Anyone who has ever read Deb Dixon’s brilliant book, Goal, Motivation and Conflict is familiar with these concepts as they relate to plotting fiction. Your protagonist and your antagonist must each have a goal–a specific, measurable, time-bound objective they want to achieve, motivation–a reason why failing to achieve that goal will result in actual or psychological death, and conflict–something (related to the other character’s goal) that is keeping them from achieving their goal.
In addition to having an external goal (Slay the dragon! Save the homestead from foreclosure!) your characters also need internal arcs–goals, motivations and conflicts–that allow them to achieve some kind of psychological growth.
When I first learned about GMC back at McDaniel, I felt like I could see how story worked for the first time. A while back I put together a spreadsheet that lets me track internal and external GMC for each character in my story but I found I still had problem figuring what goes in which column.
I’m currently taking a class with Linnea Sinclair and Stacey Kade (Who are amazing. If you have an opportunity to take a class with them, do it!) Based on what I’ve learned in the class, I’ve amended the headers in my spreadsheet and I’m finding it much easier to understand what goes where.
- External Goal (Something tangible to achieve)
- External Motivation (May be personal, but should be on the surface)
- External Conflict (Related to the opposing character)
- Internal Goal (What character needs to learn)
- Internal Motivation (rooted in her backstory)
- Internal Conflict (aka The Big Lie)
Do my parenthetical descriptions line up with your understanding of external and internal GMC? If not, how/where do you differ?
That “What the protagonist needs to learn” thing really hit me in the heart today. I’m going to have to think about that a little more.