Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Cate's Favorite Craft Books - GMC by Debra Dixon

 Before I begin, a caveat - I can't say GMC by Deb Dixon is one of my favorite craft books (for reasons which I will explain), but there's no doubt it's an important and beneficial one.

You see in many ways I could be that cautionary tale veteran writers could use to terrify newbies. Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, when I first began to write, I had no idea that there was such a thing as structure or that stories followed any prescribed formula. 

I should amend that comment. I was not consciously aware of it. But because I was an avid reader, and had been for my entire life, I had a somewhat intuitive sense of story structure even if I didn't know that's what it was.

So, picture my happily writing away without a care in the real world, lost in my own wonderful story world. But then I took a break from writing for a while - children, work, grad school, there just weren't enough hours in the day to make it all work, and writing took the back seat. 

Cue the violin music.

No, seriously, the reason I'm explaining that is because I so very clearly remember coming back from my self-imposed writing exile to attend a writer's conference. And I remember being confused because of all the buzzwords I was hearing - and the buzzword that was on everyone's lips was GMC.

GMC. I had no idea what they were talking about. It was like everyone else was speaking a different language.

Finally, some kind soul clued me in to Debra Dixon's book (which had been published while I was off on writing hiatus).

I read it. I saw it's value (which it clearly had since everyone was talking about it!), and I ignored it.

I didn't want to write conflict. 

I liked happy stories.

I didn't want to make them be mad at each other.

Are you laughing at me yet?

I'm going to use a photo of the back cover, because I think this shows why the book is so important.

GMC is apparently also a really popular topic here on Seekerville.

If you're interested in looking more into it. check out some of these posts:

Mindy's Engaging Openings

Missy had one in the Archives - Battling Through Your Manuscript...Once Scene at a Time

(Note: Missy really gave a detailed explanation of how she uses a GMC chart.)

Then there are all these GMC posts in the Seekerville archives!

So tell me, are you a GMC chart maker? How do you handle planning the goals motivations and conflict for your characters.


  1. Hi Cate:

    I am a big fan of GMC. It is short, to the point, and memorable. I do make charts. I like the idea of having both an internal and external GMC for each important character. I want there to be growth and I also want small victories along the way. I dislike a story that is just one conflict after another until the hero/heroine wins in the end. To me, that's like getting a neighbor's attention with a siren going off and getting louder and louder each hour for days until it stops and there is peace. That's just annoying.

    The story needs areas to regroup, time to stop and smell the roses, and time for small victories. In fact, I like to have a victory change the situation making the goal achieved but in reality making the bigger situation even worse. Thus there will be a second GMC to deal with. This goes along with the saying, "Be careful what you pray for, you might get it." This works very well when the change has a foundation but the reader and the hero/heroine never saw it coming.

    I also think each scene in the book should also have its own GMC. No scene should be pointless or just be there to meet a page requirement. I also like James Patterson's view that each scene should be a chapter and it should change the story in some way. If not, cut it. It makes stories read very fast but it is very hard to write that way.

    GMC is one of my favorite craft books and I've read dozens of them.

    Read it early on the writing journey and fear not conflict. :)

    1. Thanks for such a wonderful explanation, Vince. I did (eventually) come to embrace GMC, and now it's definitely an integral step in my planning process. It was just a long, hard journey. Just kidding. I was just slow to accept that conflict is essential to fiction. I laugh at my younger self now, especially when I'm teaching my Jr. High students to identify the various types of conflict in the novels we are reading.

  2. Cate, I am also a cautionary tale. both to new writers and to my own children. "Do as I say, not as I did." With varying results. My former crit partner put me on to a study of Structure (my early structure was appalling), and GMC was part of that. Before her I thought GMC was a car company. These are the jokes, folks.
    My scenes have improved dramatically since then. Anyone remember Janet and the "tea-drinking scenes"? That's still a phrase I use to check my scenes for conflict.
    My last book and my WIP are bigger books with a lot of moving parts, so I need to make every scene count. I've got about half of the new book in draft form, and I went through the first half with index cards and delineated the Goal, Motivation and Conflict for each scene. A little old-school with all that paper, but it's how I think.
    CRAFT BOOKS! I go through phases. Right now I've got two going, Elizabeth George's "Write Away" and Stephen King's "Secret Windows," a collection of essays on the craft. I mean these are actual books, in addition to the craft tips I pick up online. There is so much out there.
    Off to a newspaper assignment, may be back later.
    Kathy Bailey
    Your Kaybee
    Structuring her stories in New Hampshire

    1. "Before her I thought GMC was a car company." LOL! I was right there with you, Kaybee!

    2. Ditto on the car company. I walked around that conference in a state of confusion!

  3. I'm with you, Cate. Conflict is so hard for me to want to write--and even sometimes for me to read, but then I complain that a book isn't interesting enough. Sigh. I guess I'm never happy :) I borrowed a copy of GMC but I think I really need to get my own because maybe I need to force myself to build the charts to make my stories more interesting.

    1. Right? I don't just want happily ever after, I want happily all the way through. But stories need conflict.

  4. Great post, Cate. I try to be more intentional with GMC in my writing. It definitely makes sense.

    1. Thanks, Sandy. I try now. Sadly, such was not always the case. Could have saved me a lot of grief.

  5. Debra Dixon's GMC was one of my early craft books, too! It's a great one to study when you're starting out, and to refer to often as you go.

    I've found that if I don't use a GMC chart (or a modified one) for every book and every scene in the book, my story bogs down and I get lost in the comings and goings. The most common thing that will happen is that something that is important to Character A in the first chapter never appears again until the end of the book. And maybe not even then.

    But if the character has a clear GMC before I even write the first scene, the story flows.

    I'm loving this series on craft books, Cate. Thanks for doing it!

    1. I'm glad you're enjoying it, Jan. I've got shelves of craft books to choose from - except I haven't read all of them yet.

  6. Love this post, Cate! Deb Dixon gave an afternoon workshop to GA Romance Writers soon after I joined the group. I believe her book had just been published, and she was giving talks around the country. Of course, I bought her book and worked my way through the chapters. Admittedly, GMC took time to grasp, and I still remember the day I was talking to my crit partner on the phone (landline at the time) and said I finally understood GMC. I then explained it to her. And then had to go back and ensure I was right.

    If my story doesn't come together the way I think it should, I focus on the conflict in the GMC model. Inevitably, once I tweak the conflict, the story falls into place.

    So do I use GMC? Yes, with every book!

    1. Oh, that must have been fun, Debby. That was probably around the time I was clueless at conference. They do say that being able to teach someone else is the best way of being sure you've grasped a concept! Go you!

  7. GMC was a challenging concept for me in the way that Debra Dixon wrote about it. I've discovered other writing craft books that explained the concept in a way I better understood (like The Story Equation or Save the Cat Writes a Novel). After having written a few MS, I now "get" what DD's GMC is about, but I'm not sure I'd go back to using it like I did in the beginning. Other strategies I have used have helped me develop deeper characters, understanding their backstories better which gives me stronger black moments (and in essence, their GMCs).

    Thanks for your post!

    1. Interesting, Lee-Ann. I tend to struggle with the goal part of the GMC when I'm writing suspense because generally my heroine's goal is just to stay alive! But I love delving into their wounds and figuring out what makes them tick.

  8. Yep. I have to plot out the GMC before I do anything else on the plot or characters.


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