What Is GMC? (Penny Rader)

Gooey Milk Chocolate? Nope.
Gorgeous Masculine Chest? Alas, no.
Goal Motivation Conflict? Yep.

GMC -- must haves for your characters.

Each of these could be a blog post or two. Maybe we'll go more in depth a bit later. For now, I'll just share a few nuggets that I pulled out of Debra Dixon's book, GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction.

Goal = what your character wants
Motivation = why your character wants it (because)
Conflict = why your character can't have it (but)

Put them in a sentence and you get something you can hang your story on: A character wants a goal because he is motivated, but he faces conflict.

Give each of your characters GMCs and have those GMCs collide.

You will need both external and internal GMCs. External means tangible, something your characters can experience through their senses. Internal means emotional.

Goals must be important and urgent. Failure will create consequences for the characters.

Motivation is your story's foundation. Urgency is as important for motivation as it is for goals.

Conflict is the reason your character can't have what he wants. It's the strength of your book.

If the characters never face hardship...
If they're never in danger...
If they never struggle...
Your book is going to be boring.

Coincidence is not motivation. Bickering is not conflict. Misunderstanding is not conflict.

Debra's book is full of great information and I highly recommend it.

Another recommended read: The Dreaded Synopsis: A Writing & Plotting Guide by Elizabeth Sinclair. She uses different terms and has a great list of Character Agenda Keywords at the end of the book.

(Putting on my WARA librarian hat -- we have both of these books in our library. WARA members can check them out by coming to my office or dropping me a line and asking me to bring them to a meeting.)

Do you have any tips about creating strong GMCs to share with us? Or an example from a favorite book or a book you've written?


Skhye said...

Both of these are my favorite books. You can't talk about one without the other... :) Great post! Although I'm into gorgeous and gooey. ;)

Reese Mobley said...

Without GMC your story falls apart. As long as you keep your characters goals in mind it makes it so much easier to throw conflicts at them. And everyone knows without conflicts your books will fall flat.
Thanks for the informative post, Penny.

Rox Delaney said...


It's baaaaack! Elizabeth Sinclair's Dreaded Synopsis was, for a short time, out of print, but is back again with a new cover.

Rox Delaney said...


I LOVE the list of Character Agenda Keywords at the back of The Dreaded Synopsis. When I'm struggling with characterization, that's where I go to nail it. In fact, I use The DS as a plotting tool much more than a guide on how to write a synopsis.

Another FYI:
Elizabeth Sinclair's daughter did the drawings in the DS and also writes children's books.

Penny Rader said...

Hi Skhye! Thanks so much for visiting! I love gorgeous and gooey, too. :D

Penny Rader said...

Thanks, Reese. Coming up with good, strong conflicts is super hard for me. Maybe because I avoid conflict in real life?

Penny Rader said...

Hi Rox! I'm so glad The Dreaded Synopsis is back in print. How cool that her daughter did the drawings.

PS: How'd you bold the title in your comment screen?

Rox Delaney said...

P.S. Penny, check your email.

Rox Delaney said...

I've had my own problems with conflict, Penny. In fact, the book coming out in August has been through a bunch of incarnations and versions over the past ten years. I finally hit on the right conflict, and even that was after a few revisions.

I think the key lies in the M: Motivation. Motivation (what drives the character) can help provide not only the Conflict, but the Goal. "Why" is the most often asked question by editors. Figure out the motivation, and it becomes clear, making all the rest a lot easier.

P.S. It's never all easy...

Penny Rader said...

Too funny, Rox. I'd be tickled if any of it came easy. :D

Too bad we can't just say "Because I said so" when someone asks why re: a character. I guess that only works for moms. If it even works then. :D My kids usually roll their eyes when I say it.

Debra St. John said...

Great post. This is the only way to start thinking about a plot line for me. (Although I was really excited about your Gooey Milk Chocolate!)

snwriter52 said...

Fictional characters in a story are important to me as a writer. Without them, you don't have a story. They must fulfill their job. If they don't, you must change them in a way to move the story along. Major characters have to be interesting and believable. If I don't believe in my character, the story will lose confilct, making the reader lose interest as well. Minor characters, which I like to call my Secondary charcaters advance the story. Developing tension, conflict and adding extra suspense. With this in place, my Major characters are back in full force moving the story forward once again. A reader wants the book to be good, taking them on a journey. Your Characters should be true to you, bringing the reader into your world. Having the story unveil before their very eyes. Make them want to know everyting about that characeter and how the story will end. This will make for a outstanding book. A page turner. Your book just might be the one readers will be talking about for a long time.
Penny what a great topic.

Tanya Hanson said...

Hi Penny, I love GMC...it's my favorite non-fiction book (a close second is Everday Life in the 1800's LOL) I'm fortunate to have a multi-pubbed, award winning critique partner who really helps with all three initials.

And I'm also into gorgeous and gooey.

Thanks for the great post.


Tanya Hanson said...

Ps. I remember the days when synopsis were supposed to goo with emotion for 15 or 20 pages. Lately it seems, 2-pagers are becoming the norm. Short, cutthroat.

WDYT out there?

Penny Rader said...

Thanks for visiting, Debra!

Do you have any favorite examples from your own work? I'm always curious about how people develop their characters and stories.

Penny Rader said...

Hi Sharon! So glad you could stop by. I get such a charge out of your enthusiasm.

Penny Rader said...

Hi Tanya! I'm so pleased you could come and play. Two page synopses are tough, aren't they? I have a hard time squishing the story into ten pages, let alone two! Then again, I'm in awe of people who can write a synopsis before they write the book.

elaine cantrell said...

Hi, Penny,

Great post. I'm also going to check out the books your mentioned.

Penny Rader said...

Hi Elaine! I'm glad you could stop by. Both of these books are definitely keepers and well worth referring to time and time again.

Becky A said...

Hello Miss Penny,
Thanks for explaining GMC so well and put me on your library list of readers. I'll check them out next meeting if you'll bring them along. Remind me to put them on the top of my reading stack and not the bottom or they'll be lost in limbo, like, forever!

Penny Rader said...

Will do, Becky! We have one copy of GMC and two copies of Dreaded Synopsis. I'll bring them to the meeting. Thanks for commenting!

Helen Hardt said...

Hi Penny! Debra's book is one of my writing bibles. Great post!

Penny Rader said...

Hi Helen! Thanks for coming by. I'm so glad Debra wrote GMC. I've heard her talk a couple times on the subject and I attended her workshop on the Big, Black Moment. I always come away with something new.

Joan Vincent said...

Without GMC there won't be any emotional attachment to your characters. If you've got the characters in turmoil and your readers care they will be turning pages. A great explanation, Penny.

Starla Kaye said...

GMC. I could hardly get past the Gorgeous Masculine Chest thing. But I also like Gooey Milk Chocolate. Both of these are certainly easier to deal with than coming up with the Goal, Motivation and Conflict in a storyline.

Alas, without the big GMC there is no story. And each time a writer starts a new story that wonderful struggle with GMC begins again.