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I’ll be writing about how I’m using GMC, which I got from GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction by Debra Dixon (Clean link)
I’ve begun working on my novel again, and recently had a breakthrough because of an app I found online that utilizes Dixon’s GMC. I dumped what I knew about my heroine into it, and came out with something I can work with. (I am waiting for this writer to get back to me with feedback. *ahem* ps: You did ask what character issues I’m having, Ms. Tammy.)
The GMC wizard was created by author Shawntelle Madison, and it’s on her site:
Plug your info in and go. Here’s what I got for my heroine. This is a work-in-progress, particularly the internal goal part. For some reason I wrestle with understanding that.
GOAL, MOTIVATION, AND CONFLICT GRID
Occupation: homeless. Previous occupation: ?
Basic Information: Sober b/c of dog Bart. Son died a few years ago & she is beset by guilt.
Eventually she will save Pax, hero’s nephew, which will release her from her self-imposed guilt-shackles.
|GOAL||forgive herself for the death of her son.||own her own house where Bart will have a yard to play in.|
|MOTIVATION||she will die on the streets if she doesn’t.||He’s been beaten before and shot after she claimed him. She wants him to be safe so she doesn’t have HIS death on her conscience, too.|
|CONFLICT||she keeps falling back on alcohol to drown out the pain.||She has no job. She’s been out of work for years. She struggles with sobriety. She has no place to shower, even, and has no idea if she even HAS any skill sets. No confidence.|
Another link I found useful has a blank GMC chart found here: http://www.midmichiganrwa.org/gmc-charts.pdf — 6 pages of character-building here. RWA stands for Romance Writers of America, and it is one of the best investments I’ve ever made in my writing.
The key is to know your characters, which means you have to sit down with each one and listen to them. If you don’t, you risk writing your character into an unbelievable situation, or you risk pushing your character into unbelievable action. For example, I know that my heroine, Diana, loves books, so while it is believable that she would be found digging in a dumpster to rescue a book, there is no way she would burn one to keep herself warm on the streets. She would burn a building first.
What would your character do/not do?
If you need inspiration for your hero, take a look at this guy: when everyone else was mocking Charlie Sheen, he took a stand. Add to that that he’s down-to-earth, he thinks strong women are sexy, he looks past physical beauty to the person within, and he’s freaking hilarious–oh, yeah, baby. My hero’s got a bit o’ Craig in him, all right.
My heroine, Diana, is a painter. She got in trouble as a teen for painting on abandoned buildings (and once she did a county building in protest against them closing the county library)–and that is the extent of my knowledge of graffiti. I know that it’s usually illegal, that there are fines and or jail time, and I know they use spray paint. So I’ve been doing some research, and I’m posting it here for several reasons:
- others may be doing research along the same lines
- the information is interesting
- perhaps this will spark someone else’s muse
- maybe someone in the know will share his/her knowledge
How to Choose Spray Paint Tips for Graffiti
How to Write Graffiti-Art Basics with artist Leon Rainbow
An article about a graffiti artist who recently died when running from the police
Here’s what happened when I released my stubborn hold on who I thought my characters were.
I asked my heroine why she didn’t want to run the family gun shop. (Yes, I talked to her. I was a little cautious about it because the notion’s kinda kooky, and I really didn’t want my kids to hear me talking to myself, so I whispered. LOL )
I asked, and she told me, “Look. I’m spending every day with my mom and she’s driving me nuts. I have to find the missing paperwork pronto or the ATF’s gonna shut her down and guess where she’ll be living? No way, sister. I love my mom, but I need my privacy.”
So, in the interest of showing you how I used Debra Dixon’s book, I’ll share Diana’s character info. It still needs work, but wow! After doing her GMC chart and those of three other characters, not only was I able to write my first chapter, I knew where I was going!
NAME : Diana (gun shop co-owner/teacher) Paints every spare minute she has. Mockingbird is totem
WHO SHE IS: a self-deluding paper tiger (tough on the outside, scared within)
WHAT SHE WANTS: Starter goal: has to find missing logbook. Get thru ATF audit. Bigger: Own her own art studio. Express herself via painting. Keep shop from being closed.
