Sunday, September 20, 2009

Goals, Motivations, & Conflicts: The GMCs of Writing

What does your protagonist want? Why does your protagonist want it? What prevents your protagonist from achieving/acquiring it? Welcome to the world of Goals, Motivations, and Conflicts (GMCs).

Before you ever set fingertips to keys, you should know the answers to, "What are the GMCs of my hero and/or heroine?" Every primary character has a set of GMCs, even the villain. Fictional GMCs should supply the point and purpose of the story. In real life, we're happy if we have a GMC for the day. Me? Fate's nice enough to hand me one every morning. 

Q = What do I want?
A = To pee.

Q = Why do I want it?
A = Because my bladder is going to explode

Q = What is keeping me from achieving it?
A = Four layers of blankets, twenty steps, two dogs, and sloth. Oh, and the potty is occupied (damn loo laggard)

A story is built by major GMCs, and a chapter is constructed out of minor GMCs. Sounds easy, no? Structuring a story shouldn't be painful. Save that for the prose. ::crickets chirping::  Bad puns aside, based on the five conflicts above, I could create a five chapter story on how I achieved my major goal. Each chapter's goal would be conquering a conflict of the major goal. For example, Chapter One's GMC: Goal = Escape four layers of blankets; Motivation = I have to pee; Conflict = I am trapped in bed.

A titillating tale of adventure, I assure you.

GMCs are not your enemy, even if you prefer Ford or Chrysler (come on, you knew it was coming somewhere in here). Using major and minor GMCs to weave the story avoids disjointed transitions, saggy middles, and anti-climatic endings. Who wants bad joints, droopy tummies, and flaccid...  ::cough:: 

Great stories have multiple conflicts, both internal and external. Internal conflicts provide the fodder for a character's emotional growth over the course of the book. Can you name the internal conflicts for The Handmaid's Tale, Star Wars, or Harry Potter? How about the external conflicts? Way easier to put words to the external conflict, isn't it? External conflicts are usually obvious, the government, Darth Vader, and Voldemort, respectively.

The difficulty of conflicts will determine the strength of the story. What if my blankets weren't made of cotton? What if they were dragon hides that had been bewitched to cage the corporeal form? What if I had been attacked by a dragon float when I was a child and the mere notion of dragon anything paralyzed me? External and internal conflicts say I might be in need of a new mattress.

GMCs are not secrets; they convince a reader to keep reading. Don't hide them, bury them, or forget to mention them. Minor GMCs can add the page-turning hook to the end of a preceding chapter or the draw into the chapter proper. Proclaim the major GMCs loudly and proudly in Chapter One. Yes, right, true, not every conflict ought to be spelled out in the first twenty pages; however, if Robert Langdon can't simply put on his glasses to decipher the code near Jacques Saunière's corpse, I need to know why before I devote my night to the Da Vinci Code. Oh, there's a secret order? Oh, and there are riddles and puzzles? Oooh, and solving each of those steps before he can solve the über a lot like minor GMCs pulling the reader along to get the reader to the resolution of the major GMC.

Have I convinced you of the glories of the GMC yet? Maybe? Fine. Let me appeal to the practical side of your writer's sensibilities.

Fringe Benefits of GMCs:

Planners (those who outline before diving into the joys of dialogue and narrative): Penning the GMCs of each chapter will make writing your synopsis a snap. One paragraph per chapter, no problem. The content is there in your GMC-Outline. Wrap it up in the voice of your tale and you're done.

Pant-sters (those who write without a plan of attack): Knowing your GMCs will prevent doomed dialogue tangents, pointless tertiary characters, and superfluous narrative meandering. It will also save you extra rounds of revisions and time.

Post your daily GMC…just hang a new roll of toilet paper before you leave.

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