GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict

Posted by Dwayne on March 28, 2012

One of my glaring weaknesses as an author involves poorly developed characters. A good friend, Alex White, challenged me on this issue and suggested I consider the notion of analyzing each character’s GMC (Goal, Motivation, and Conflict).

Debra Dixon has a great book on the subject (available through Gryphon books) entitled “GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict”. I won’t go into much detail because you should buy her book, but the gist involves investing your characters with authentic goals based on believable motivations … and then putting something significant in the way. One might summarize the idea in a single sentence this way, “Character wants GOAL because of MOTIVATION but CONFLICT gets in the way.”

You can make your characters even richer by having internal (or emotional) goals, as well as external (or physical) ones. Debra has much more to say on the subject, but the idea is one that guarantees characters will feel authentic and likeable (or unlikeable if that’s the desire).

Coming from a background of being much more concerned with plot and story than characters (which is terribly wrong-headed, but also indicative of my SF background), the notion of spending so much development time on characters is a hard one to dig into.

However, I think I’ve found a way to tie the two together.

A character’s GMC will remain relatively consistent until some key event (KE) forces a change.  If the GMC is external, then the event will force the character to focus on something else. This could be as simple as the original goal no longer being available or it could potentially be driven by some deeper change bubbling up from within. If the GMC is internal, then the even forces the character to reevaluate an inner, core belief.

So, rather than having a single set of GMC’s (inner and external) for a character, I’m going to use a sequence of KE’s through the story to define the character arc. I’ll then define the GMC between each subsequent pair of KE’s. This gives me a way to plot a character arc, rather than just let things happen. Now I can do a mental transform and developing a character is exactly the same as developing a plot.

It’s a bit of work, but as long as the changes from one GMC to the next flow naturally out of the KE, then it should produce a genuine flow to character development and revelation.

My suspicion is a character’s external GMC will change several times throughout the story, but the internal GMC will remain mostly constant.  After all, our physical goals do change rapidly, but what we genuinely believe on the inside doesn’t change very often … if ever … and when it does it takes something major.

I’m sure I’ll have to play with this more, but at least I’m beginning to get excited about developing a character and not just a plot.

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2 Responses to “GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict”

  1. Excellent stuff here, and it’s definitely engaging my game designer brain (well, that the other conversations we’ve been having). Looking forward to seeing more.

  2. VINCENTE says:

    You don’t need internal and external when dealing with goal, motivation and conflict. You’re making the writing hard for yourself.

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