Goal, Motivation, and Conflict

I’d like to go on record. I do NOT like the comma before the “and” in a series of words. This is a new grammar convention, or I guess it’s new to me, anyway, and I’ve had to train myself to put it in. And stop myself from taking it out in edits. It’s just wrong. The “and” is the separator in this instance and without the comma, my brain doesn’t go, “AHH! I’m so confused! Is “motivation” and “conflict” one idea or two?!”

But I digress. I’m sure all of you are shocked that happened.

This blog post is really about GMC. Goal, motivation, and conflict (the comma is just wrong, I tell you). I chose GMC today because I recently had the huge, huge, huge (comma is okay here J) opportunity to work with an editor on a synopsis. She gave me all kinds of awesome comments on the guts of the story. Most of which were to say she didn’t like it. I had the same problems that she identified in this story as I did in my previous manuscript. I really suck at the internal side of the GMC equation, which might not be so bad, but it’s not the only problem. The other one I have is tying the heroine and hero’s GMC together. Since, ya know, it’s a romance, it’s kind of nice for the two people in it to be struggling through stuff together.

The theory of GMC in romance is that your main characters will each have one. Then to make it more fun, there’s an internal side and an external side. The classic example is Wizard of Oz and I’ve been through the Debra Dixon course twice, so I really think I get the theory. The thing is, I don’t extrapolate well and Wizard of Oz is not a romance. That’s right, I said it. It’s not, so I’m not sure how I’m supposed to translate flying monkeys and your little dog too into a happily ever after.

Well, the short answer is – I gotta. That’s my job.

So guess what? I did. I scrapped the story and started over. Let’s look at the progression, shall we?

I started out with a heroine who has spends her time buried in romance novels to escape her small town life. No, this story is not auto-biographical. Okay, maybe a little. So, her goal is to get out of town, preferably through rescue by a hero of her own. Her motivation to get out of town is that her father becomes abusive and the conflict occurs when the father steals all her money. Also, she doesn’t believe she has the power to rescue herself. Good so far and it’s a mix of internal and external.

The hero, who is The Artist (using my 45 Master Characters here), has a goal to create his art, which in my guy’s case, is movies and he wants to make a commercially successful one. Motivation – he likes to create a story where he can control the ending, which he can’t do in real life. Conflict – he’s at the mercy of Hollywood studios who want to dictate how his movie is going to go. All fantastic stuff which has NOTHING to do with the heroine. Oops. That’s my big issue, putting it all together on one track. Intertwining my characters.

So, here’s where the hero’s internal GMC starts to come in. Why does he want to control the ending? Anytime you answer the question “why?” it’s your character’s motivation, btw. I’m going with because he’s been burned in love, so in his mind, happily ever after only happens in the movies. Now I’m getting somewhere (according to the wonderful advice of the editor. Let me tell you – this was painstakingly developed over many emails and days. I make it look easy here, kids, but my brain and easy are not on speaking terms).

Guess what the major conflict of the story is going to be? Yep. Heroine falls in love with hero, dreams of a happily ever after, and he’s not having any part of it. She has to learn to rescue herself and he has to learn HEA is the key to making a great movie. Those lessons filled out the plot points. There’s more to it, but those are the major elements.

The editor didn’t have any problems with my heroine and her GMC, which was fortunate because the hero took all my mental faculties. Let’s face it, if this stuff was easy, we’d all be Nora Roberts.

I found a really great one sentence thingy, kind of like an ad-lib, to get to the heart of your GMC. (Character) wants (goal) because (motivation) but (conflict).

At the end of the day, I had to figure out how to fill in the blanks of this statement in a way that pitted the GMC of the hero and heroine against each other, but still left room for them to fall in love and live happily ever after. If you want to write a romance that sells, this is the magic formula. Or so I’ve been told by an editor and they’re the ones that get to decide, right? J

You tell me – do you struggle with the individual h/H GMC? Or just the putting-it-all-together part, like me?

15 thoughts on “Goal, Motivation, and Conflict

  1. The characters in my first manuscript are sorely lacking internal conflict. I read Deb Dixon’s ‘Goal, Motivation, and Conflict’ AFTER I’d submitted a partial to Harlequin. 😀 Needless to say, I’m determined to give the characters in my current WIP a ton of problems.

    I don’t have a problem coming up with convincing external GMC for my characters. Internal is a whole other story. It’s hard to tell how much is enough, and how much is too much. I don’t want readers to think my characters need therapy before they find love.

    • LOL – I hear you on the therapy. How to create internal conflict that’s convincing, original, and doesn’t make your characters seem wimpy? It’s HARD! I think that’s why a lot of books fall back on the old “love sucks” routine because it’s believable and still allows for interesting situations. Good luck on torturing your characters.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I, too, have trouble meshing the GMC’s of hero and heroine. They always seem to struggle with totally different issues and then I’m left going, okay, how is this plot going to resolve both their separate issues. Plus, I always, always, always, have trouble getting my heroine’s GMC right. The hero comes much easier to me. Maybe I was a man in a previous life? 🙂

    I don’t know. I do still have trouble boiling my GMCs down into that simple ‘she wants, because, but’ statement. The logical me understands it, but the creative me goes, huh? So by that point, I usually chuck it all and decide I’ll figure it out along the way. 😉

    • Well, you’re obviously doing something right because your books are awesome! I actually end up figuring it out along the way too, like after the first draft is complete. Unfortunately, in this case, I didn’t have that luxury. Maybe it gets easier? I can only hope, right?

      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Don’t shoot me, but I like the serial (Oxford) comma. If it makes you feel any better, I put them in when I write & my editor takes them out. House style is to get rid of them. So, ya never know. You might go & put them all in only to find that the publisher takes them all back out again.

    GMC is gold, I tell ya. I’m between a pantzer and a plotter, but if I do no other plotting, I do GMC. It keeps me in the story & in the characters.

    Great article. Really enjoyed reading how you evolved your GMC.

    • Huh. Well if the fabulous Ella Drake likes the comma, I may have to reevaluate…

      …Nope. Still gives me the willies.

      Thanks for stopping by and liking my neurotic GMC story. 🙂

  4. The additional comma thing is news to me! I will pretend I never heard of such a thing 🙂

    Great post! I’m lucky enough to have been to one of Deb Dixon’s workshops, and it was fantastic, but I had the same problem with the Wizard of Oz example. I just can’t translate it back to a category romance. So you’re not alone!

    Internal conflict is definitely the most important thing, and so so hard to get right.

    • Hi Leah! Thanks for stopping by. Yeah, that internal conflict. I’m pretty sure you’ve got a better handle on it than I do since, you know, you won the contest(deservedly so, 100% :)). I need to develop an easy process for figuring out GMC in romance and sell it for a million dollars…and write some books that get published. Hope things are going well with you Leah and can’t wait to buy your book!

      • Haha, that was the problem, my contest winning entry had some major conflict issues 🙂 My hero just didn’t have a believable, sustainable internal conflict. Getting that right made all the difference!

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