BECAUSE: 1. Logbook has info for ATF search phone call. 2. ATF doing audit. 3. She doesn’t want her mother living with her. 4. she wants to get back to her private life
BUT: Can’t find logbook. Her mother lost additional ppw. Her mother needs her in the gun shop. (obviously!)
INTERNAL WANTS: needs to please. Then : to know herself; to be regarded as ‘real’ artist; autonomy
BECAUSE: It’ll make her feel important; like she’s contributing something to the world; she’ll be expressing herself
BUT: She’s afraid: of failure, of creating garbage, of the unknown. She doesn’t believe she has the talent; won’t put her art on display. And she’s worried her mother won’t be able to run the shop effectively by herself.
My hero’s character info is still missing the internal want/need, but I was still able to write the first chapter because I had his external want pretty clear in my head. I’ll be tweaking both as I go.
You see how nowhere in Diana’s goals is there a wish to fall in love? Falling in love is what happens as she’s pursuing her goals. If falling in love were her goal, I think she’d be a weak and boring character. I want her to have an interesting life that she ultimately invites the hero –and the reader–into.
Same goes for the hero, Mark. His immediate desire is to plop down in his easy chair and read a book he’s been itching to read for several days but hasn’t had time for. Problem is, his 5-year-old nephew is having trouble getting to sleep because his mother’s recently been killed in an accident. It’s a simple conflict, and it will grow into something bigger as the story progresses.
“A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.”
— Martin Luther King Jr. (The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.)
I’ve been struggling with my heroine’s over-arching goal. I keep tangling external goals with internal ones. My critique partner pointed out that the one I had was too “do-able,” adding, “I think Diana needs something that she wants desperately – something that is urgent – life or death or loss that if she loses it, her life will never be the same (or someone she cherishes will never be the same) something that she will walk on water to obtain if that’s what she needs to do.”
So. A character who won’t die for something isn’t fit to live, either, and that rings true for me. Characters with something huge at stake engage the reader immediately.
While I was looking for inspiration I came across some quotes that resonate, and I’m pinning them up while I write so they’ll remind me of key character traits.
Diana, my heroine, is a frustrated artist (painter) who runs a gun shop with her mother. A quote for her is from Bernard Shaw:
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
And these: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”— Maya Angelou
“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”— Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
“One must pay dearly for immortality; one has to die several times while still alive.”— Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
My bad guy, as yet un-named, has this one:
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
— Abraham Lincoln
Mark, my hero, has these:
“In the years afterward, I fled whenever somebody began to understand me. That has subsided. But one thing remained: I don’t want anybody to understand me completely. I want to go through life unknown. The blindness of others is my safety and my freedom.” — Pascal Mercier
“Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”— Confucius
Ultimately, this one will apply: “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” — Maya Angelou
One that will apply throughout the story:
“The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong, it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair.”— Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)
And this one reminds me of different ways to illustrate character:
“Your handwriting. The way you walk. Which china pattern you choose. It’s all giving you away. Everything you do shows your hand. Everything is a self-portrait. Everything is a diary.”— Chuck Palahniuk
I forgot to mention that I’ve been working on the same pages for several months. Not every day, just for my monthly assignments. I got them honed to bland acceptability, and realized yesterday that I will have to trash them all.
I was kinda proud of those pretty words and at least two of the characters. But as interesting as all that was, it went nowhere. Well, except to a tight, windowless, baffling corner. It just wasn’t working. I’ve been struggling to make my characters do something interesting, and one of them drove off, another went haring off after that one, and the last just sulked in her office.
There was some funny dialogue, but the story itself was like a face with no eyebrows or lashes. Or lips. No nose.
So I’m starting over from scratch with characters who have agendas, and already, before word one, I know the story will take off.
I’m sharing this because I know there may be other writers who are fighting a bland storyline. If that’s you, try working with Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. You’ll be relieved to discover that the problem is fixable.