Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Shirley Martin

In her excellent how-to book, Debra Dixon refers to Goal, Motivation, and Conflict as the building blocks of fiction. What does your protagonist want? (Goal.) Why does she want it? (Motivation.) What prevents her from attaining her goal? (Conflict.) In planning a novel or novella, its a good idea to flesh out your characters, create well-rounded people with an outer and inner GMC. 

 My historical romance, "Forbidden Love," centers around an actual event, the Homestead Steel Strike of 1892. My heroine, Lisa, is an only child of well-to-do parents, living in an affluent neighborhood on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. When Lisa's father dies, he leaves his widow and daughter with many debts, on the verge of poverty. This circumstance leads to Lisa's outer GMC.  

Goal: (What does she want?) To pay off their debts, work for a living if she must.
Motivation: (Why?) To save her widowed mother from poverty
Conflict: What keeps her from attaining her goal?) Lisa lacks ready skills. Her mother is irresponsible and doesn't realize their dire situation. She is disdainful of Lisa's frugality and fearful of neighbors' opinions if Lisa must earn a living.
When William, a wealthy stockbroker, offers Lisa marriage, she accepts, even though she doesn't love him. She sees the marriage as a means to save her mother from poverty, else it would be necessary to sell the family home.
Now we see Lisa's inner GMC. As the name implies, an inner GMC is emotional, from deep inside.
Goal: To learn to love William.
Motivation: She wants children, wants to have a happy marriage.
Conflict: William is a philanderer and spurns her efforts.
Lisa belongs to a literary club, and there she meets Owen. Immediately drawn to him, she fights her attraction, still hoping she will come to love William and hoping to achieve a happy marriage. But William continues to spurn her advances, apparently satisfied with a loveless marriage and needing Lisa only as a trophy wife.
Here we see that a protagonist's goals can change throughout one's story. Indeed, your hero/heroine may have more than one goal.
Trapped in a loveless marriage and falling in love with Owen, Lisa's outer GMC changes. 
Goal: To be free of her marriage.
Motivation: Lisa is deeply in love with Owen, and William has become a heartless husband.
Conflict: William won't grant her a divorce.
Now what about Owen?  He's a steelworker, literally from the wrong side of the tracks. He lives in Homestead, a dirty steel town across the river from Pittsburgh. Owen has aspirations; he wants to better himself, the reason why he joined the literary club. What does his outer GMC look like?

Goal: To get out of the steel business. He wants to attend the university and become a civil engineer.
Motivation: He wants to escape the brutality of the steel mill, where the temperature can reach 130 degrees, and the noise can drive a man crazy.
Conflict: College is expensive and money is tight. He knows that a strike is imminent at the Homestead mill and will lead to a further depletion of his savings.
Deeply attracted to Lisa, he realizes she's a married lady and far above his station. With no way of knowing otherwise, he assumes she's happily married and that her husband loves her very much. So what is his inner GMC?
Goal: To forget his love for Lisa, drive her from his mind.
Motivation: Because she's married to another man.
Conflict: He can't drive her from his mind. He loves her too deeply.
Throughout "Forbidden Love" Lisa's and Owen's relationship develops and grows, their love becoming more intense. Owen learns of William's perfidies, his failure to take Lisa as a true wife. Now Owen's outer GMC matches Lisa's. 
Goal: To make Lisa his wife.
Motivation: He can no longer fight his love for her.
Conflict: William refuses to release Lisa from their marriage.
Before you begin a novel/novella, it's a good idea to create GMC charts, outer and inner, for your protagonists. And make sure you have plenty of conflict!

"Historical romance at its finest," Julie Bonello at eCataRomance
"Nothing less than a masterpiece", 5 Angels at Fallen Angel Reviews

To find more of Shirley Martin's romance novels, please go to