A Novel in 3 months (week 1) – preparation and more on GMC

It occurred to me that while you’re all busily writing and wondering whether your characters’ GMC is strong enough (yes, I’m talking to you!) I should provide a few examples from movies that I love.  Interestingly (as you’ll see), none of these are actual romances 😀  That doesn’t matter – GMC is GMC, not matter what kind of story you’re writing!  So here I’ve blatantly lifted from my own GMC workshop notes from a few years back.

Goal – (also known as desire or want)

  • Characters should want what they don’t yet have.  Those who simply want more of what they already have do not make for strong characters.   Characters can outwardly show that they’re just wanting more of what they have – money, power, property, but if the reader knows it’s not all, she will keep reading.  There’s a multitude of ways you can indicate to the reader that they are more than just a playboy, a billionaire with money to burn, an unfeeling perfectionist cop, a best friend joker with loads of girlfriends.
  • Characters who want something and are denied it will take action.
  • Action creates plot, which is imperative for a novel.
  • Goals should be important enough for the characters to act against their best interests and out of their comfort zone.  The consequences of not achieving the goal will be unpleasant (unpleasant can mean embarrassing, fatal, heartbreaking, financial ruin).  Falling in love can also be unpleasant if the character wants to avoid falling in love.
  • Goals are not always achieved.  If your character wants something badly enough e.g. a certain man, she may not get what she wants, rather get what she deserves, e.g. another man and her real true love.

Example from Ice Age:
Manny (the mammoth) wants to be left alone.  Diego (the sabretooth tiger) wants the baby for his pack leader.

Example from National Treasure:
Ben Gates wants the Templar treasure.

Example from Cars:
Lightning McQueen wants to get out of Radiator Springs

Motivation (aka drive or back story)

  • Is the most important of the three.  Anything is possible for a character as long as you explain why.  If you fail to give the reader enough motivation, you will lose credibility and your readership.
  • It means knowing your characters inside out.  Their actions should be in character, justifiable and their reasons clear to the reader.  This will let them (and you!) maintain integrity.  E.g. if hero comes from a violent background, he may avoid picking fights.
  • helps the reader empathise with your characters.
  • When a character wants something badly enough, the reader will want it too.
  • Emotion = Motivation (i.e. what the character feels makes them move to do something or act on something).  E.g. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – we see Charlie’s poor home life and how much this seemingly little thing would mean to him.  Put that up against the rest of the kids like Veruca Salt, who just wants more of what she has.
  • The higher the stakes, the greater the emotional impact.  Doesn’t have to be life or death, but can feel like that to the character.
  • Motivation is individual – what motivates one, may not another.  Psychology tells us if a child suffers trauma after the age of five, then they are more than likely be able to overcome the trauma to lead a relatively normal life.  If they suffer before five, then they probably will not.  For example, JD Robb’s Eve Dallas.
  • Think about the prime motivating force in your character’s life – what motivates them to do something?  For personal gain – why?  For family – why?
  • Weave in motivation with back story so the reader can put it together as it appears in importance in the story.
  • Motivation is many-stranded.  Sometimes the character has no idea why, but the reader may know more.

Example from Ice Age:
Manny wants to be left alone because he already lost his mate and child and doesn’t want to go through that pain again.  Diego wants the baby for his pack leader because he needs to be part of the herd, to belong.

Example from National Treasure:
Ben Gates wants the Templar treasure because he needs to vindicate his family name.

Example from Cars:
Lightning McQueen wants to get out of Radiator Springs because he needs to win the Piston Cup, an accolade he’s been working all his life towards

CONFLICT  (aka trouble, tension, roadblock)

  • Drives the plot and motivates the characters.
  • Provides pace to the story.
  • Must be relevant to the plot.
  • Must be believable and strong enough to sustain the story for the length of the novel.
  • Must be a driving force and unavoidable.
  • It is the struggle against someone or something in which the outcome is in doubt.
  • It is bad things happening to good people, and bad things happening to bad people.
  • Box your characters in.  If they walk away from the conflict then tie them to it.  e.g. marriage of convenience

External conflict is someone doing something to your characters .e.g. someone actively taking away your possessions.  Can be a person, an intolerable situation or an act of God.

