“Write the book you wish to read.”
It’s an inspiring thought. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what I did. This was a big problem for my first manuscript.
Here’s what happened. I was fed up with reading about characters I liked having life dump on them continuously. Things kept getting worse for them. Why couldn’t they just be happy? Maybe I was fatigued from Songs of Ice and Fire but I needed books to become my happy place again. So that’s what I wrote – a sweet, inspiring, romantic tale of joy. The storyline contained some minor complications but generally, we watched as the MC fell in love for the first time.
It was sweet. It was lovely. It was not the way to write a story.
In July this year I attended the CYA Conference and had the opportunity to hear author Kaz Delany deliver a workshop on GMC -Goal, Motivation and Conflict. The workshop was called, ‘How to Avoid a Saggy Middle’ and as I sat and took notes, a trickle of doubt slowly filled my stomach.
My first manuscript had minimal GMC – Goal, Motivation and Conflict.
G: – What does your character want?
M: – Why do they really want it?
C: – What stops them from achieving or obtaining it?
Check out Debra Dixon’s book, Goal, Motivation and Conflict for more information.
I attempted to ignore my GMC doubts and continued on my querying way. But the thought remained – my MC had things way too easy. Was that the deal breaker?
In September, I sent my work to an editor for feedback and guess what the overriding issue was?
Not enough GMC.
Out came my notes from Kaz’s workshop and I set about plotting some problems for my MC. At the same time I was reading Queen of Shadows by Sara J. Maas and noting how every single chapter had loads of GMC, not only for the main players but for the supporting ones as well.
Maas takes me on a ride of emotions in each of her books because NOTHING comes easy for her characters. She bleeds them – emotionally, physically and mentally. As a reader, we journey with them and it’s all because of GMC.
With writing my WIP, The Yokai Hunter, adding GMC to each scene came more naturally than it did with my first manuscript. Let’s look at my (very, very rough and unedited) first draft I shared previously on The Print Posse blog.
Goal: Leighton wants to be good at being a Yokai Hunter.
Motivation: She wants to make her dad proud and prove her own strength.
Conflict: When she finally comes face to face with a yokai, she is too stunned to react and lets the demon walk free.
While the scene has a LONG way to go before it is polished, you can see the GMC building blocks.
Now let’s look at how the experts do it.
One of my favourite ever pieces of television is the Buffy The Vampire Slayer Once More With Feeling episode. This episode was written and directed by the master of writing himself, Joss Whedon, and is heavy in subtext, character development and laugh out loud moments.
In this episode a demon named Sweet has been summoned to Sunnydale and cast a spell making everyone sing about their deepest fears and secrets. Buffy opens the episode with the song, Going Through the Motions as she stakes vampires and rescues the handsome guy, all in a day’s work.
Goal: Buffy wants to feel. Something, anything. She also wants her friends to believe she is happy and that her optimism towards life is real even though it is all an act.
Motivation: Since her return, Buffy has been indifferent and detached from life to the extent where she places herself in near-suicidal situations. She is numb.
“I touch the fire and it freezes me/I look into it and it’s black/Why can’t I feel?/My skin should crack and peel/I want the fire back!”
Conflict: Being sent to kill Sweet and rescue her sister is not the conflict she must face – it’s being forced via song into confronting and revealing her feelings or lack there of, to her friends.
Here’s the same episode but with a focus on Anya.
Goal: Anya wants Xander to tell her what she means to him and be convinced they will live happily ever after.
Motivation: Anya has a deep-seated mistrust of men (not surprising considering all her years as a vengeance demon) and is doubtful of Xander’s true feelings for her. She is worried he will betray and break her heart.
Conflict: With the spell cast over Sunnydale, Anya and Xander are forced to sing about their relationship fears and communicate their emotions through this very personal form of expression. They don’t want to hurt the other but both harbour doubts over the longevity of their relationship. Rather than clearing the air, expressing their concerns adds weight to the shadow looming over their engagement.
Identifying GMC in other works such as books or TV shows is a great way of sharpening your own skills. Next time you lose yourself in a fictional dream, ask yourself:
Goal – What does the character want?
Motivation – Why do they want it?
Conflict – Why can’t they have it.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and make my characters’ lives much more difficult.
*rubs hands together gleefully*