Monday, May 24, 2010

Story is Conflict

Story is Conflict.
But to get to Conflict, our characters must have Goals and Motivation. So even though you might be sick and tired of hearing about GMC, we’re going to talk about it again today.
I can’t count the times I’ve heard editors or agents say one of the main reasons they reject manuscripts is that there is no conflict, or not enough conflict to carry a 70k, 80k, or 90k word book.
What is conflict?
. says: to come into collision or disagreement; be contradictory, at variance, or in opposition; clash.
Hmmm, well, that sums it up nicely, doesn’t it? If our characters are in opposition, or they clash, then we’ve got a story!
Oh, before I go any further, here’s our exercise for the day. I’m paraphrasing because I can’t find the original statement in Debra Dixon’s GMC book.
[Character (descriptive adjective and noun)] wants GOAL, because of MOTIVATION, but can’t have it because of CONFLICT.
For instance, in The Proposal, the initial GMC for Margaret might be:
Goal: A publishing executive wants to stay in the USA
Motivation: to keep her high-powered job,
Conflict: but her VISA is expired.
The above GMC is the very first GMC we see for Margaret. Margaret’s GMC changes almost scene by scene, or at least as each act progresses, and your characters’ GMC will as well. In The Proposal, Margaret’s GMC changes very quickly:
Goal: A publishing executive wants to marry her assistant
Motivation: to avoid deportation to Canada,
Conflict: but her assistant can’t stand her.
Now, it’s your turn. Take this statement, and flesh it out to see if you can determine your character’s initial GMC.
[Character (descriptive adjective and noun)] wants GOAL, because of MOTIVATION, but can’t have it because of CONFLICT.
Have fun with it! Your GMC might not be exactly what you want the first time, but keep working on it. And, maybe if you’re stuck in the middle of your wip, you can use GMC to determine what the next turning point might be.
And if you're feeling especially creative today, give us the initial GMC for your protagonist and your antagonist when you comment.
For more about Goals, Motivation and Conflict, re-read these posts in Seekerville by Cheryl, Missy, and Pam.
Missy Tippens: Sharing My GMC Chart. Have You Done Yours? This is a more in-depth look at GMC from Missy. Instead of re-inventing the wheel, I'll just point you to Missy's post if you need more details on GMC.
Cheryl Wyatt: LocoMOTIVATION Station And Cheryl takes us more into the Motivation part of GMC.
Pam Hillman: Two Dogs. One Bone. This post helps you think about giving your main characters opposing Goals.
More about GMC can be found in Debra Dixon’s book, Goal, Motivation & Conflict. Copies can be purchased from Gryphon Press.


Iapetus999 said...

GMC isn't enough.
Something has to happen as a result. I can argue with my wife for hours but it wouldn't make good fiction. Conflicting goals with motivation.
That's the nice thing about arguing. Nothing has to happen. You just express your feelings and move on.
Not in fiction.
Fiction requires that conflict has a point and a resolution (that usually leads to more conflict).
So maybe consider adding another 'C': Change.

KC Frantzen said...

Good morning (?) everyone ~

Since it's really early, I'll set out a bowl of strawberries and some Sleepytime tea until things can get going for real.

Princess (an intelligent, fiesty Schnauzer) wants freedom because she is abused, but can’t have it because she is forced to live in a cage.

Not sure that's it but... there is the first stab at it.

KC Frantzen said...

And not to worry, I can use this lesson. Thank you for it!

Tina Russo Radcliffe said...

Goal, Motivation and Conflict.

Yes. I agree Andrew. Michael Hauge says you have to have visible goals and Ms. Dixon adds urgency to the mix.

But did anyone make coffee?

Lisa Jordan said...

Here's my current WIP GMC, but I extended it a little further:

A compassionate barista WANTS to increase incoming revenue in her coffee shop to repay her father for his startup loan BECAUSE she doesn't want to be considered unreliable like her mother who walked out on the family twenty years go, BUT hiring unemployed Nick forces her to face past mistakes, especially when she learns he is her daughter's uncle.

