Thursday, May 27, 2010

Motivation--An Important Part of GMC

During the eight years I've been writing I've read Debra Dixon's book Goal, Motivation and Conflict several times. I assumed by this time I'd mastered GMC. After all when I begin a new manuscript I faithfully fill in my GMC chart (among other sheets) and then off I go into my story world. I pay special attention to goals and conflict because they seem to be the most crucial story pieces.

But wait a minute. It turns out I was neglecting the importance of motivation.

I always thought motivating a character was the easiest part. The hero wants something (goal) because--you fill in the blank. That's his motivation. What's so hard about that? But I discovered editors pay a lot of attention to why a character does what he does. Without strong motivation, a character's actions are unbelievable.

When I first began to write Love on a Dime, I decided my heroine Lilly penned dime novels because she loves to write. Many of my author friends write because they enjoy it. It's as simple as that. Or maybe not. I can't look inside their minds to search for hidden reasons they might not wish to acknowledge. And maybe they have reasons they haven't even thought about. (Money is usually the reason for most people to work, but for authors, maybe not so much.)

In Lilly's case, she doesn't need the money for herself because she comes from a rich family. Having any kind of job in 1899 is unacceptable for a woman of her class. So I had to come up with a credible reason why she would do something that her family and friends disapproved of. I knew I had to strengthen her motivation. Otherwise it made little sense that she'd risk her reputation and her family's social standing just to pursue a career she didn't need. And in most ways Lilly is conventional, so carrying on a secret occupation is out of character. Unless she has a very strong, solid reason.

I considered her personality, values etc. Lilly is a serious minded and dedicated Christian. Why would she write romance dime novels many people consider scandalous? Because her books encourage the working girls who read them to keep their standards high. Her tales have moral value. Now I have a good reason for Lilly to write.

But I wanted to increase her motivation even further. Lilly gives her earnings to the Christian Settlement House. She doesn't keep the funds for herself. She donates them to a worthy cause. She helps others and feels happy to be able to help in such a tangible way. Her motivations are important enough for her to risk exposure. If her motivations were weak, she wouldn't seem believable. Story people need larger-than-life motivations.

Think about why your characters have the goals they have. You can give them several motivations, not just one. Create compelling reasons for every action they make and remember they have to make more sense than real people do!

I'll be giving away a copy of my debut historical romance, Love on a Dime. If you'd like a chance to win, please leave a comment and your e-mail address.

Thanks for joining us on Seekerville today!


rbooth43 said...

Lilly gives her earnings to the Christian Settlement House. She doesn't keep the funds for herself. She donates them to a worthy cause. She helps others and feels happy to be able to help in such a tangible way. This part of your post really hit home for me. With so many misfortunes happening
in the US,we need to pay it forward. This is a larger-than-life motivation for me.


Edwina said...

Thank you for the reminder of GMC. I've just started thinking about my next ms - you reminded me of a part I might have forgotten!! :)


Julie Hilton Steele said...

Congrats on your book. I love the fact you are a writer writing about a writer!


Janet Dean said...

Wonderful post, Cara! I'm reading Love on a Dime and loving it! I'd seen Lilly's strong motivations to pursue a scandelous career. She is bigger than life, taking a risk, especially in the society she lived in.

In my next book, Wanted: A Family, heroine Callie's goal puts her in conflict with the town. Her motivation is very personal and strong enough to keep her determined no matter the personal cost. I'm hoping readers will root for Callie as I am for Lilly. I love strong heroines!

I brought apple fritters and lots of strong coffee. Good morning, Seekerville!


Dianna Shuford said...

I'm with you! GMC is still difficult for me. I hate filling in charts, but I make myself. It's easy when you get in the middle of the story to forget to add some of the little things because we know the story so well. I'm getting lots better at remembering that the reader doesn't know everything I know.

Your debut novel sounds fabulous.


Ruth Logan Herne said...




Cara, besides a great post about strengthening motives, I'm just so stinkin' excited up here in New Yawk State that I can't hardly think to bake...

That's excited, for me.


Okay, I brought coffee. Good coffee. Strong coffee. And I nipped a little of Sandra's Chocolate Velvet from the last hut on the left on the Island. The one that Tina used to live in. I was hunting for some more of those spiced Italian cookie thingamabobbies, but to no avail.


But I got the chocolate and it's hot here today so instead of baking I ordered in. I know, I know, pricey, but CARA IS WORTH IT!!!!

We've got Einstein Bagels bringin' us food this AM... Walt arranged it.

Thanks, Walt!!! (nodding south)

And Cara, may I just say again: I'm so proud of you!!!!!!

Hugs and more hugs.


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Oooo, I just saw that Janet brought fritters.


Karnold said...

Thanks for the great post on motivation. While writing my current M/S I realized about halfway through that I hadn't given enough information on my hero's motivation. So, I had to go back and really give some thought to why he made the choices he made. Once I went back and fleshed out his motivations it brought new depth to that character.

