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Saturday, November 1, 2014

I SPY: Goals, Motivation, & Conflict (GMC)

Join the authors and friends of Not Your Usual Suspects for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and publishing.

Short and sweet, hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do.

TODAY'S POST: I-Spy something beginning with ...

Goals, Motivation, & Conflict (GMC)

Writers have many tools for crafting a story. One of the techniques I use is Debra Dixon’s concept of GMC: Goal Motivation, Conflict. Her book (which can be purchased new through her website here, if you’re interested – beware the exorbitant prices of used copies on other sites) outlines in detail how to use this technique. In this post, I’ll briefly discuss how I’ve utilized and adapted her concepts to fit my needs.

Basically, working through the GMC of each character (especially the ones who have a point of view) helps me get a firm grip on what needs to happen in the plot to help each of these characters reach their full potential. Near the beginning of a manuscript (sometimes I’ll write a couple chapters first to get an idea of my characters), I sit down with paper and pencil and sketch something like this out (please forgive my handwriting):

At the top, I have a two-word description (usually adjective and noun) of the character, such as “ex-military loner” or “overworked CEO." Here, I've described Rachel, the heroine of a novella I'm working on, as a "dedicated nurturer." (She's a doctor who works too much, and her personal relationships suffer for it.). This descriptor is something that gives a snapshot of that character (and often makes it into my blurb about the book).

The chart has “Internal” and “External” on the x axis because we’ll be looking at each item as it affects the character internally and externally. In my experience, the "internal" column is especially important to character development and growth while the "external" often impacts the plot points.

On the y-axis are three rows, divided into Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. The Goal is WHAT the character wants or needs to achieve. The Motivation refers to WHY the character wants that goal. The Conflict is the WHY NOT, or what is preventing them from achieving their goal.

In my novella, what I have of the plot so far involves the heroine going to a high school reunion and, having had no time for a significant relationship, deciding to ask an old boyfriend to serve as her date. He agrees, but when she arrives at the hotel room, he's been murdered. She's been framed. The detective who shows up (the hero) knows her and tries to help.

That's the gist, but I use the GMC to flesh things out a bit more. Using the GMC grid, I have the following for Rachel:

  • Internal Goals: 1.) Connect with someone AND 2.) Find love
  • External Goals: 1.) Survive her 10-yr. high school reunion AND 2.) Find out who killed her ex-boyfriend

  • Internal Motivation: 1.) Tired of being alone AND 2.) Desires a deeper connection (love)
  • External Motivation: 1.) Wants to be a success (to outrun her family's past/reputation) AND 2.) Wants to be cleared of ex-boyfriend's murder by finding out who killed him

  • Internal Conflict: 1.) Works too much (no time for relationships as she builds her medical practice) AND 2.) She's learned from her parents how painful love relationships can be.
  • External Conflict: 1.) In high school, she was the odd girl, the one with a bad family reputation AND 2.) She's attracted to Detective Jake Flynn, so working with him leads to other distractions and issues. Besides, he might have to arrest her for murder if he can't help her prove her innocence.

At the bottom of the same page, I usually add a couple sections where I can jot down specific features of my character. Under the header “Physical Traits” I put things like hair and eye color, height, age, and the like. Under “History/Background” I can jot down things like when and where the character attended school, what their degree was, a sketch of a family tree, relationship history, and anything that helps with timeline and personality development. Some of these things I know up front and some notes I add as I write the story.

The magic of this technique is it helps me create a one-page cheat sheet for each character. I use it as a reference tool as I write. Also, once I have a grip on the GMC of my hero and heroine, villain, and anyone else who is vital to the story, I usually gain a lot of insight into how the story will unfold. But plotting is another topic (and another chart — complete with color-coded sticky-notes) all together!

How about you? Do you have any questions about GMC? Have you used a similar technique to develop your characters?


FUTURE POSTS will cover:
Kindlegraph / the art of research / writing male/male romance / rejection and writer's block / building suspense / writing love scenes / anti-piracy strategies / audio books / interviews with editors and agents / using Calibre.
We welcome everyone's constructive comments and suggestions!


Rita said...

Doing this is the only way I can get a grip on my story. The internal goal is most often my weakness. Often the character goals shift during the first drafts.

Elise Warner said...

I tend to use index cards--probably a hangover from my stage manager days. Anne Marie: I thought your charts would make a good tool for me to try. Thanks for an extremely useful "I Spy."

Anne Marie Becker said...

Rita, I have the same thing - the goals morph until I get a handle on my characters. Internal goal can be the hardest to explore, and I love how GMC keeps it in the forefront of my mind as I write.

Elise, you're welcome! I love index cards (and post-it notes). I often use those when I get to the plotting stage. Hmmm...maybe I'll do an I-SPY on that sometime...

Marcelle Dubé said...

Good stuff, Anne Marie. I especially like the one-page cheat sheet aspect. I see it as something I would refer back to again and again.

Excellent post. Thank you.

Toni Anderson said...

I was doing these today for my next story :) I like the cheat sheet aspect though. Yours is much neater than mine. Going to steal that idea :)

Anne Marie Becker said...

Thanks, Marcelle - hope you were able to take something useful away from it. :)

Anne Marie Becker said...

Toni, steal away! LOL Over the course of several books, I've tried several things to develop my stories and I've really found this technique useful.

jean harrington said...

Anne Marie, I've used the GMC technique, but you've expanded the concept here in a very practical way. Thanks so much. I'm coming back to this site in the morning when I'm fresher (usually!).

Anne Marie Becker said...

Thanks, Jean - glad you can use it. :)

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