Unemployed English professor WANTS a teaching position in Shelby Lake BECAUSE he needs a fresh start after a recent termination and needs to help support his mother and brother BUT teaching day classes in a coffee shop isn't what he had in mind, especially after learning the pretty barista's relationship with his family.

Tina Russo Radcliffe said...

Sounds like a fun story, Lisa.

But playing the devil's advocate...what keeps the compassionate barista from accomplishing her goals? And what is going to keep us turning the pages..what is the urgency to the story?

Julie Lessman said...

Oh, Pammy, this blog has come at the right time for me -- THANK YOU!!

I am in the process of brainstorming for my next 3-book series, which will be totally new and totally O'Connorless, so for the first time in my life, I am thinking GMC, and I have to admit, as a seat-of-the-pants writer, I'm not very good at it. BUT ... I am printing off yours and the other Seeker blogs to get me started, so thank you again!


Pam Hillman said...

Good morning all!

Coffee, tea, orange juice, and an assortment of muffins from The Beagle Bagle Cafe are on the sideboard.

Andrew, you're right. Conflict does have a point and a resolution, in life as well as fiction.

In life, if we argue with our spouse and nothing happens, nobody (outside of the family) need know or care.

But in fiction, it's a different story indeed. Easily resolved conflict can't be the basis for an entire novel.

KC, your GMC for Princess works for me. I already want to know how she gets away!

Pam Hillman said...

Keep the show on the road, friends. I'm headed to work and will catch up with y'all later!

Have a great day chatting.

KC Frantzen said...

Time warp alert. Need a smile Monday morning? Book Signings was a topic last week I think but another author bud, Karen Hancock linked this on her blog today.

(He needs a dose of Mary when she's well. Mary are you well yet?)

Mary Connealy said...

I am reading Love on a Dime right now, by our very own Cara Lynn James and just last night she WAY upped the trouble she was causing.

All I could think was
2) Good for you Cara



Mary Connealy said...

And no, I am NOT well.

Thank you for asking.

Janet Dean said...

Great post, Pam!! Since GMC can be boiled down into one sentence it seems deceptively simple, but making it work in our stories is much harder.

The POV character must have a goal for each scene that fits within his main story goal. He will either get his goal by the end of the scene or not, but whatever happens, things must get worse. That forces the character to re-evaluate or tweak his goal and try again, maybe coming at it from a different angle, while the fallout from the previous scene raises the stakes and escalates the conflict between the characters. Add a ticking clock and you’ve got a nail biter.

As you say, Andrew, GMC when done right requires change. That change is often in the form of action that builds conflict. Not argument.


Ruth Logan Herne said...

I wouldn't have asked, Connealy.

I'd have patently ignored you while you snuffle and whine in the corner.

And geez, louise, get away from the food!

Oh, mylanta....

I love conflict. I'm Irish. We thrive on it. On causing it, then...

Making up afterwards. And no, I WILL NOT elaborate.

Fill in the blanks yourself.

Andrew, yeah, gotta have an action/reaction scenario, totally. Domino-theory. If P, then Q...

Removing the science and math applications of action makes it stagnate. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, so I plug that into characters' emotions. Instead of worrying about WHAT they do, I worry about how what they do makes the people around them FEEL...

And that way we totally smoke emotion, page to page.

Gotta take my sweet baby charges outside before the sun goes to 'shake and bake' status. We're learning how to make goat's milk yogurt in the sun, how heat induces physical property changes.

Who says pre-schoolers aren't founts of knowledge????

I'm leaving snickerdoodles, fresh this morning. I baked before it got hot. Oh my stars, I love spring!!!

And summer.

And fall...

And winter until the end of January.

Mary Connealy said...

I am
So sick
I could contaminate you
Through the computer

I'm not sure, but that might be a haiku.

You're welcome.

Mary Connealy said...

Goat milk yogurt in the sun

With preschoolers?

