Lesson #17: Introduction to GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict)

What is GMC?

This week, in Lesson #17 and Lesson #18, we’ll be discussing GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict. You’ll need to grab your pen and paper, current manuscript/story idea, and a blank sheet of paper.

Now, narrow down your single most important character – your hero/heroine. If you have more than one, choose your most important two or three characters; but we suggest having no more than three main characters, because most often after three main characters, a book becomes bogged down and less effective. (Note: what we mean by “one/two/three main characters” specifically means your one/two/three POVs.) In many cases, this will look like: hero, heroine, and villain. Though, of course, the POVs will vary per story. The main point is: choose your main one/two/three characters (POVs).

Now, these characters are about to go through the major, life-changing experience of GMC. We hope that by the end of these two lessons, your characters will be on their way(s) to their best existence.

Are you ready?

We are!

Let’s cover each of the three facets of GMC individually.

Goal

First, we have “Goal.” Every character – no matter how small – MUST have a goal. What is a goal? It can be summed up as follows:

The goal is what the character WANTS.

Let’s use a sentence or two to illustrate goals:

  • Ethan Hunt WANTS to finish his mission.
  • Samwise Gamgee WANTS to protect Frodo.

What could goals be? They could be anything the character wants – revenge, an electric blue VW New Beetle, to marry someone, to gain someone’s trust, to clean out the closet, etc. You name it! There can be large overarching goals – such as those listed for Ethan Hunt and Samwise Gamgee – and there can also be smaller, temporary goals throughout the story. There will always be “THE” GMC – the primary/main GMC. We’ll discuss the primary GMC in more detail at the end of this lesson.

In any great story, a character will be complex with goals both small and large. If he/she is a perfectionist, the character will have a significant amount of more specific goals (finishing a to-do list, getting a project done by such-and-such a date, etc.) If he/she is more laid-back, or even carefree, they will have simpler goals (survive the semester, eventually clean out the garage, etc.)

What goals your character has is up to you. But the more goals you give your character (specifically those that tie into the plot), the better your story will be.

Motivation

Then, we have “Motivation.” Like goals, every character – no matter how small – MUST have motivation. What is motivation? It can be summed up as follows:

The motivation is WHY the character wants what he/she wants.

Let’s continue using our sentences to illustrate motivation:

  • Ethan Hunt WANTS to finish his mission (goal) BECAUSE it will save the world (motivation).
  • Samwise Gamgee WANTS to protect Frodo (goal) BECAUSE he is Frodo’s friend (motivation).

Motivations vary exceedingly, just like goals. A motivation can be as large or small as you want – Susan wants to clean the house BECAUSE she has company coming, Dave wants to catch a murderer BECAUSE his wife and daughter were killed, JoJo wants to see StarWars BECAUSE her boyfriend loves them, Marie wants to find a cure for cancer BECAUSE she watched her father die of Leukemia, etc.

Motivation must be believable; this can sometimes be easy and sometimes extremely hard. No one would believe that Tom wants to jump off of the Empire State Building because he loves his wife and she’s going to have a baby. Perhaps, however, Tom would want to jump off of the Empire State Building because his wife died in childbirth and he feels he no longer has any reason to live.

Motivation must also be strong enough to support the goal; no one likes a story where “Bill wants to kill his brother because his brother ruined his favorite book as a child.” This doesn’t work. Ruining a favorite book is not enough to support the goal. Bill might still hold a grudge, but he wouldn’t want to kill his brother. You need to choose a stronger motivation.

That being said, you don’t always have to throw a previous motivation out the window – you can always enrich the motivation, twist what you have, and/or spin off of an idea: “Bill WANTS to kill his brother BECAUSE his brother stole, then gradually killed, his wife.” Or “Bill WANTS to convict his brother BECAUSE his brother stole a book worth ten million dollars.” These are motivations we can work with.

Conflict

Finally, we have “Conflict.” Like goals and motivations, every character – no matter how small – MUST have a conflict. (Both internal and external.) What is a conflict? It can be summed up as follows:

The conflict is the “but” – or the problem.

Let’s finish our illustration by using a sentence to show goal, motivation, and conflict:

  • Ethan Hunt WANTS to finish his mission (goal) BECAUSE it will save the world (motivation) BUT The Syndicate are out to kill him and his fellow IMF agents.
  • Samwise Gamgee WANTS to protect Frodo (goal) BECAUSE he is Frodo’s friend (motivation) BUT many dark creatures want Frodo dead, and Sam is only a small Hobbit.

Internal conflict is conflict that happens WITHIN a character. (Jared WANTS to escape violence BECAUSE his father was abusive BUT he struggles with his temper.)

External conflict is conflict that happens OUTSIDE of a character. (Jared WANTS to escape violence BECAUSE his father was abusive BUT he was a member of the Mafia and now they’re after him.)

In order for conflict to work in a plot, there needs to be BOTH an external and internal conflict. One may outweigh the other, but both are essential.

Primary versus Secondary GMC

In the big picture, your character(s) needs to have ONE primary GMC to work with as a part of the “plot.”

Many of the secondary GMCs will branch off of this primary GMC (and often a few others will enrich the plot – but they always need to tie into the primary GMC somehow and with some sort of significance. For example: if your primary GMC is “Dave WANTS to catch a murderer BECAUSE his wife and daughter were killed BUT the murderer has left no clues as to his identity” then a secondary GMC might look like “Dave WANTS to earn Detective Brandt’s trust BECAUSE she attracts him BUT she wants nothing to do with him [as a side note: I was really tempted to write “BUT she is the murderer” – come on, ya gotta admit, it’d be a great plot twist! But not necessarily a secondary GMC.])

Applying GMC to Your Own Writing

In Lesson #18, we’ll discuss how to use charts to develop, keep track of, and visualize your character’s GMC. In the meantime, start plotting out your characters’ goals, motivations, and conflicts. Start with your one/two/three main characters; if you’re feeling brave, begin giving “minor” GMCs to your secondary characters.

See you for Lesson #18!

With pen to paper,

Kayla R. Woodhouse

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