Nicola said...

Hi Cara

GMC is a great book and thanks for your reminder about the importance of strong motivation for characters. You're right, it's not just enough to have motivation, it needs to be compelling enough that a character would take risks to obtain their goal.

I think your debut novel sounds great and Lilly sounds like a good-hearted heroine we can root for!

Nicola x

Lindsey said...

I'm fixing to head off to work, but I thought I would drop by seekerville, and say hello to everyone!:) And I have to say wow! I loved the post it was so helpful Thank you!
And your book sounds amazing, I love the cover would you please add me to win Thanks!

Lindsey said...

Oh forgot me email

Cara Lynn James said...

Good morning! I'm getting a late start this morning. I decided to write about motivation because it was so important to my editor and therefore, so important to me! It surprised me how in a phone call we dug deeper together until Lilly had a really, really good reason for her goal. But since she, like all characters, had to overcome a lot of difficult obstacles, I could see the point. If her motivation was too weak, she'd logically give up before the end of the book. And we couldn't have that!

Also, I thinking for a character like Lilly who is caught in an awful situation she can't push her way out of, motivation is crucial. Because of her circumstances she's not as pro-active as some heroines, she needs a strong reason not to cave in.

Stephanie Newton said...

Great article, Cara! I'm going back to my current ms as we speak to search for missing motivation...

Your book is BEAUTIFUL--I'm so excited for you!

Apple fritters, Janet? Those are my favorite!


Julie Lessman said...

Okay, all right, enough all ready, Cara! You convinced me -- I'LL DO THE BLASTED CHARTS!!! (Although this is akin to blasphemy for we seat-of-the-pantsters!).

It just so happens that I am brainstorming my next 3-book series today, and for the first time in my life (did you see the blue moon last night??), I am going to chart GMC!! WHOA ... I just got a chill. What's THAT all about???

Lily's motivation was wonderful and very strong and SO very believable, which I totally agree with you, MUST be the case! And you, my friend, did a marvelous job with that, as some lucky winner is about to find out.

Great post, really, sweetie, even though I'm dragging my feet on the chart ... :)


mary bailey said...

Lilly sounds like a character after my own heart! She loves to write and she has a target audience who she really cares for. I love the fact that dime novels are considered scandalous in her circle---I'll bet there are characters who condemn them without ever having read one.

I would *love* a chance to win "Love on a Dime". Thanks for the chance and for the quick study in GMC!


Kav said...

Oh, Cara -- 'Love on a Dime' was a fantastic read. I LOVED it!!! And Lilly's motivation to keep writing and hiding was totally believable...sometimes annoyingly so because I just wanted to smack her over the head and yell "Tell Jack, already!!!!" But she didn't listen to me which is just as well or the book would have been over before it had barely begun. :-)

I also think there was a bit of a rebellious streak in Lilly. On the surface she appeared to be the perfect lady -- diligent daughter, all about doing what was best for her family even though she had to hide a key part of herself from them. Her loyalty was tremendous! But she couldn't supress the real Lilly completely and I think that motivated her to start writing those dime novels in the first place. (that's just a reader's take on motivation)

And loved the whole stigma of the dime novel angle. I could parallel it to current debates about the value of romance fiction as a legitimate literary genre. Kudos to you for being so innovative.

Regina Merrick said...

Quick comment before I head to work! (great fritters, by the way!)

OK, who's been reading over my shoulder? One of the biggest criticisms I had on my Genesis entry (and maybe it wasn't really the biggest, but stuck out to ME!), was lack of motivation in my main character! I know. I'm a SOTP person who has trouble with detailed synopsis, but I have filled out character sheets. I'm thinking now may be the time to start thinking about GMC charts...will that get me kicked out of the SOTP club? Eeeeek!

I've wanted to read "Love on a Dime," so please enter me in the drawing!

Jessica Nelson said...

I love your premise! Please enter me! jessica_nelson7590 at yahoo dot com

Motivation is something I struggle with. I think I need to really strengthen it in a certain one of my stories. Thanks for the reminder, and congrats again on the sale! Love your cover. :-)

Courtney said...

Good post. I'm reading a book that came out this month, CROSSING OCEANS, and the main character's goal and motivation is VERY strong. This book has made me cry, and that just does not happen often. I recommend it!


Melanie Dickerson said...

Cara said: Money is usually the reason for most people to work, but for authors, maybe not so much.

Oh, Cara, truer words, perhaps, have never been spoken--or written in a blog. Pardon me while I wipe the tears from my eyes, I was laughing so hard. ;-)

Good point about motivation. There is so much to learn about writing novels, is there not? Get motivation right and you will clinch the believability factor.

And I would love to read your debut novel! Please put me in the drawing. melaniedickerson at knology dot net

Patty said...