You go ahead

I'll save time and just call 911 now

Myra Johnson said...

Good post, Pam! Thinking about my characters' GMC always gives me a headache. That said, it's absolutely vital so I make myself do it anyway because otherwise the story will have no momentum, and no reason for the reader to care.

Somewhere along this writing journey I learned that the central character in an inspirational novel will actually have three separate GMCs--external, internal, and spiritual.

The external, of course, encompasses the physical situation. The internal is how the character needs to change (even though she may not even realize it). The spiritual is how the character needs to grow in her relationship with God.

It's gonna be a hot one here in the Midwest, so I brought a pitcher of mocha Frappuccinos. Enjoy!

Vince said...

I am studying Michael Hauge, again, right now and he talks about CDC. Charcter, Desire, Conflict. This may seem just like GMC but thinking in terms of CDC can produce different ideas in your mind.

Are all desires goals? Does a desire automatically incorporate both the motivation and goal in one? What difference does this difference make?

There must be at least ten versions of GMC and CDC. (James Bell Scott has an interesting four letter version that I can’t remember right now.)

How about making a list of all the variations and then thinking each one through at the start of each story as an idea generator?

Also as devil's advocate I think all this talk about GMC is highly overrated and can take the author’s eye off the ball. GMC is just the skeleton. It’s what is on the skeleton that makes the difference. (Unless the skeleton is broken.)

A real test of your writing is how interesting it reads without the conflict. If your writing is only interesting because of the conflict, then it has no soul.

My golden rule is this: first make your writing so interesting it does not need conflict and then add conflict to taste.

If this be heresy, so be it.


Vince said...

Sorry: that’s James Scott Bell. I think each of his names can be both a first and last name.


Pepper Basham said...

Great reminder, Pam. I need to up the conflict in one of my ms.
Maybe I should do what Mary does.
shoot, kill, or kidnap somebody ;-)
Daggone it, it's not that type of story.

BUT, I think sometimes I'm just not mean enough to my characters..and I need to be. sigh.

I think my 'conflict' is improving each novel, allowing my inner vixen a bit more breathing space. LOL
I'll apologize to the characters in the last chapter - how's that? ;-)

Lyn Cote said...

I have learned from Deb Dixon's GMC, but I learned more from Kathy Jacobson's CONFLICT GRID which goes over 5 different areas of conflict between the hero and heroine and helps me launch my plot and discover my theme. I was supposed to do a workshop on this at RWA this summer, but now that it's in Orlando, I had to decline.
I am going to be teaching a class online this Sept if any of you are interested, drop me a note l(dot)cote(at)juno(dot)com

Kathy Jacobson developed a complete genre writing course in the 1990's. I'm just sorry that more people don't know about her wonderful course.

It helped make me the writer I am. Kathy has moved on to being a life coach. But she lets me teach her grid which is my basic planning a proposal tool.

Sorry to wax excited!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Wow, thanks, Pam! This is an excellent reminder for me to keep the conflict strong between my H/H. And it's a good reminder that the GMC can change as often as you want it to--or as often as the story demands. Great post!

I guess I could put mine up. Here goes.
An orphaned scullery maid wants to marry the huntsman to escape from the abusive Duchess, but the huntsman has no intention of marrying her.

And the hero:
A betrothed duke's son wants to rescue the abused step-daughter of a duchess, but she doesn't believe she is who he says she is.

Mary Connealy said...

Pepper, I will grant you that shooting someone works a lot better in a western.

Pepper Basham said...

Aww gee, not in my romantic comedy. Sigh.
How about on the Lusitania. The ship's sinking anyway.
WWI is going on. I should be able to get in a shootin' somewhere in there.

Wow, that sounds violent.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Great post Pam. I'm working on my wip so needed the reminder to show conflict in every scene.

Reading Wildflower Bride. Lots of conflict there. Mary does a great job.

Can hardly wait to get to Cara's Love on a Dime. Its next on the pile to be read. HOORAY.

