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June 13th, 2008
Goals, Motivation and Conflict

A good romance needs conflict to make it memorable. Our characters need motivation and goals, otherwise why are we bothering? For a beginner writer, conflict is often a difficult thing to grasp. It’s more than mere bickering.

The turning point for me came when I read Debra Dixon’s book GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict. I don’t read a lot of craft books, especially when I’m writing, since I start to second-guess myself. However, this is one of the books I found really useful. Here’s the link to the book.

Debra does charts and talks about internal and external conflict. I still use her method, but I also answer the questions below.

When I’m writing, I always work out the GMC of my two main characters and any important secondary characters before I write a word. Often I’ll layer in more conflict as I write, to strengthen my story, but the basics are in place before I start.

If I can answer the following five questions about my characters, then I know my story is workable, and I’m ready to start.

1. What do my characters want?
2. Why do they want it?
3. How do they plan to get it?
4. What’s standing in their way?
5. What will happen if they don’t get it?

I try to arrange the answers to the above questions so that my hero and heroine want the opposite, and during the course of the book, I try to make things worse. I throw in road blocks, and the characters need to work out another way to get what they want or buckle under the pressure.

How do you go about working out your goals, motivation and conflict for your characters? Do you have any favorite how-to books that help you in this area?

No comments yet to “Goals, Motivation and Conflict”

  1. I do that as well. I ask those 5 basic questions.

    Honestly, I’m horrible. I never heard of Debra Dixon till NOW. I’m getting her book to read; but I’ve been doing that questioning conflict thing all along.

  2. I like Debra’s book because she gives great examples. One of the movies she used as an illustration is The Wizard of Oz.

  3. I do the questions too so I have the basic conflict in place, but then other conflicts grow from that as I start to write.

    I’ve heard so many great things about the Debra Dixon book. I must get it!!

  4. Oh, yes Debra Dixon’s book is a must have. I love it. And I love Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer. And for motivation, I like Stephen King’s On Writing!

  5. I have Swains book!! I’ve been looking for Stephen King’s book but I haven’t found it yet.

  6. I’ve heard other writers say they like Swain’s book. I haven’t read this one. I have read Stephen Kings’s On Writing and found it very inspirational.

  7. I’m such a pantser, I don’t have any craft-of-writing books, really. I suppose I covered all of the basics in film school in my screenwriting courses. But I go over these conflict questions in my mulling-over stage, as the story forms itself in my mind.

  8. I’m still learning this part…
    For a long time I’ve been going on gut instinct, but it’s time to get more serious about the mechanics.
    Much easier to fix character/plot problems if you know what you’re looking for!