Wednesday, October 2, 2019

GMC deconstructed

The most important part of writing is giving characters goals, motivation and conflict. That's what attracts the readers. Susie wants X. What motivates her to get it? What gets in her way?

Except it isn't as simple as that.

Quite often, when I start out a new novel, I set my characters GMC. It's perfectly clear to me, I mean we all have goals in our lives, right?  And motivation? For a lot of us, the motivation is a mortgage payment, or mouths to feed. But is that enough for a storybook character?

At my very first writing conference, I went to a session with a conflict grid, but I only saw that as conflict (silly me) and while I found it very thought provoking and helpful, I missed the more important aspects. I got it, I understood it, but did I really?

The thing the character wants is best presented as diametrically opposed to the way it works out. Something stands in her way, and here's the important question that often gets overlooked.

Susie wants X. What happens if she doesn't get it? The audience needs a reason to get behind Susie's goals, to root her on. This goes to her motivation. She HAS to succeed, or else. I mean, we all want to succeed, right? But what are the stakes?

Conflict? Add a few speed bumps. Anything that can go wrong will. Just when she thinks she's succeeded, something gets in her way. Trouble is interesting. People don't talk about all the things that are going right in their lives, they talk about what's going wrong.

Here's a classic example of GMC. Merida wants her mother to change, for her mother to understand who Merida is without forcing her into who they want her to be. She's being forced into a marriage she doesn't want, so she seeks out a witch's help. The witch offers her a spell, and her mother does change - into A BEAR! While that's bad enough, the one thing her father HATES is bears. So when Mom comes home all furry and growly, Dad is going to shoot that bear dead! Wait! This isn't what Merida had in mind! She can't tell anyone what she's done, and she can't let her father shoot her mother, thinking she's actually a bear. How does she fix this? Sound familiar? I thought it was the perfect example of GMC and conflict.

With that in mind, I'm off to think about the next book while I wait for my editor on the current one.

What stands between you and your goal?


  1. Constantly raising the stakes keeps readers turning pages. There should be questions, and if the answer is "Yes" the conflict stops. If it's "No" then the character has to move to Plan B. But the best answer, according to writing gurus, is "Yes, But." The character gets what she wants, but has to make sacrifices, which lead to new conflicts.