Cara, great post! And I love the cover of your book! It's on my to-be-bought list.

Tina Pinson said...

And for years I thought GMC meant a truck company and u was fine putting my characters in Chevys. So are you saying my characters are supposed to have reason for what they do? Amazing, my bubble has burst.

I have tried feeling out those charts, I'm getting better, but they still fry my poor brain

That could just be the highdesert sun among other things.

Great post, Cara. Love the look and sound of your book.

Cara Lynn James said...

We try to make our story people seem real to our readers. But it took me a while to learn that we also have to remember that they're not. We mold them and shape them into the character we need and want. They're more heroic than the average, real-life person and they have stronger passions. Their stories are bigger-than-life so they have to be too. And I think that means their GMC has to be really strong and maybe a bit over-the-top.

Keli Gwyn said...

Cara, thanks for the great post. I love how you kept going deeper until you found the underlying reasons why Lilly writes, reasons compelling enough to make her pursue a career at a time when few women worked, especially a career that could damage her reputation. I'm eager to read Love on a Dime. It sounds like a great story.

So, what are your deeper reasons for writing, Cara? Care to share?

Lyn Cote said...

I can't recall who said this but it is true. An author's characters can do anything with the right motivation. So many times story is weak because the author hasn't worked on motivation. Just 'cause is never enough as you found out, Cara Lynn!

Cara Lynn James said...

Lyn, I think it was Deb Dixon who said a character can do anything if the motivation is strong enough. The character must be convinced. I'm not sure that is always true in inspirationals though. Breaking certain rules probably wouldn't be acceptable to Christian readers even with really strong motivation. Editors frown upon Christian characters lying etc. even if their reason is strong. Any thoughts on that?

Rose said...


I just love the entire story premise of your book. Can't wait to read it.

Maybe motivation is hard for writer's to give their characters because in real life motivation is also hard. Think of trying to get into an exercise routine, or diet or write a book...after the initial excitement wears off, it's hard to stay motivated toward your goal.

Just my thoughts.

RRossZediker at yahoo dot com

KAT said...

This is my first visit, found this blog by 'chance'. I admire you all much!
Writing fiction scares me! I have had a story line for a book for years and I have not written the first line. Developing the characters, making them live, intimidates me so much. So glad to see so many of you are succeeding! This is GREAT!

I'd love to receive Love On A Dime!

Holy hugs, Kat...

Anonymous said...

thanks for the chance to read your fabulous novel :)

kmkuka at yahoo dot com

Vince said...

Hi Cara:

Lilly in Love on a Dime would have been about the same age as Beatrix Potter who also came from a high class family. Her family didn’t think she should be writing and they were against her marrying a common person (anyone who worked for a living). She ultimately used most of her "Peter Rabbit" money for charitable purposes.

Did you have Beatrix Potter in mind when you wrote the story?

If you have not seen the movie Miss Potter, I think you are in for a real treat. I bought the movie. It’s beautiful to watch.


P.S. Have you thought of having a PR photo taken of yourself holding Love on a Dime in the same pose as Lilly on the cover of your book?

Angela Bell said...

Great post. I'd love to read your book. It sounds awesome!!! :)


Susan Anne Mason said...


This is a great post. I love Deb Dixon's book - it really helped me when I first started out. In fact, going to an all day conference in Toronto to hear Deb Dixon was the first 'writerly' thing I ever did and boy, was it life-changing. She is so charming with her southern accent, and funny, too! I really recommend her book -and it's easy to read with examples we can all relate to.

And Julie, don't despair. Her charts are very easy to do! You'll have no problem.

Can't wait to read your book, Cara. Thanks for the opportunity to perhaps win a copy. If not, I'll have to find it somewhere!

Have a great day everyone!

sbmason (at) sympatico (dot) ca

Virginia said...

I heard this was a really good book and I can't wait to read it!


Pam Hillman said...

Thanks for shining the spotlight on motivation, Cara.

Just recently I was listening to a workshop about this very thing. I think it was Rachel Hauck and Susie Warren at one of the ACFW conferences.

Rachel said that anything is believable if given proper motivation. I'm paraphrasing, but that's the gist of it.

And you did a great job with Lilly. She's committed to helping the Settlement House, and it's a totally worthy cause.

Hat's off to you!

Walt M said...

Einstein's bagels? I knew I went somewhere this morning, but couldn't remember where.

If not for the money, then writers must write for the great health care benefits.

I write because it fits that internal affiliation I have with Don Quixote.


Myra Johnson said...

This is so right on, Cara! When I was working with Barbara Scott on the edits for One Imperfect Christmas, she told me I needed stronger motivation for my heroine's guilt about not being there when her mother had the stroke. Digging deeper into past events and their impact on the characters made a HUGE difference.

