Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Trouble With GMC

Okay, maybe it’s not the trouble with GMC, just my trouble with GMC. As many of you know, in the mass market fiction world, goal, motivation, and conflict (lovingly adored as GMC) rules with an essential hand. If you want to write a good story, it is said, your main characters must have goals, motivations, and conflicts. And these GMCs must have internal and external aspects. Just the thought of this conjures visions of Left Eye from TLC (Jesus rest) when she was on Behind the Music and said, “Get ready to do you math!”

If you’re writing romance as I do and you have a hero and a heroine, and you have an internal and external GMC for each . . . uh, that’s twelve things to keep track of in your story.


I like the “idea” of GMC. For years I completed character boards with Post-it notes working out each of those twelve aspects like a dutiful romance author. All the while, that process didn’t sit quite right with me. I mean seriously . . . 12 things!

If I give my character a white poodle on page 17, I have to make sure that the damned thing isn’t a black cocker spaniel by page 234. It’s just the way my mind works, or rather, doesn’t work. Keeping track of my main character’s internal conflict, while balancing her external goal, all the while amplifying his internal motivation—I mean, just boil me in oil now.

It wasn’t until I read Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook that I found something that works for me. Mr. Maass suggested having characters want two things at the same time. This may simply be an alternate route to get to the internal and external goal as well as the internal and external conflict, but to me, it makes more sense. No, not more sense, better sense. Making those two things are mutually-exclusive is an even better way to put it. Use this technique and you’ve eliminated potentially six things from your GMC plotting. And wouldn’t we all love that? Less to worry about when we’re creating our stories.

To those for whom Internal/External GMC works, I salute you. I have plenty of friends who wouldn’t dare write word-one without completing their GMC boards. (The bedrock of my writing principles is: do whatever works.) For others like me, it took a while to find a concept that I can actually use to write better stories. Now that I’ve found what drives me toward my best writing, I’m sticking to it.

How about you? GMC thumbs up, down, or sideways?

1 comment:

  1. In screenwriting I also find it "taxing" at times to maintain the specifics of a character throughout. If I mention early on that a character is allergic to shellfish, then I can't have him happily tearing away at a plate of shrimp alfredo at the end of the movie. But seeing as screenplays run a lot shorter at about 100 pages verses your 235-300, I can see how you might need to keep a detailed character board.