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:
For 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?
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 www.LoriDevoti.com and RaeDavies.com. 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.