Pam. Yours will be on that pile soon. And me too. Hugs

Kav said...

Once again I am humbled by how much y'all know and how little I do. LOL. I had real difficulty trying to come up with a statement for my WIP however, I thought of a number of good future ones quite easily. Sigh.

Myra's statement helped about there being three separate GMCs--external, internal, and spiritual. I'm going to work on that.

Oh -- and I love Vince's golden rule. There are some writers out there who could make the phonebook tantalizing. :-)

Vince said...

Hi Pam:

The system that James Scott Bell uses is like GMC but he adds a K which I think is important to think about at the very start of a novel.

Below is Mr. Bell’s word aid:


L is for Lead = start story with an interesting Lead character.
O is for Objective = Objective is the driving force of fiction.
C is for Confrontation = Confrontation is opposition from characters and outside forces
K is for Knockout = the ending must have knockout power.

James Scott Bell points out that people watch prize fights to see knockouts. Conflict captures interest; a knockout may sell your next book (even books from your backlist.)

I’ll be in Mr. Bell’s class next month and I promise to be conversant with “Plot & Structure” by then.


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Violence creates drama.

So does sex.

So does desire in any way, shape or form, good and bad, illicit and natural.

Vince, I love the way you put it. The soul of the work sans the conflict, and I think so much of that comes down to characterization and emotion.

Vince, one day you and I will have coffee. You'll sound informed and erudite. I'll sound slightly goofy and sophomoric. But we'll enjoy that coffee/tea/whatever!!! ;)

Tipping a Ruthy hat your way...(that's euphemistic. I'm not really wearing a hat.)

Pam Hillman said...

Mary, what page are you on in Love on a Dime? You're probably further along than I am though, but I'm reading some awesome twists and turns in Cara's book!

Pam Hillman said...

Janet, thanks for adding some details for GMC.

You know, thinking about The Proposal, you would think that when Margaret...uh...blackmails... Andrew into agreeing to marry her, that everything is going to be tied up in a neat white wedding bow...

but that's just the beginning of their troubles because Andrew creates some conflict of his own.

I might have to watch that again just to see where the GMC's change!

Pam Hillman said...

Go back and read Ruthy's comment that she posted at 10:35 AM.


"Instead of worrying about WHAT they do, I worry about how what they do makes the people around them FEEL..."

A few months ago Ruthy explained this technique to me, and I've made a point to utilize it ever since.

When I finish a scene, I insert one of those COOL comments that asks "How does he FEEL?" and "How does she FEEL?"

It really helps determine what the next scene. I highly recommend it.

Pam Hillman said...

Vince said: "My golden rule is this: first make your writing so interesting it does not need conflict and then add conflict to taste."

This sounds wonderful in theory, but my next question would be....

Show me a published book that does not have conflict, but is the most interesting thing you have ever read.

Now, mind you, I might not actually go out and buy it because my TBR pile is a mile high already.

But I would be interested in knowing if this is something that can be done.

On the flip side of this, Vince, you're not saying to try to publish the book without conflict, but to write it without conflict, then add it.

Shucks, I have enough trouble adding in scents, and smells, let alone conflict!


Pam Hillman said...

Pepper, I think I'm becoming de-sensitized to making my characters suffer too.

And this is a GOOD thing?

I'm told it is so in fiction! lol

Pam Hillman said...

Lyn C, thanks for sharing! Kathy's Conflict Grid sounds like an excellent resource.

Pam Hillman said...

BTW, I know I'm posting back-to-back posts, but I just got off work, and since I'm the hostess for the day, decided to catch up...

Melanie, the only thing that confused me about your GMC was the fact that the scullery maid wants to marry the huntsman, but the hero is the duke's son. Are they one and the same? Or does her romantic interest change to the duke's son at a later time in the story?

Pam Hillman said...

Vince, thanks for sharing Jim's LOCK system. I have the book and have studied it, but not nearly enough.

Like you said, all of these systems are similar, but use different acronyms to explain them.

