Thursday, December 17, 2009

Do You Know Your GMCs?

GMC. Ever seen this group of letters? Do you know what it stands for? What it really stands for? Most writers have heard the terms: goal, motivation, and conflict. But what do they mean?

It’s simple enough to assign an overall story goal to the protagonist. Figuring out why this character has this goal or why it’s important to her (motivation) is conceivable. And adding a conflict to prevent said character from obtaining her goal is necessary to create a story that’ll keep readers interested from beginning to end. Is that all there is to know about GMCs? Not even close.

Every three dimensional character should have internal AND external GMCs. EVERY CHARACTER. Excluding, of course, the unimportant, one dimensional characters, like the waiter whose only purpose is to serve the meal. Or the cashier who’s just there to ring up the groceries. Those characters are similar to extras on movies and while they may have a line or two, they could easily be replaced by another character doing the same job. However, it’s important to note the POV characters or the main characters are not the only ones who need GMCs. Any character that helps the story move along, brings something important to the story, and who couldn’t be removed from the book without damage needs to have his own GMCs. But those GMCs must somehow be connected to either the protagonist, the antagonist, or the story itself.

Here’s a simplified explanation of GMCs to illustrate the importance of connecting them. Forget about the difference between internal and external GMCs for a moment.

For this general example, the characters are dogs.
Macy=heroine and protagonist
Butch=villain and antagonist
Chico=Ruff’s sidekick

Macy’s goal is to get another bone. The other one has gone missing. Her motivation is to feed her puppy. The conflict is that she can’t leave her puppy unattended.

Ruff’s goal is to get Macy another bone. Motivation: to take care of her/protection. Conflict: Butch, the meanest dog in town, has the only bones around and isn’t willing to give any of them away.

Butch’s goal is to keep all the bones for himself. Motivation: greed. Conflict: Macy and Ruff want one of his bones.

Chico’s goal is to help Ruff and Macy. Motivation: he’s Ruff’s friend. Conflict: Macy doesn’t trust him and won’t allow him to help.

While Macy’s pup is a character in the story, she can be replaced by another pup, Macy’s sister, Macy’s mother, or another character. For that reason, she doesn’t require a GMC.

Take a look at Macy, Ruff, Butch, and Chico’s GMCs. Do you see how they’re all related to each other or the story itself? If Macy’s GMC was the same, but Ruff’s goal was to find another dame because Macy’s too needy (motivation), but he has to get out of the relationship first, then there may be conflict, but this wouldn’t move our story toward the goal of getting another bone. The same thing would happen if Butch’s goal was to go on a new adventure because he’s bored (motivation), but he needs to find a sitter for his puppy. What kind of villain would that be? He may not need to interact with Macy at all.

This is only a small part of GMCs. As mentioned earlier, it’s necessary to understand how internal and external GMCs play a part in the story development. Without this information, your characters won’t be three dimensional and the story will lack the layers it needs to keep a reader’s attention.

Do you know all about GMCs? Or was this post an eye opener for you?

Side note: I’m considering adding some online courses to my editing business. Since my background is in teaching, I feel this would be a good fit. I’m looking into developing GMCs into a course. Do you believe there’s a need/interest for this topic as an online class?


  1. What a clever, fascinating post. You laid it out so well for me. I think you should set yourself up to teach more, definately.

  2. Teaching is your thing, seriously.

  3. Great post. I just recently bought Debra Dixon's GMC book. So helpful. I think it'd be a great topic for a class.

  4. Sounds good to me - I think clients would learn a lot from you!

  5. Excellent explanation and example! And yes, I think there's definitely a need for it. Best grad course I ever took was about editing.

  6. I always thought GMC was a car or truck! This was all new to me and quite interesting and informative.

    Having never taken an online course, I have no input or advice or even any idea about their popularity.

  7. Great post! Wow. I'm with Jane I thought of a car when I read it...LOL So you totally opened my eyes. Thank you! I will be back to learn more, for sure. I think an online course is a great idea. I certainly need it... LOL.

    Thanks for visiting my blog too :o)

  8. A great post. The acronym GMC wasn't known to me, though the ideas were. I certainly think there's room for an on-line editing service, and it's looks to me that you'd be good at it.

  9. wow,I can't believe everything on your plate. thanks for stopping by my blog!

  10. Thanks for all your encouraging words. You've made my day.

    Lynnette Labelle

  11. I loved this post! I think this would make an amazing topic for a class. It's so true. I write out long pages I call "character profiles" for every draft to make sure everyone is doing something at all times, and doing it for a reason. There is definitely want for good editing tips.

    Oh, and thanks for stopping by my blog. :)

  12. I'm new here and love the way you make us understand through making it real.
    I want to know how I can relate this to a memoir. It seems easier to make characters 3 dimensional when you're not dealing with members of your family. Any suggestions. I realize memoir has to follow rules of fiction, but still.

  13. I was aware of all these important issues, but had never heard them described so succinctly.

    Yes, an online class on this issue would be a huge help!

  14. Lynnette, this would have been a new topic if we hadn't discussed it off line. I purchased Debra Dixon's GMC after you recommended it. I learned alot.

    Great idea for a course. It's amazing that we don't know more about this.

  15. I ended up having to drop one of my WIPs for a while because I couldn't figure out my MC's GMC. (Jeez, that's a lot of acronyms in one sentence. Hah.) This can be tricky sometimes. I've always tried to think of characters as real people and come up with backgrounds that shape each one, as well as how that would make them react to a sitiuation in the plot.

    Online courses are good, I think. My critique group did that for a while. The exercises really helped me with verbs, I know.