Thursday, January 31, 2013

Goal, Motivation and Conflict

When my wife found out I was writing a series of young adult books she disappeared to her office and came back after a few minutes with a hard cover book titled GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction (Amazon affiliate link) by Debra Dixon. As any good, arrogant, first time writer does I thought that I already knew about good fiction, my story.

At the time she gave me the book I had written about 22,000 words and thought I really had a handle on this whole writing thing. So off to the side of my desk it went. I plowed through another 40,000 words or so on that book, Annihilation - Book 1 of The Seamus Chronicles, and another 55,000 words on Acceleration - Book 2 of The Seamus Chronicles. As +Guy Kawasaki calls it, the vomitting stage of writing a book.

In the down time after vomitting out two novels I decided to crack GMC and see what Debra Dixon had to say. In short she points out that every character in a work of fiction needs to have a Goal to achieve, motivation to achieve it and something that is making it hard to achieve, a conflict. Debra uses The Wizard of Oz to drive the discussion and whether you love the story or hate it, it is well known and easily relatable. Using Dorothy as an example, Ms. Dixon builds out a table summarizing the internal and external factors that drive Dorothy as she progresses through the story. The concept really resonates with me and feels key to developing character driven stories. I began to build tables for each of the characters in my stories.

Here is a sample of the Goal, Motivation, Conflict table for Seamus, the lead character, in Annihilation.

Character Goal Motivation Conflict
Seamus Robinson - External Build a power reactor Robot at first then need refrigeration for vaccine & computers to find a cure Biowarfare has wiped out the human race. Must drive cross country to find his mother
Internal Grow up and feel like an adult Dad doesn't trust him to make decisions It's easier to be a kid, he keeps screwing up

This table and similar ones for the other characters has been extremely helpful as I edit and revise the books. When a beta reader has a question about a characters word choice or response to a situation I can check the table for a quick reset on what is important to the character and why.

GMC won't make my book a success, but I think it gives me a better shot at have a readable tale that makes sense. Do you know what is driving your characters through the crazy adventure you started them on?

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