she still needs to work on that issue and clear it up or at least begin to heal. Remember that test from yesterday on how to tell if your conflict is internal or external? This is where it really works well. Pick up that heroine out of your book and drop her on that deserted island, does she still have that distrust of men?

While the hero is not the cause of your heroine’s internal GMC he, more than likely, is the reason she’ll finally deal with it. In meeting him, she’s finally met someone that might be worth sacrificing some things for, might be worth changing for. It’s the hero and her interaction with him that challenges the heroine to deal with her “issues” and eventually grow and change to resolve her internal GMC. Again, the ONLY time this might not be the case is in reunion stories where the characters have a romantic past that might have led to said “issues.”

Let’s look at an example with the movie Twister. Now, I don’t know about y’all, but when I went to see this movie, I expected it to be about tornadoes. And it is, but it’s also a romance. Jo, our heroine, is a tough and witty scientist out to change the warning systems for tornadoes. Obviously her external GMC is wrapped up in the tornadoes themselves, but we also have conflict with the rival team led by Jonah and then we have conflict between her and her soon-to-be ex-husband, Bill.

Now we’re given a hint about her internal GMC (which is often unseen in movie format – why is that? I can hear you all answer. Because it’s INSIDE the character) from the beginning of the movie where we see a family run to the storm cellar only for the father to be ripped into the center of the twister. But it’s truly revealed to us in a scene where she and Bill have missed getting their tracking device up into the tornado. They start arguing and she blurts out that he doesn’t know what it’s like to have a tornado skip this house and that house and come after yours. She took her father’s death personally (obviously) and it has shaped her entire life and motivates all her external actions. Basically she’s afraid of losing the people she loves, exactly why she pushed Bill away to begin with. This conflict existed before Bill, it exists without him, yet it exacerbates her relationship with him. It’s not until Bill tells her to look at what’s right in front of her, meaning himself, that she’s willing to take the risks necessary to overcome this internal conflict. You see how that works?

So you do an internal GMC for your characters just the way that you do external, only I sometimes find it's easier to work backwards and start with the conflict. There are a couple of ways you can identify your character’s conflict. You need to stop and look at your character, and ask yourself some key questions: What is she afraid of? What is her biggest fear? I’m not talking spiders or heights here, what you’re looking for is emotional fears. Chances are she might not even be aware of this fear. Remember, this is the internal stuff, her proverbial bag of junk she hauls around with her that makes her who she is and prevents her from achieving personal happiness. The hero is NOT the answer to her achieving personal happiness, she instead has to deal with her bag of junk, face her fear head on and grow and change. (sorry I keep harping on that point, but it’s an important one. :-) ) So maybe she’s afraid of ever being accepted for who she truly is, or maybe she is afraid of never belonging or finding a true home, or having the family she’s always wanted or always being abandoned. Whatever it is, jot that down.

Now take that fear and look back at the GMC you did for your heroine. And try to figure out if she's scared she'll never be accepted for who she truly is, then what might her internal goal be (I often call this the internal need rather than goal since goal sort of implies awareness on the character's part), then identify the motivation and then the conflict.

Developing a satisfying romance is contingent on having a strong internal GMC for both your hero and your heroine.

Okay so we’ve got our GMC, now what do you do with it. Well, with the external you build the plot and with the internal you craft your character’s arc.

Mary Anne Landers
April 23rd, 2011, 09:27 PM
Still more food for thought! Referring back to the characters and plot I cited in my Day 5 response, I suppose my protag's internal GMC stems from his unquestioning and unconditional loyalty to his lord, the medieval equivalent of "My country, right or wrong". Collen has always taken this attitude for granted. He's never had to examine it, deal with it, defy it---until his love for Teleri forces him to do just that.

April 25th, 2011, 11:18 AM
Mary Anne,

I think you're definitely on to something with this one. But keep in mind that internal GMC is just about the internal junk of your character, not really other characters. So the fact that your hero is bound my his sense of loyalty manifests itself in the way he cares for his lord, but that's not his internal GMC. Consider the dark side of loyalty, when things go too far. That's a good place to mine for internal stuff. Think about what happens to someone when they believe that all other people's needs are more important than their own. His sense of self worth must be very low. Sometimes it helps to start backwards, think about what lesson he needs to learn and work backwards to the error in thinking (which pretty much mirrors their internal conflict) see if that won't dig deeper into his internal stuff. And try to do it without considering the other characters, that's just an external manifestation of the internal baggage.