Oh, and confession time--

Before I knew anything about your story other than the title, Cara, I imagined it was about a couple falling in love over the telephone. You know, pay phones, a dime a phone call . . .


Cara Lynn James said...

Vince, I loved the movie about Beatrix Potter, but I didn't see it until after I wrote Love on a Dime. I think I'll let the cover model stay as she is and not try to imitate her. I'm quite a few years past the cover model stage--not that I was ever there to begin with!

Carrie Turansky said...

I appreciated these thoughts about the importance of believable motivations for our characters, Thanks, Cara!

carrie (at) turansky (dot) com

Mary Connealy said...

Hi, sorry to be awol today.
I've been cleaning.


How does a woman let her home get so messy? God have mercy.

Mary Connealy said...

I've just finished Love on a Dime. Such a great read, Cara.

Can't wait for more.

Anonymous said...

I would love to win a copy of your the cover, and it sounds like a great read!

Eva Maria Hamilton said...

Everyone who has read this book has so many great things to say about it! Please enter me into the contest. I would love a chance to see strong character motivation in action.

EvaMariaHamilton at gamil dot com

Cara Lynn James said...

Keli, you asked me about the reasons why I write. Hmm, the obvious one is that I feel compelled to write. My mind 'writes'--I think up scenes, situations, characters, ways to describe things etc. I do this without meaning to. It just happens. And I think a lot of other writers think this way as well.

Writing is also a way of talking about how I feel about the Lord. My theme (whether it comes across or not) is that faith has to be lived, not just talked about. Talk is cheap and quoting the Bible without living the verses is empty and that's misusing them.
I think that's so important. But the great thing is most (nearly all!) of the Christians I know also 'walk the walk.' Does this make sense?

Keli Gwyn said...

Cara, I hear you on being compelled to write. If I didn't write, I don't know what I'd do with all those voices in my head. :-)

I like your goal to show characters walking their talk. Letting readers see faith in action is a great reason to write. How characters deal with the tough stuff we throw at them in light of their faith can be an example to readers, one that is presented in an easy-to-digest entertaining format.

Lori Benton said...

Excellent post! It makes me rethink my characters' motivations. There always seems to be deeper layers to reach if I dig deep enough, and I find it so cool that the seeds of stronger motivations are often there in the story when I do get to digging, I just hadn't looked at them from the right angle before.

Jennifer said...

Great post! GMC was so confusing for me in the beginning. Just when I would think I had it all figured out, I realized I had to dig deeper.

I've had to pass on some pretty great ideas (according to me :)) because the motivation didn't fit with the goal.

Congrats on your debut novel. I can't wait to read it! I can't pass on a matter how much I smack my hand and tell myslef "no"

Cheryl Wyatt said...

Excellent post on motivation, Cara! Very motivational, too!

I am so excited about your release, Cara, and just know the world will love it!


Leigh said...

Great post, Cara -- thanks for the reminder to pay closer attention to motivation. I do OK with the beginning point/surface level motivations, but need to work at taking them deeper.

Love on a Dime sounds great! I would love the chance to win a copy (leigh at leighdelozier dot com).

And, Janet, I love the name Callie in your next release -- same as our daughter's, who was named for her g-grandmother. :-)

Cindy W. said...

What a great post with wonderful information. I can use all the help I can get with my characters. Thank you.

Cindy W.


Helen Gray said...


I've already won your book. Now I'm having the pleasure of reading it. I'm about half through and enjoying it.

My current WIP is nearing the finish. When I go back to implement the layering process Renee Ryan outlned, I'll pay special attention to motivation.


Katy said...

What a wonderful character. :) Her motivations are admirable and attractive.


Karen Witemeyer said...

Love on a Dime has such a GORGEOUS cover! I love it. I'd want a chance to win one just based on the cover alone.

I love the way you described deepening Lilly's motivations. You are so right. We have to keep those motivations strong and believeable. Great advice!


Julia M. Reffner said...

I'm really enjoying your posts on GMC, its been really helpful to put into perspective for my writing.

I would love to read Love on a Dime. Please enter me.


Carman said...

I *love* that you seem to so thoroughly understand motivation. I hate when characters do seemingly random things, or say/respond in a random way. (Unless its just a funny random-ness.) Your book sounds amazing!


Pat Jeanne Davis said...

Thanks, Cara, for this helpful post on discovering our character's motivations. I've been trying to do just that in my current WIP. Would love to win a copy of Love on A Dime. Congratulations on its release.

KC Frantzen said...


This is a post that makes you think of all the little things to add flavor along the way.

I thought I had enough motivation but after re-reading these and other posts on GMC, I'd best return (again) to the WIP and read for these nuances.

Thanks to Seekers for keeping us on our proverbial writing toes.

Pace has been fast. Not able to visit until today but the advice is still fresh, even if there are only crumbs remaining from the repast.

may at maythek9spy dot com