Not a plotter? Your answer? Goal Motivation Conflict.

March 14, 2011 | Writing Craft, Plotting | 6 comments

A while back Kathy Steffen and I taught a great group of writers from the Romance Writers of New Zealand what I consider to be the very first step in writing any book—nailing the Goal, Motivation, and Conflict of your main characters. (Also known as GMC: Goal Motivation Conflict)

If you follow this blog, you may realize that I am not only a bit of a plotting geek, I also love breaking down my characters. I use a nine step process that I outlined a bit in the character sketch of Scrooge.

This nine step process really helps when breaking out your characters’ goal, motivation and conflict, but it isn’t strictly necessary.

So, if in-depth plotting makes you break out in hives, at least try using Goal Motivation Conflict:

Goal motivation conflict writing plotting a bookFor your main characters (protagonist and antagonist) figure out what they want.

It should be something they really want. Something that they want badly enough they will fight their way through the book (and against the antagonist) to get it. This want is their goal.

Then figure out why they want this thing.

Margery wants to keep the 150-year-old oak in her local park from being cut down.


Because it provides nice shade?

Too weak.

Because her father took her there as a child?

You can do better.

Make the motivation personal and really important to that character. Make it something they can’t just put out of their mind and forget about.

Then when you know what your character wants and why she wants it, you have to stop her from getting it—at least for a while.

Sadistic I know, but that is our job.

Give her a “but.” The but is the conflict. It is the thing or person stopping her from getting what she wants. If the tree in question was in Margery’s back yard there would be no conflict, and there would be no story. She wouldn’t have to cut that tree down. She could go out and sit beneath it all day every day. Life would be nice and grand and very, very boring.

So, give her some conflict.

To do that, look for your antagonist…who or what benefits from getting the exact opposite of what Margery wants? Who would most want to stop her? What is his motivation? And what is his conflict? (hint…that pesky person wanting the exact opposite of what he wants—Margery)

Goal Motivation Conflict. Three simple words and three simple concepts, but oh, so important to your book plot.


Lori Devoti is the author of paranormal romance, urban fantasy and young adult fiction. Under the name Rae Davies, she writes the USA Today Bestselling Dusty Deals Mystery series. Check our her books at and Looking for help with your writing? Lori also does developmental editing and critiques for other authors and publishers. See our Editorial Services page for contact information and pricing.


  1. joyce miller

    The tree sits on the old farm once owned by Margery’s grandparents, but it has been bought by a real estate developer. When Margery was about 8 or so she carved a a heart on the tree with a rock and said that as long as that tree grew and the heart remained she would find her true love, so she cannot bear the thought of it being destroyed. The developer of course wants to build on the property, but of course finds himself drawn to Margery and intrigued by her unspoken commitment to the tree.

  2. Tricia Fields

    Kathy doesn’t want the tree cut down because she knows that’s where her father, a notorious but never caught serial killer, buried his first bodies and if they cut down the tree and remove the stump they will find the remains and open an investigation which might ruin her family’s reputation. Think of the ridicule she will be subjected to, not to mention what her poor children will have to go through!

  3. KayAnna Kirby

    150 years ago, her family came from Ireland to settle in America not only for economic opportunity but to get away from an evil force that has stalked and killed her family for decades. The evil vampire/creature followed her family to America and started to kill and terrorize them in America. Her great grandfather decided their family wasn’t going to take it anymore and had a show down with this evil force and killed it. He buried the body where he killed it and planted a tree above the grave to make sure no one ever forgets. If the tree is removed, the evil force may be able to rise and terrorize again. No one knows, but Margery does not want to find out.

  4. Faith Van Horne

    Though Margery Swanson has the wrinkles and stoop of an eighty-year-old, she’s actually a hundred and fifty. And she’s not human. She is the park’s kami, or guardian spirit. Birthed with the tree, she is one with it.

    Since the tree was planted to mark the park’s opening, Margery has lived in the park as a human guardian, viewed as a homeless woman by all who see her. Over the century, she has gained contempt for the humans who disrespect her park. She blesses those who play and honor her space while psychically deterring those who would threaten it. But now, a routine geological survey has discovered coal deposits beneath the soil. Even her psychic energy is not enough to deter the greedy mining company.

    She must connect with citizens she has always resented, convincing them she’s not just a crazy indigent to be avoided. Her bond with one, a teenage girl, will have to be enough to save the park and the town from a poisonous future.

  5. Catie Harrell

    Margery’s mother used to take her to the park when she was a child. After she had played she and her mother would have a pick nick under the very oak tree the park was wanting to cut down.

    Margery was against it. She hated it. When her mother died from cancer when she was in her early twenty’s Margery had gone there quite often as a place to talk to her mother and have peace and quiet.

    She moved away when she got married and had a family, but would come back to visit her father. Every time she visited she would also visit her and her mothers tree. It was her one place of solace.

  6. Kathy

    Wow, what a terrific, imaginative group of entries! You all made it very difficult to pick one! From a woman searching for love to a serial killer, an evil ancient force, a guardian spirit, or a place of solace and comfort…that is one fantastic tree rife with mystery and meaning.

    In the end I chose KayAnna Kirby’s ancient creature. I loved the historical family-epic element and the thought of something otherworldly buried and waiting for release. I could see the roots burrow down as the tree grew, encompassing and absorbing the thing to become its prison. I imagine that entity is going to be plenty vengeful when it gets out. Margery is heading for big trouble. Wonderful job KayAnna, and everyone!


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