Mary Anne Landers
April 25th, 2011, 11:15 PM
Thank you, Robyn. Let me reword my protag's internal GMC.

Collen is an intelligent, sensitive young man. He's smart enough and aware enough to think creatively. But he doesn't. His thoughts and the ensuing actions follow the same old standard patterns.

He's been brought up, trained, and culturally conditioned so that his life revolves around Madoc, his lord. He'll do anything for his master.

Because Collen is Madoc's scribe, he knows more about him than most of his fellow vassals and servants. That includes quite a lot that reflects badly on Madoc. But Collen never voices his disapproval, let alone does anything about it. He keeps it all to himself.

His problem is that he is too inhibited, too set in his servile, self-deprecating ways. But what if letting his master do whatever he wants will lead to Madoc's doom? This is a problem Collen is faced with early in the story. Collen must learn not to let his sense of loyalty and duty defeat its purpose.

And later he is faced with another issue, another lesson to be learned. Collen falls in love with his master's intended. Now he really needs to think and act outside of the box. And it's a lesson he must learn in a hurry.

April 26th, 2011, 08:24 AM
Reading through your notes, I'm beginning to think that perhaps you're not writing a romance novel, but rather a work of historical fiction with a romance subplot. That's a bit different in scope. And I certainly can't tell you what's right or wrong with your characters, you created them. I shall offer one tidbit of advice though - I find the idea of having a scribe as a hero very compelling. I myself tend to favor different characters. But if you want him to truly be a hero, be careful not to portray him as too weak regardless of how historically accurate it is. He might bite his tongue in an actual scene b/c he can't step of his lord's toes, but that doesn't mean he's not thinking contrary. Give the reader a glimpse into his strength so that we have something to fall in love with.

Mary Anne Landers
April 26th, 2011, 02:21 PM
Thank you again, Robyn. Your many suggestions and pieces of advice are most helpful.

Because I've been discussing my protag's relationship with his lord so much on these threads, I might have given you the impression that my story is primarily about that. Well, I misled you---unwittingly, of course. The story actually focuses on Collen and Teleri, on their growing relationship. So yes, it's a romance. HEA and all.

If it were about Collen and Madoc, it would be, as you suggested, a straight historical. Actually, a historical fantasy; there are elements of magic in it that are essential to the premise, and which are going on during from early on. But it takes a while for the protag to discover this.

Yes, Madoc is essential to the plot. He's an antagonist---but not quite a villain. I've noticed that in most of my works, especially my more recent ones, there is no designated villain. The "bad guy" is fate, or an internal weakness, or both.

You've been a great help to me in fleshing out my characters. Your suggestion about playing up Collen's admirable qualities is particularly useful.

This is true especially early on, when I have to hook the reader. If he's just another flunky, they probably wouldn't read on. I'm trying to present his strengths, such as his intelligence and sensitivity, as well as his weaknesses---largely that which is keeping him from manifesting his strengths.

And of course, there must be something inside him that would make Teleri fall in love with him, and vice-versa. One friend of mine who's been published by a major company for 20 years recently noted on a blog that when the focal relationship in a romance is discussed, usually it's mostly about what keeps the hero and heroine apart. But we mustn't lose sight of what draws them together and keeps them together.

And---just my opinion---it sure helps if it's not just a plot contrivance. For example: John and Mary are in a loveless marriage of convenience. The only positive aspect of their relationship appears when they stop arguing long enough to have sex---terrific sex, of course; they discover they really have the hots for each other in these interludes between fights. She gets pregnant and now they've got to make their marriage work. The reluctant groom who formerly would have nothing to do with family life becomes the perfect husband and father.

That's three major contrivances in one plot. And let's face it, this sort of romance is wildly popular. But not with me!

I'd rather read about a couple who comes together naturally. Their story should convince me that their love could happen in real life. In short, it should feel right. Otherwise, I'm not buying, even if a zillion other readers are.