Internal conflict is intangible e.g. it is worrying about someone taking away your posessions; Is the inner struggle within the characters; Is fighting attraction, which in turn raises the emotions.  Change stirs emotion, which stirs internal conflict.

Sources of conflict can also stem from archetypical plots:

  • The homemaker and the traveller
  • Mentor and protégé
  • Bad boy and good girl, or bad girl/good boy
  • Boss and assistant
  • Cowboy and lady
  • Cop and lady, or cop and gentleman
  • good v’s evil
  • Reunion/lovers reunited
  • Secret baby
  • Cinderella/Pygmalion
  • Beauty and the beast (and vice versa)
  • Marriage of convenience, mail order bride, citizenship required
  • Disguise (pretending to be something they are not)

Example from Ice Age:
Manny’s external goal is: retain the status quo/be alone
Why?    Because he lost his mate and child to hunters and doesn’t want to experience that pain/loss again
Manny’s internal goal is: family and love
Does he know this? No.  His external goal is in direct opposition to his internal goal.

Diego’s external goal is: Get the baby
Why? So he can please his pack leader / in his nature
Diego’s internal goal is: acceptance and friendship (shown to full impact when Manny puts his life on the line to rescue him from the lava. When Diego, clearly shocked, asks:  “Why would you do that?”  Manny says, “Because that’s what herds do. They look out for each other.”)
Does he know this? No.  His external goal is in direct opposition to his internal goal.

Example from Cars:
Lightning McQueen’s external goal is: to get out of Radiator Springs
Why? So he can win the Piston Cup, an accolade he’s been working all his life towards
Lightning McQueen’s internal goal is: friendship and acceptance (we get a glimpse of this when his agent wants to send tickets to his friends for the race and Lightning can’t think of anyone).
Does he know this? No.  His external goal is in direct opposition to his internal goal.

"I'm not going without the Declaration!"

Example from National Treasure:
Ben Gates’ external goal is: to find the Templar Treasure
Why? because he needs to vindicate his family name.
Ben Gates’ internal goal is: respect (we get a glimpse of this – via great use of dialogue – in the opening scene when colleague-turned-baddy Ian Howe says to Ben: “I understand your bitterness, I really do. You’ve spent your entire life searching for this treasure only to have the respected historical community treat you and your family with mockery and contempt.”).
Does he know this? I suspect Ben does on a certain level, but it’s expressed more as family honor/vindication.  However, if we take another of Ben’s goals – stop the Declaration of Independence from falling into the wrong hands – we have now one of his external goals (steal the Declaration) in direct opposition to his internal goal (honor/respect).

So, now a few dot points in summary:

  • Force the character to face his darkest flaw.
  • Emotion vs. Logic = Conflict (e.g. your character feels lust (emotion), but labels it as revenge (Logic).  This rationalises his motivation and actions).
  • As the plot thickens and the main characters struggle, the reader’s involvement in the story also intensifies (throw roadblocks in front of the character).

Happy writing!


10 comments on “A Novel in 3 months (week 1) – preparation and more on GMC

  1. Hi Paula,

    Thanks for doing this. I haven’t written in over 12 months. A friend of mine who loves your blog told me about your book in 3 months and suggested i have a go. So, yeah, I’m in. And you know what, i’m going to enjoy this. Again, thanks.

  2. Hi Paula, thanks so much for taking the time to explain some of these elements of writing. I know about GMC, but it still seems to me to be one of the trickiest elements of getting a story to work. I still struggle with conflict, especially, and ensuring consistency of motivation of characters throughout a book.

    Hope you don’t mind, but I linked to your post from my site, which is about writing fan fiction.

  3. Hey Paula,
    Great post and GMC so wonderfully explained. I’m off to take another look at my GMC and made sure I have them right and that they are strong enough to carry the story.
    Thanks again for all your time.

  4. Wow, great examples and I loved the way you simplified something we as writers complicate without even realizing it.

  5. I know – I sooo can’t wait for conference!

    Here is my updated GMC:

    Hero: to divorce heroine becuase he wants to avoid the pain that inevitably comes with marriage but heroine won’t agree
    Heroine: to have a pretend marriage because it means she can keep her business but hero won’t agree

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