The lightbulb comes on with some explanations, and not with others, though.

Like I said, Ruthy's FEELINGS explanation works wonders! lol

Ruthy, do you think you could turn that simple comment into a writing book?

Melanie Dickerson said...

Sorry, Pam. I was afraid my hero's GMC didn't make sense. But the hero is the duke's son, and the huntsman is a guy who's sort of one of the villains, but I may redeem him later. Not sure. Or I might just kill him off. He's in cahoots with the evil duchess.

Cara Lynn James said...

Hi everyone! I'm late as usual. I was doing line edits all day and my brain is fried.

Wonderful post, Pam. I was just rereading Deb Dixon's GMC today. I couldn't write a book without using it because I'd wander all over the place.

Mary, I hope you're better soon. And thanks for the plug for Love on a Dime.

Pepper Basham said...

Okay Pam,
I'm gonna give this GMC thing a go.

Wishing to escape her painful past in Appalachia with an alcoholic mother, a new speech-pathology professor hopes to work her way out of a small satellite university by helping a cattle farmer polish his speech and manners for a job interview with a top agricultural firm in Chicago.

A cattle farmer in rural Virginia must snag a consultant job for a Chicago firm to save his family’s farm, but his country ways and thick dialect might cost him the opportunity. And after the infidelity of his now-deceased wife, he can’t trust the pretty professor to transform anything else but his accent.

(it's a modern-day twist on My Fair Lady)

Missy Tippens said...

Excellent post, Pam! And something I have to remind myself of constantly. I always do a GMC chart before writing. And I add in more using Carolyn Greene's Magic Conflict Chart.

Also, on my last book, I read through the book Lyn mentioned (I had heard her mention it on a loop and bought it in PDF format from the author). It was a big help!

Plus, I did a chart from the Moral Premise! Man, I'm a chart-a-holic! LOL

Ruth Logan Herne said...





Ruth Logan Herne said...

Ruthy is still having a hard time believing people READ books about WRITING...

Get on with it, for heaven's sake.


I can promise you that there are no writing books taking up valuable enjoyable TBR space in Ruthy's house.

Scout's Honor.

And I'll share my Caramel Delites with EVERYONE!

Melanie Dickerson said...

I'm with you, Ruthy. Just opening a book on writing makes me yawn, and actually reading a few pages puts me out. O-U-T, out. And sitting in on writing workshops? Let's just say, that's not why I go to conference!

It's a terrible thing to confess, but alas, it's true. And charts? Spreadsheets? I'm getting hives just typing out those words. I can only take craft medicine if it's doled out in small doses, like these posts on Seekerville.

That's just the way I am. I've accepted that about myself.

Blogger hates me today. It keeps making me type in my information over and over.

Cheryl Wyatt said...

Missy, you are so good at explaining GMC. I use it in my books and it works for me. Thanks for the review.



Ruth Logan Herne said...

Did Cheryl just thank Missy for the post???

Oh, I wish I was a little mouse in the room when she realizes that.

Yeah, um...

THANKS, MISSY!!!! (just adding my thanks to Cheryl's.)

Oh, mylanta.

Hugs to you, Squirl. You sweet, somewhat confused but very talented woman, you.

How's the weather in Atlanta, honey?

Pepper Basham said...

Are you on a roll or what?
What kind of chocolate did you have after supper? LOL

Debby Giusti said...

I can never get enough GMC!!! Great post.


Pam Hillman said...

I've been AWOL for several hours....


Can you believe it???

Actually, the ONLY reason I cleaned was to try to find a spot (a tiny little spot) in the house to move the elliptical inside. It's in the "play room" in the garage and there is no air conditioning, and it's getting way too hot to work out out there.

So, instead of working out tonight, I did a little cleaning in my horribly un-clean house.

Btw, there's something wrong with a woman who exercises 1 1/2 hours a day but you can write your name in the dust on her furniture...


Pam Hillman said...

Pepper, I like your GMC's for your farmer and your speech therapist.

