GMC - Goal, Motivation, Conflict

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JL Zenor
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GMC - Goal, Motivation, Conflict

Post by JL Zenor » Thu Jun 09, 2016 6:07 am

I first heard about this on Rachel Aaron's blog, and it sounded interesting enough to definitely warrant some digging into.

Basically every character needs a "GMC", or Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. Usually we focus on character goals, but the WHY makes those goals more exciting, and gives the character and the story more depth.

There are internal and external GMCs, as well as supplying a GMC for each minor goal that the character wants in the story that you want to make interesting.

Publishing Crawl has a nice post about this that explains a lot of it. I'll copy that post below for preservation.

What do you think? Is this helpful for fleshing out characters? Could you see this as being a simple 3 question survey to build minor characters and give them more personality?
So…GMC.

Maybe you’ve heard the letters bandied about—“Oh, my hero just doesn’t have a strong enough internal GMC.” Or maybe it’s all Greek to you.

G = Goal. (What is it the character wants to achieve? Or what is the character wants to avoid?)

M = Motivation. (Why does the character want this goal?)

C = Conflict. (What stands in the character’s way? Why can’t the character have the goal?)

There are two types of GMC: internal and external.

Internal GMC is the character’s emotional journey — their internal arc and growth. External GMC is the plot—the external force that propels the character through his/her story. Oftentimes, the internal and external GMCs work together and intertwine. (If you really want to learn about GMC, check out Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation, & Conflict.)

How to Use It
For example, Ulysses has been warring with Troy, but now the war is finallyover. He and his soldiers want to sail home to their families, but Ulysses has this problem: he’s a totally cocky arse. After he rouses Poseidon’s anger (boasting to the gods = very bad idea), Poseidon tries to keep Ulysses from reaching home (via Cyclops, the Sirens, Circe, and more). It could all go away, but every time Ulysses has a chance to save the situation, his arrogance shows and gets him back into trouble.

External GOAL: Get back to Greece.
External MOTIVATION: He wants to see his family. (Plus, his wife Penelope is being pursued by suitors.)
External CONFLICT: Poseidon is nooooot pleased, and he’s not letting Ulysses get home easily.

Internal GOAL: Not be such an arrogant jackass.
Internal MOTIVATION: He keeps getting himself and his sailors into trouble.
Internal CONFLICT: He’s always been an arrogant arse, and it’s always easier to stay the same than change.

Often, the character doesn’t necessarily realize his/her internal GMC, but it’s there all the same. Sometimes, the internal and external GMCs overlap. For example, Hamlet’s dad has just been murdered by Hamlet’s uncle, and Uncle Claudius has taken the throne. Daddy’s ghost wants Hamlet to avenge his death, but Hamlet’s just not sure it’s a good idea…You know, um, what if, uh…and maybe there might be trouble, er…Hamlet just can’t commit.

External GOAL: Avenge his father’s murder (by killing Uncle Claudius).
External MOTIVATION: His dad’s “ghost” is telling him to.
External CONFLICT: He just can’t commit, and now Uncle Claudius wants him dead.

Internal GOAL: Make a decision—trust the ghost or not?
Internal MOTIVATION: Acceptance or “closure” over his father’s suspicious death.
Internal CONFLICT: He’s absolutely not a decisive, take-action kinda person. Wishy-washy and brooding is more his style.

Fill in the Blanks
Here are some worksheets you can use to prepare GMC for your own characters. When I’m planning a novel and I have a sense of the plot, I like to start with external GMC. But if I’m more in touch with my characters, I start with internal GMC. (I’m using The Wizard of Oz as an example.)

External Goal
What does this character want to have or want to avoid? This is external, not internal.
Dorothy wants to get out of Oz and get home.
External Motivation
What motivates this character to act? Why doesn’t he/she just sit around?
Auntie Em is sick, so Dorothy’s gotta be there.
External Conflict
What prevents this character from getting achieving the external goal?
The Wicked Witch is ticked off at Dorothy and wants revenge.
External GMC sentence
Combine G, M, & C into one sentence: “MC wants (G) because (M) but (C).”
Dorothy wants to leave Oz and go home because her Aunt is sick, but the Wicked Witch wants to stop Dorothy and get revenge.
When Dorothy finally does get home (and wakes up from her dream), she has reached her external goal!

Internal Goal
What does this character want to have or want to avoid? This is internal, not external.
To find a place she’s happy (somewhere over the rainbow and all that).
Internal Motivation
What motivates this character to act? Why doesn’t he/she just sit around?
She’s not content and seems to get in trouble a lot.
Internal Conflict
What prevents this character from getting achieving the internal goal?
She doesn’t know how to have happiness or what she reallywants.
Internal GMC sentence
Combine G2, M2, & C2 into one sentence: “MC wants (G2) because (M2) but (C2).”
Dorothy wants to be happy and find her “place” because she’s not content with her life, but she doesn’t know what exactly she wants.
Turns out there’s no place like home, and when the movie ends, Dorothy has reached her internal goal!

Troubleshooting your GMC
Essentially, a strong character and a strong plot will often boil down to GMC. Many authors don’t consciously decide their characters’ GMCs, but if you analyze your favorite stories, you’d probably be able to find the GMC. And oftentimes, when you’re having trouble with your story, you can isolate your GMC and find the trouble’s source.

If you don’t have a strong goal, you’ve got no story to interest the reader—Why do I care if Charlie goes to a chocolate factory?

But even a “low” goal can be saved if the motivation is strong enough—Well, it’s been Charlie’s dream forever, but it’s pretty unlikely he’ll ever get that chance.

But none of that will matter if there isn’t enough conflict between Charlie and that candy bar. Conflict has to be high! Charlie has to scrimp and save to get the chocolate bar that might have a golden ticket, and that will be his only chance to get into the factory.

The story’s tension and momentum are built by sufficient motivation to achieve a goal as well as sufficient conflict between the main character and the goal’s realization. Try filling out the worksheet for your WIP, and maybe you can the weakest links in your story.
Hugh Howey wrote:In everything you do as an author, work harder than anyone else around you. Want it more than you want anything else in life. Even if fortune doesn’t favor you, you’ll have zero regrets, and you’ll create something you’re proud of.
Check out my books: Rite of Passage

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