Monday, May 02, 2011

3 Tips Monday

Reachphoto © 2008 James Jordan | more info (via: Wylio)
This week, my son is working on his first piece of fiction, a short story he has been assigned as part of his English curriculum.

This has been interesting to me as we get down to the very basics of writing fiction and he's faced with all those decisions that come when starting a story.

The most important thing he has had to do is fill out a GMC worksheet for his main character, a brainy teen nick-named 'Stein after his hero, Alber Einstein. (Pretty cool, huh? He thought it up all by himself.)

Some writers might be thinking "GMC? Like a truck?"

Nope, GMC = Goal, Motivation, Conflict. Without those three things, you haven't got a story.

So, today's 3 Tips Monday is: GMC in a nutshell.

1. Goal. The character has to want something. To get out of Oz and back to Kansas. To find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis. To stop a bomber from blowing up an elevator, a bus, and a subway train. To be the best villain in the world.

If there is no goal, if the character doesn't want something, then what will keep the reader turning pages?

2. Motivation. There has to be a reason for the character to want what she wants. Nobody lives in a vacuum, and nobody wants something for no reason. At least interesting people don't behave that way. Is there something in the past that makes the heroine's present goal make sense? This can be an inner motivation that she keeps to herself, like she's been passed around from foster care home to foster care home and the thing she wants more than anything in life is to have a home, or a clearly defined outer motivation such as get off the bus before it blows up because she doesn't want to die.

If there is no reason for the heroine to want what she wants, if she doesn't want it so badly she's willing to risk everything, life, limb, and future happiness to get it, then what's to keep the reader turning pages?

3. Conflict. What stands in the way of the hero getting what he wants? A villian? A mountain? His own self? Is there a clock ticking? A catastrophe in the offing? Something has to be preventing the hero from walking up to his goal, grabbing it, and stuffing it into his pocket. If things are too easy for the hero, the story is boring. (Write this one down. No conflict = No story. I still have to work on throwing enough trouble at my characters.)

If there is nothing standing between our hero and his goal, then what's to keep the reader turning pages?

Question for you: Which of these is the hardest for you to come up with when starting a story? Which is the easiest?


  1. Coming up with realistic and strong enough motivations can be tricky, though I love doing it.

    Conflict it fun too. Making sure my MC pursues that goal throughout the novel takes some editing for me too.

    ~ Wendy

  2. I have to agree w/ Wendy on the motivation. I often think I have the motivation correct, only to realize in edit mode that it isn't strong enough to carry throughout the entire book.

    I credit Deb Dixon's Goal, Motivation, and Conflict as the one writing book that really made everything click for me.

    Great recap, Erica. Thanks.

  3. Erica, Erica, you have definitely hit on my greatest challenge as a Romance writer.

    Am I wrong, but do the goals in a romance novel not always play second fiddle to the chemistry/romance between hero and heroine in these novels?

  4. Ah - good ol' GMC. Changed my entire writing life when I came upon Debra Dixon's book.

  5. I LOVE GMC! And how exciting for your son to be starting a fiction piece. I taught a fiction workshop in March to my DD's classroom (7th and 8th graders) and couldn't believe the great stories the students came up with.

    I spend a lot of time pre-plotting and figuring out GMC. And sometimes I'll get feedback "I like it but..." and realize my basic goal needs to be adjusted.

    And can I add that I just watched the slideshow of your covers again and they are gorgeous! I've seen them all before, but they don't get old!

  6. Eileen, I don't think the romance thread supercedes the goals thread. I think it is woven in to the goals.

    The romance is a byproduct of a clash of goals usually. Sometimes this is a two dogs/one bone scenario, and sometimes its a one goal/opposing ideas of how to reach it.

    While readers devour romances for the love story, if the story starts out happily ever after, they won't keep reading. And while romance readers know there will be a happy ending, they keep reading to see how the conflict will be resolved and how the goals iwll be reached.

  7. Wendy, I have to revisit my GMC charts to make sure I'm keeping my characters on track.

    Melissa and Katie, GMC is my most re-read craft book. I read it every time I start a new WIP. :)

    Jill, thank you! I love that slide show. Barbour does such a wonderful job with cover art.