GMC: Goals, Motivation and Conflict
We've already touched on GMC because it is so vital in
characterization and plot.
Here is the definition of goal.
The goal is what the character wants to achieve, something they
desire or are passionate about. Something they will go to great
lengths to obtain. The character will take action to reach their
goal. The character will not give up because it is essential to their
well being, their happiness that they reach this goal. By doing this,
the character is motivated and determined to keep control of his/her
This is kind of character is someone a reader can care about.
And when a character takes action, it creates plot.
The above sentence is vitally important. Post it by your computer if
you need to.
I know some of this material may sound simple, but understanding the
why and how character and plot go together will build the strong
foundation of the story, which is the goal as writers.
When I first started writing I hated plotting. Why? Because I didn't
understand it, nor how it affected characterization. It took years
for me to see and learn how it works. I'm still learning.
Is there a sense of urgency in your plot? Debra Dixon says urgent can
simply mean something that requires immediate attention. Urgency
helps push the character toward their goal. For me, it also helps
keep me focused on the story goal instead of going off on a tangent
and wasting time.
If we can keep the readers turning the pages, giving them a
breathtaking ride, they will return to buy our books.
How do you accomplish this?
By not letting your character have what they want. The temptation is
great make thing easy, but don't give in. If you do, the story will
Remember, each time the stakes rise it becomes harder for the
character, they are pushed to reach the goal because their happiness
is at stake.
The romance is another conflict for the characters to add to the
other plot problems tossed at them. The characters are rewarded with
their happily-ever-after (HEA) because of the obstacles we put them
Sometimes the original goal for the character changes, which is fine,
but make sure the reasons for the change is clear. This can also stop
to the urgency you've created, make sure this doesn't happen. Think
about the new goal and its impact on the character. Does it
seamlessly blend in with what you've created so far?
In all goals, the characters have to care about their goal, it must
be important to them. Example: Maggie has two small children. She
needs a job and money to buy food. This is important, urgent for this
character. We can sympathize and/or empathize with her. Food and
shelter are basic necessities of life.
Be sure the goals of the hero/heroine conflict with each other and
the villain. All of these character have their own desires and a
plan on getting what they want. I'm sure you know that the villain
can't be a wimp. He/she must not be totally evil. Paranormal romance
is a bit different, especially the darker stuff that is becoming
popular. Read books and keep up-to-date on publisher guidelines.
Definition of External Goal: External is something that is concrete.
You can touch, taste, smell, see and hear. It's physical.
Definition of Internal Goal: Internal is something that affects the
emotions, spirituality, life lessons.
To have a character that is three dimensional they need both internal
and external goals.
From: Prescription for Plotting by Carolyn Greene. This is what I
use, or am mindful of when I plot. Others may use another tool which
is fine as long as it works for you. I hope you can see how the
threads tie together when you look at this. I highly recommend
Carolyn's plotting workbook along with Deb Dixon's GMC book.
From Carolyn Greene’s Plotting Workbook
Opening scene: This is the point where the character's world is
Inciting incident: The goal that pushes the character to act.
Lead up to first plot point/turning point: Character can still be
refusing to accept the change and their part of the adventure.
First major plot point/turning point: The character is committed and
pulled into the story problem.
Pinch #1-this is the tightening that occurs from the first plot point
Midpoint- for romance this is where emotional commitment or possibly
physical commitment occurs. The build up has risen to this point.
Hero/heroine's journey has sifted from self. The point of no return
Pinch # 2 (downward arc of character development) the tightening
begins as things fall apart and refers to first Pinch.
Second Major plot point/turning point (heading toward crisis)
Conflicts of the hero and heroine blend in both internal and external
as an event or series of them. Ex. Hero and heroine can't be together
because of _____ and they're kicking themselves for opening up their
heart and trusting another.
Dark Moment/Crisis: At the very bottom and all looks like it's lost
and a hard, difficult choice must be made. When the reader is
wondering how can the character get out of this mess or will they?
The choices are ugly and cut to the core of the character.
Climax/Resolution of main conflicts: The supreme sacrifice has been
made. By making the choice to take the hard way, the hero/heroine
have faced their worst fear, sacrificed their focus on themselves and
the beginning and have now embraced a new goal. A life together.
Final Scene/Epilogue: By risking everything the hero and heroine are
better off than when they started including having their internal
needs met and the story question raised at the beginning of the book
is answered. They are complete now they have each other and have
learned life lessons making them wiser.
Romance author and instructor, Alicia Rasley says: "Motivation is the
fuel, powering the characters as its close relation conflict powers
the plot. Motivation engenders goals, and goals cause conflict, and
conflict causes action, and pretty soon you have a pretty terrific
plot there—and it all starts with your character wanting something
for some reason even they might not even understand."
Alicia continues, "Plot is character in action, and motivation is
what inspires characters to take action. Motivation however cannot
simply be a mechanical device, interchangeable from one character to
Debra Dixon says, "Motivation is your story's foundation."
Why? Because proper motivation is what pushes the character to act
and the reader to live the story through the character in the world
you've created. All of the decisions and actions should be motivated.
Characters can have more than one motivation, which will add to making
them three dimensional.
