Goal, motivation, and conflict (aka GMC) are the main building blocks of any story. What do the characters want? – Goal. What keeps them pursuing the goal? – Motivation. What obstacle stands in the way? – Conflict.
If Joey buys a lottery ticket and wins a million dollars, that’s nice. We’re all happy for Joey and a little envious. But it’s not that big a deal. There’s no conflict. Now think about the movie Slumdog Millionaire. Jamal’s whole life was a series of horrendous situations, conflict upon conflict, that built
character and knowledge and compassion. When he wins the contest, we’re ecstatic. We know what odds he had to overcome to achieve that result. Without the conflict, we’d have Joey’s story. But with the conflict we have an amazing canvas of human tragedy and hope that won eight Oscars.
So how do you create this conflict for your story? Let’s examine the GMC chart.
There are 8 pieces to the GMC chart:
• Default action
• Outer goal
• Inner goal
• Outer motivation
• Inner motivation
• Outer conflict
• Inner conflict
Create a spreadsheet or use a piece of paper. List your main characters (3 or 4) in the first column. Then label the 8 pieces across the page.
Fill in the role or occupation – doctor, detective, photographer, married man. One or two words.
This is how the character usually acts before the story begins. Cops are generally observant, watchful, protective. Doctors put others first. A nun follows strict rules. Think of a word or phrase that describes the quality of the character’s daily behavior.
What does the character want? This is something concrete, like a new house, a million dollars, getting married. Being happy or loved are not outer goals. Also keep in mind that when the character reaches this goal, the story ends.
What does the character need? Think of your character’s emotions. Does he need to be loved? Does he need to feel he’s good enough? Does she need to gain her father’s respect?
What keeps the character pursuing the outer goal? Why does he want a million dollars? What will it do for him?
Inner motivation ties into the character’s default action. What made your character this way? Doctors have years of medical school and training. Nuns are raised in a religious order with strict discipline. That schooling and training enforces certain patterns of behavior.
This is the main obstacle for your character. The big thing that stands in the way of your character getting what he wants. It could be a natural disaster like a tornado, volcano, or hurricane. Often it’s the villain.
What is your character’s greatest fear? This usually stems from childhood: fear of being unloved, fear of being unworthy, fear of not being good enough. The need to overcome this is the unconscious desire of the Inner Goal.
Creating this chart gives you a bird’s eye view of the core of your story. You know what the characters' goals are and why. You know what their needs are and why. You know exactly what stands in the way. These help you establish the story foundation and move the characters through the plot. You want to keep increasing the tension, so put your characters in situations where they have to make choices—the lesser of two evils, if you will. Use the default action to create conflict. If your nun is used to discipline and following strict orders, what will happen when she has to go against the rules? What if your ethical doctor has to put aside ethics in order to save a life? The more conflict you have, the more interest you create for your readers, which results in a fascinating page-turner and a book they can’t put down.