GMC and you by Gia de Cadenet

As a budding writer, I was overwhelmed by the number of craft tools available. How to decide where to begin?

While craft tools are plentiful, finding the right one can be intimidating. One tool I’ve turned to time and again, and that distills a lot of advice into an actionable package is GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon. This post will give you a quick run-down of GMC, which I recommend to my mentoring clients and use on my own projects.

What are Goal, Motivation and Conflict?

These three descriptions are sometimes known by other names.

Goal can refer to a character’s purpose, what they want. Their needs and desires fit under the umbrella of “goal”.

Motivation is what’s driving the character. What is the impetus for the events in the story? How does a character’s backstory impact their decisions?

You may have seen conflict described as the all-important tension, the difficulty or friction that prevents the character from getting what they want.

Using Goal, Motivation and Conflict, you can answer four basic questions that keep readers turning pages and turn them into fans: the Who, What, Why and Why Not of your story.

I can give you the details, but things are easier to follow with examples. Dixon uses The Wizard of Oz, The Client and Casablanca among others to drive her points home. But let’s focus on a story you’re even more familiar with: Your Story As a Writer.

First things first, the “Who”. Our most basic question – Who is this story about?

For your story, the character is, of course, you. You already know this character inside and out – your likes, dislikes and your backstory. You’ll need to gather the same information about the characters you create.

Next is the “What”. What does the character want?

In our example, right now, you want to learn something about the craft of writing. So, you’re reading this article, perusing SavvyAuthors for useful content. Maybe you’re also drowning in craft books or seeking help from someone a little further along on this journey.

Then comes the “Why”.

For an engaging story, there’s has to be a reason, a motivation for the character to take steps to get what they want, to achieve their goal(s). In our example, your motivation may be the dream of being a writer. Perhaps you’d like to share a personal story with the world. Or maybe you’re here because of a challenge. All of those get to what drives you as a character in your story.

But we need a spark, something that engages the reader and gives them a reason to care.

That’s the “Why Not”, our final question, the one that brings in conflict. Writing well is difficult. It takes time. Maybe imposter syndrome sneaks in and you find yourself wondering why anyone would want to read what you have to say. All of these are sources of conflict that you – the character – must overcome, in order to reach your goal.

GMC – goal, motivation and conflict – are the integral parts of any engaging story. Once you’ve put in the work of honing your GMC, you give your story the opportunity to shine, to become something readers identify with and can’t put down.

This writing game isn’t easy. So how can we reduce that difficulty? How can we make it a little bit easier to write well?

Take some time to answer these questions for yourself to use as an example. Then, answer them for every character you create:

What does the character want?

Why does the character want it?

What might keep them from getting it?

By focusing on these, the difficulty of writing compelling characters and propelling them through a realistic world that meets reader expectations is significantly lessened.

GMC can help make sense of the story that’s brought you to this blog post. And so, it can make sense of the story you want to write.

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Gia de Cadenet is a business school professor, former translator and editor for UNESCO. Her first manuscript was showcased in the 2017 PitchWars mento...
Dixon's book on GMC is my favorite craft book. Great article! :)