Not all of your characters can want the same thing. And through the
course of the story, the character's goal can change as they grow;
you do need to make sure this clear to the reader. This is where the
charts you filled out come in handy. The more information you have,
the more layers to the character there are, thus making them more
believable, more real.
Just like a real person, characters have internal motivation and
Internal comes from inside the character—emotions, fears, desire.
External are the forces outside of the character. The internal
motivation is something intensely personal—a past relationship or
event and should be strong enough to evoke a need that has stayed
long term to have this affect.
If you can see, touch, taste, smell, hear...it's physical, external.
Debra Dixon in her book GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict has this
to say about motivation—"Motivation is what drives your character to
obtain or achieve his goal...Keep it simple. Keep it strong. Keep it
focused. Make the reader understand why the characters make the
choices they make."
Conflict is the struggle of your characters in the story for what
they want/desire. Without tension/conflict, you have no plot. This is
so important, I'm going to say it again – If you don't have conflict,
you have no story. If you write commercial fiction conflict must be
In romance sexual tension is conflict. The characters not wanting a
relationship but are drawn into it, is conflict. Don't let this
lovely sizzling tension/conflict go to waste. I'm not just talking
about the hotter romances. Make the reader feel the attraction, the
emotion. Later on we go into more detail on sexual tension.
Conflict isn't always physical. It can be two people against each
other. Argument or quarrel between lovers or enemies. What is common
is opposing goals with the proper motivation. Conflict is also
excitement It gives life to the story.
Don't forget that even lighter books have conflict.
When writing conflict it needs to be clear, just as character goals
must be clear. If you have anything in the story that doesn't advance
the plot, get rid of it. Make a folder for those deleted scenes,
description whatever. You might be able to use it for something else
or pull pieces as you edit later on.
The events you set up must be logical to make the story believable.
In fiction we really need to take extra care when plotting conflict.
Things must happen for a reason in the story. Story logic for the
character is the writer not really why or thinking through how a
character is there. Examining the background and what forces molded
the character gives you the tools you need for putting the
hero/heroine in front of the opposing force needed for the story.
Conflict lets your character prove his/her worthiness. Think of
various ways to continue to push your character into conflict since
it provides excitement, tests the character in ways where you can
make them stronger and more heroic as well as providing sympathy from
Some writers are afraid to be mean to their characters. I used to be
one of them. It took a few years, but I got over it and now I really
have fun when I write. This fear held me back in characterization
too. I had to keep reminding myself my characters were not real
people, that I was the creator and in control of the story.
By learning how to fun with plotting, writing became richer and more
Rising action: The complications should rise each time, testing the
character more and more along with the choices becoming more
difficult and personal.
Jack Bickham in The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes says, "In
conflict, your character has a chance to change the course of
events." He goes on to comment, "Make sure you have two characters
involved and give them opposing goals." I think this one of the
reasons I love writing romance so much. Hero wants one thing, heroine
the other and then the sparks fly!
Internal conflict is emotional. It keeps your character from learning
the lesson he/she need to grow by the end of the story. For romance
the characters end up with a compromise they can live with. If they
can't, then no happy-ever-ending.
Heroes and heroines who are not perfect satisfy the reader because
they can see how far the character has come to overcome obstacles
thrown in their way. The goal the character wants at the beginning of
the book may change by the end of the book or their point of view may
have changed as they begin to learn their lesson/lessons on this
voyage you've designed.
When writing you can have a constant, unrelenting conflict or you
will numb the reader with too much stimulation. This is where sequel
comes in to give the reader and character a chance to catch their
breath. Scene and sequel will be discussed later.
Stimulus and Response
Many writers have problems with this area. You might get some of this
and but not all. Don't worry. If you do know this, then that's
Stimulus and response makes actions clear and with purpose. Knowing
how to recognize this will make the story easier to understand.
I'm going back to Bickham because he explains this so beautifully
from the 38 Most Common Mistakes page 31:
A character must have an immediate, physical cause for what he does.
This immediate stimulus cannot be merely a thought in his head, for
readers to believe many transactions, they have to be shown a
stimulus to action that is outside of the character—some kind of prod
that is onstage right now. So for every response you desire in a
character, you must provide an immediate stimulus.
Example: Janet walked through the door. The lamp crashed to the floor.
A lot of information is missing in the example. Why did the lamp
crash to the floor?
Janet walked through the door and sat down on the sofa sinking into
the plump cushions. Her eyes closed for just a moment.
The hair electrified at the back of her neck, her eyes flew open. A
man dressed in black appeared in the doorway. A large, shiny knife
slowly twirled in his hand.
Too scared to scream, Janet jumped to her feet, her arm jerked
causing the lamp to crash the floor.
Bickham continues: Stimulus-response transactions are external. The
response that completes the transaction must come externally, if the
interaction is to continue. Only if the interaction of the characters
is to end immediately can the response be wholly internal.
Make sure you don't toss your character more than one stimuli to
respond to. It makes it difficult to follow along and not get lost
when you're reading. Like in tennis, the ball goes back and forth.
The same with stimulus and response.
If stimulus and response aren't clear, then the reader will think
things are happening for no reason.
Remember if you have any questions, please post them.