Goal, Motivation, and Conflict

16 Dec

This post has been updated and MOVED to our new website: Pub(lishing) Crawl.


27 Responses to “Goal, Motivation, and Conflict”

  1. Ellen December 16, 2010 at 1:38 AM #

    This is actually the part I’m working really hard at fixing in my WIP right now.

    I just may have to try this exercise. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thanks for the post!

    • sdennard December 16, 2010 at 6:16 AM #

      Good luck, Ellen! It’s not so hard once you *know* it’s there. ๐Ÿ˜€

  2. priscillashay December 16, 2010 at 2:34 AM #

    oooo I love how it looks like a worksheet and I’m tempted to print it o.o

    But, yeah, these things are always in the back of my head. I know my stories SHOULD have them, but once I get caught up in writing they fly out my head.

    But, I was taking Play Writing this semester and I learned a harsh lesson: Play Writing is NOT fiction writing :/

    On the surface I knew that, but my professor tried to drill it into us – but for some reason it wouldn’t take with me – that in plays the CONFLICT must be external. While I had one definition of CONFLICT (basically what you mentioned above) he wanted only external, physical conflicts….I kept drifting to internal conflicts..you know, the kinda that you can’t SEE on a STAGE >_<

    • sdennard December 16, 2010 at 6:12 AM #

      Oh gosh, Priscilla, I can’t even imagine play writing! It’s never even occurred to me that external conflict would be all that’s in a stage story… How interesting, though!

      Have you figured the course out yet? I hope so!

      • priscillashay December 16, 2010 at 11:34 AM #

        ha, well, I handed in my full play Tuesday..so not it’s “wait and see”

  3. Chele December 16, 2010 at 6:21 AM #

    Mmm I sorta knew about this, but somehow reading it all clear-cut and in words (as opposed to an idea just flooooaaating in my mind) just put things into perspective.

    Priscilla said she’s tempted to print this out, and now I am too XD

  4. sdennard December 16, 2010 at 6:35 AM #

    Awesome, Chele! I hope it helps you. I know when I first heard about GMC, I was like “Oooohhh… I *get* it.”

  5. Laura December 16, 2010 at 10:27 AM #

    Susan, I just wanted to say that your posts are fabulous! The last few you’ve written have been so helpful, and this one is no exception! Thanks! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • sdennard December 16, 2010 at 1:27 PM #

      Thanks, Laura! That’s such a sweet thing to say. ๐Ÿ˜€ You’ve made my day.

  6. Julie Eshbaugh December 16, 2010 at 10:59 AM #

    Great post Sooz! I LOVED the way you used Charlie’s quest to enter the chocolate factory as a seemingly “low goal” (after all, the stakes aren’t life and death!) and showed how GMC can really heighten the tension. Thanks for such a helpful post! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • sdennard December 16, 2010 at 1:28 PM #

      Thanks, Julie. ๐Ÿ™‚ I love CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, and though the stakes are “low”, we’re totally invested in the story!

  7. tymcon December 16, 2010 at 3:48 PM #

    This is an awesome post! And it mentions Hamlet:P I read your blog post first so it’s kind of a cool coincidence. This will actually help my current short story. Hmmmm.
    I liked Hamlet…once it was explained to me.

    • sdennard December 16, 2010 at 4:58 PM #

      More Hamlet!! I thought that when I saw your other comment! And yay! I’m glad you like the post. ๐Ÿ˜€

  8. Kristy December 16, 2010 at 9:05 PM #

    I know about this quite well. I’ve spent most of my time in writing studying screenwriting, and a big mantra in screenwriting is that good characters bring the conflict. Since you need conflict to make a story, and since stories need characters, the natural progression is that your characters need conflict. Of course, I’ve read it stated a million different ways, and while I understood the concept, I had that “Aha!” moment when I read it the way you wrote it. Very nice, the way you’ve put it! Thank you!

    • sdennard December 17, 2010 at 8:28 AM #

      Yay, Kristy! I’m glad I made it simple enough to understand!

      Also, that’s so cool that you study screenwriting. I think there’s a lot novelists (and all storytellers) can learn from screenwriting. Any great reference/learning books you recommend?

      • Kristy December 19, 2010 at 9:53 PM #

        Hmm, there are so many great ones out there, but my two personal favorites are ‘The Screenwriter’s Bible’ by David Trottier and ‘Save the Cat’ by Blake Snyder. These two are the ones I refer back to the most. Although, most everyone in the business recommends Syd Field’s books, I find them kind of dry to read. His DVD is phenomenal though. Oh, and ‘Making a Good Script Great’ by Linda Seger is another excellent resource.

        • sdennard December 20, 2010 at 4:43 AM #

          Oh fantastic! I’ve heard of SAVE THE CAT, but not the others. I will definitely look into these! Thanks. ๐Ÿ˜€

  9. Liz December 17, 2010 at 8:24 AM #

    Hi Susan!
    Thanks for this article! I know that the heart of every novel is its conflict, but this helped break it down into smaller, manageable chunks that explain why the conflict even exists. My only question is, can there be multiple GMCs for a character? Or is the fact that multiple GMCs (ie more than one of each external and internal) exist a warning bell that the conflict isn’t clear or streamlined enough? Certainly massive books/series like Harry Potter have multiple internal and external GMCs, but it seems like for a freestanding novel that not being able to condense your GMCs down to one internal and one external seems like a recipe for a big ole pile of mess and some tough plot-cutting decisions during rewrites.

    • sdennard December 17, 2010 at 8:35 AM #

      I think there can be multiple GMCs, but like you say — there can be too much!

      In longer stories, the GMC can be constantly changing or even be made up of small blocks of GMC.

      Example: Dorothy’s main external goal is to get home. But in each scene, she has a smaller external goal (follow the yellow brick road, get the witch’s broom, etc.).

      There can also be internal GMCs, but I think it’s very important here to not have too many! Long stories (like you say) are more conducive to multiple GMCs, but stand alone novels really need to be more “simple”. Of course, a single goal can be multifaceted (wanting to be loved can be expressed in so many ways, for example).

      Example: Dorothy wants to find out what will make her happy, and this is really her driving internal goal. She shows this desire in different ways, and it affects her emotional journey in different ways as she develops, but the main goal is the same throughout.

      Example: In more complex stories (like Harry Potter), we see a main character who wants to find a place where he belongs but who also wants closure for his parents’ deaths. As the books progress and his character evolves, his own GMC develops.

      Does that make sense?

      Great question!!

      • Liz December 17, 2010 at 10:49 AM #

        Makes sense to me! I think that perhaps for a query you HAVE to condense/summarize/prioritize it into one internal and one external GMC or else you end up looking like you don’t even know what’s at the heart of your own novel – even if in your novel there are multiple conflicts with varying durations and overall importance. And if you can’t come down to one prevailing internal and external GMC, maybe it’s worth investigating why that is.

  10. Cheyenne May 18, 2011 at 11:21 AM #

    I’m super duper slow at catching up on all your helpful posts, but I just wrote out all my GMCs and taped them to my wall while I’m doing revisions. I know it’ll help keep me on track and pick out the scenes that are just nonsense filler (which sadly are in higher quantity than I’d like). Rock on!


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