Reviewed By Cheryl Bolen
Goal, Motivation & Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction
Gryphon Books for Writers, 1996
To those of us who are long-time members of Romance Writers of America,
GMC is old news, but it never hurts to take a quick refresher with Debra
Dixon's easy-to-remember simplification of plotting.
The author/editor/motivational speaker freely
admits she borrows from the late fiction writing instructor
extraordinaire Dwight Swain. But Dixon's GMC simplifies his precepts.
In her quickly read book, she makes plotting even
easier with her Who, What, Why and Why Not. The who is the
character. The what is the character's goal. The why is
why the character needs to achieve his or her goal (motivation), and the
why not is why the character cannot achieve his or her goal
(conflict). Put in all these things, and you've got a pretty good basis
for a story.
As Dixon points out, there is no story if
everything runs smoothly. She uses the movie Wizard of Oz to
illustrate. Dorothy's goal? To get back to Kansas. Motivation? She
believes her Auntie Em is dangerously sick, and she must apologize to
her and tell her how much she loves her. Conflict? Dorothy must get the
broomstick from the Wicked Witch so the Wizard will use his power to
send Dorothy back to Kansas. Of course, many obstacles (more conflicts)
come between her and getting that broomstick.
According to Dixon, each main character needs a
GMC; hence, in Wizard of Oz, the Lion, Tinman, and Scarecrow all
have GMC, and all will have character growth over the course of the
Dixon also stresses the need for there to be both
internal and external GMC for each main character.
What about the goal in our genre? "Excuse me while
I climb on my soapbox," Dixon says, "The heroine's goal in a romance is
not to fall in love and get married."
Another important thing she stresses about goal is
to make it important and urgent. Reading those words was just what I
needed while writing my current WIP. I had a pretty whimpy goal, but
after rereading Dixon's handy-dandy little gem, I was able to bump up
the importance and immediacy of the goal that propelled the first part
of my book. (Yes, goals can change during the course of a book.)
She also says, "The large, central goal of the
character is often accompanied by a series of smaller goals that drive
the action of the book."
In a really good story the main characters' goals
should come crashing into one another.
Moving to motivation, she says motivation is
usually preceded by the word because. Dorothy wants to get home
to Kansas because. . .
On conflict, she says story can be strengthened
with several smaller conflicts, in addition to the central conflict.
"The outer conflict usually reveals or causes the
big black moment, but it is the character's internal GMC which will
resolve the big black moment," Dixon says.
Just as because precedes motivation, the
word but precedes conflict. Therefore, Dorothy's goal is to get
back to Kansas because Auntie Em is sick, but she must
first get the broomstick from the Wicked Witch. Pretty simple stuff. Yet
it can drive an entire book.
Dixon also brings home many other lessons we
fiction writers know, but it's never a bad idea to refresh ourselves.
Thus, she stresses that every scene should illustrate a character's
progress toward the goal, or bring the character into conflict with
opposing forces, or provide the character with an experience that
strengthens or changes his motivation. Also, there should be three
reasons for every scene. She provides a lengthy list which includes
introduction of suspects, foreshadowing, discovering clues, and
establishing trust between characters. But remember, there must be three
reasons for each scene.
For more juicy tidbits, buy the book.
An appendix includes GMC charts for various
characters in the movies Wizard of Oz, Ladyhawke, Casablanca
and The Client.