Don’t forget about the Kim Harrison Book Giveaway!!
by Biljana Likic and Julie Eshbaugh
Acting Theory can be applied to any creative process where character exploration is needed. When people think of acting techniques, not many of them think of goats.
Not that kind of goat! Ha ha! Ha…
What we’re talking about is GOTE, an acronym for Goal, Obstacle, Tactics, and Expectation.
This useful acronym was devised by Robert Cohen and was introduced in his book Acting One, one of the most popular Acting Theory textbooks for college students in North America. Even though Cohen used this theory to help actors bring characters to life on stage, nothing stops us writers from using it to bring characters to life in the pages of a book.
So what does he mean, exactly, by GOTE?
Well, let’s take a look!
Goal: Each of your characters has an overarching goal for the entire story. Provided that your character isn’t a two-dimensional cutout, they’re going to have many smaller goals to achieve in order to reach their final prize. The G in GOTE stands for exactly that. Depending on what’s happening in the story, your protagonist’s goal might change from scene to scene, or even during a scene, and these switches of interest can make your story much more compelling. Goals can switch for a variety of reasons, some of them being their completion, and others being…
Obstacles: Obstacles are the sources of that great big word Conflict. There is no story without conflict. Any story-telling art, whether it’s drama, television, or writing, thrives off the use of obstacles to push against or pull forward the action of the story. However, though conflict is awesome and obstacles are great, the character’s response to those obstacles should be moderated. Just as we wouldn’t want to read about a character that has no problems, we wouldn’t want to read about a character that focuses only on the problems. Because let’s face it, nobody likes a whiner. The character should focus at least partly in how they can solve that goal that is prevented by the obstacles, which leads us to…
Tactics: We already talked about tactics in some of our past articles, two of which include Kat’s “Finding the Hate” and Biljana’s “Finding the Love”. Tactics are what’s at the core of the actions your characters take in order to pursue and meet their goals. Tactics are active verbs. You should never flat-out say what the tactics of a character are. This makes it boring. A way you can make it interesting is by taking out the active verbs and replacing them with real actions. If you’ve ever been told in critiques of your manuscripts to “show, don’t tell,” this is what it means:
“We’re going home,” she said, challenging him. [The goal is to get your way, the obstacle is the person not wanting to listen, to Challenge is the tactic used to achieve the goal.]
“We’re going home,” she said, seducing him. [The goal is to win love, the obstacle is perhaps another woman or lack of attraction, to Seduce is the tactic used to achieve the goal.]
“We’re going home,” she said, punishing him. [The goal is to attain respect, the obstacle is a child’s brattiness, to Punish is the tactic used to achieve the goal.]
“We’re going home,” she said, squeezing his hand and pursing her lips.
“We’re going home,” she said, lips pouting around the words, voice husky.
“We’re going home,” she said, grabbing him by the ear and dragging him away from the arcade.
Expectations: What will happen when the goal is achieved? What does the character expect? Do they expect to attain their goal? Do they care? Without expectations, there are no stakes. No stakes, no obstacles, no conflict = boring. Have you ever come across a person who’s doing something for no reason? Well if they tell you they don’t have a reason, they’re probably lying. Even if they’re trying to make a point that not everything has to be done for a reason, that’s still a reason. They still expect a reaction; something that comes out of what they’re doing. An example in a story would be a hero, whose goal is to kill the villain, which is slowed by barriers like armies, which are crushed in battle, until the villain is killed and the hero then receives a reward, which he had expected all along or else he never would’ve gone on the stupid quest. So basically, expectations are one of the reasons for why the characters do what they do.
So now, consider your main character of your current WIP. See if you can pinpoint their purpose by using GOTE. If you can’t, think about ways you can apply GOTE to help you make things clearer.
And now for a challenge! Here’s a short paragraph, not the greatest writing, with so much telling it sounds like an instruction manual. Take it, use GOTE to improve it, and show us what you can come up with!
The only rule is you cannot CANNOT change or add to the dialogue!! It defeats the purpose of trying to use just actions and narrative to make it better. However, we will give you this: If you do change the dialogue, Justify It.
“Are you ready?” she asked, scolding him.
“Yes, just let me get my keys,” he said, pacifying her.
He went up the stairs hurriedly, leaving her waiting at the door. She waited impatiently. He came back even more harried than before, still with no keys.
“If you were neater with your things, you’d find them by now,” she blamed.
“I know, I know,” he said, annoyed, then found his keys under a scarf. “There they are.”
She opened the door and left. He followed.
“You don’t need to be so uptight about everything,” he admonished.
“Whatever,” she said. “Get in the car.”
They drove away.
Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She’s in her final year of high school, waiting and waiting to graduate, finish university, and finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here, and check out her work on her FictionPress account.