Good job.

Vince said...

Hi Pam:

It’s late and I’d like more time but I am reading a book right now that totally holds my interest and would do so even without the little conflict it has.

The book is “A Wedding at Leopard Tree Lodge” by Liz Fielding. It is part of the “Escape Around the World” series and is a Harlequin Romance, March 2010.

If you’ve ever dreamt of going to Africa, of seeing Victoria Falls, of living in a Tree House Hut and seeing wild animals all around you, day and night, then this book will give you that experience.

The heroine, Josie, has to plan a wedding at the last moment in the African bush. It is the wedding of the season. The bride and groom are thinly disguised David Beckman and Victoria. All the glitterati will be there. Part of the conflict is if she can meet the deadline. No big deal.

One night after a hard day's work the heroine walks back to her hut:

“It was empty now. Everyone had moved on to the open pit in the boma, the candles had been extinguished and there was only the low level glow of the safety lighting.

As she fetched her boxes from the storeroom she could hear bursts of laughter as they drank their nightcaps and told tall stories in a wide range of accents. People had come from all over the world to stay here, experience this. By the morning they’d all have moved on to other camps, other sights. Crossing the desert, taking in the Victoria Falls, going into the mist to find the gorillas.”


The hero, Gideon, insists she take a break early one morning and go with him on a small boat down the river. She does not want to go but does anyway.

“There’s a heron.”

"A tall white bird looked up as they passed, but didn’t move. Deer of all shapes and sizes, zebra, giraffe had come to the water to drink.
"Gideon named them all for her. Shaggy waterbuck, tiny dik dik, skittish gazelles. Pointed out birds that she would never have seen. Identified a vivid flash of green as a Malachite Kingfisher.

"Before she knew it, Josie was leaning forward, her hand on his shoulder, eager to catch everything. The zebra lined up as if waiting to be photographed, as if you could capture this in a picture. It wasn’t just the sight of animals in the wild; it was the scent of the river, the strident song of the cicadas, the grunts and snorts, the splash of an elephant family having an early morning bathe. The sun bursting above the horizon like the first dawn.
And Gideon.

"He’d given her this and, as they drifted back towards the jetty, she laid her check against his back. Said, ‘Thank you."

The whole book is like this. You’ll love the description of the surprise plane visit to Victoria Falls and having lunch in the mists.

The point is: I enjoyed reading every page of this book. I didn’t care about the conflict. There is a little conflict in the book but this book is what I call: ‘wonderful-experience’ driven. It is totally interesting.

The better you can write, the less need there is for conflict. You don’t need any conflict in beautifully written poetic erotica. You don’t need conflict in many other types of interesting passages. Conflict is designed to get you to the end of the story quickly. But a great story, a great reading experience, is about the voyage not the destination.

Just about everyone here is a writer. Have you ever considered how insulting it is to a reader to read about how important conflict is? How if I reader isn’t hooked by the first page, he is lost. His attention span is so short, so narrow, that without an ever increasing tension level, he would not be able to keep his eyes open or ever finish a book.

Now by definition you need conflict in a suspense novel. That’s fine. But if your writing is interesting enough, if it is rewarding the reader for his efforts, then people are going to read it.

There are many Liz Fieldings but I don't think they go to writing workshops! :)


Ruth Logan Herne said...

You know, Vince, it's kind of cool that Harlequin is going a little out of their comfort zone to do that kind of a series.

I love that they're doing it. They've tried to break the mold various times, but the tried and true bills-paying backbone is romance and that has certain dynamics, BUT...

They put out a bunch of sweet Everlasting Love books. Some fun (and some not so fun) "Next" books. The longer Steeple Hill Women's Fiction line... The snazzy chick lit lines...

So it's very cool that they're slipping in some slightly different styles in the line-up. Like you, I love the weave. Which doesn't make the traditional way wrong by any means, but it's kind of fun to go outside the box now and again.

Good for them to STRETCH and put money behind this kind of project. That speaks well of the whole organization.