Wednesday, January 19, 2011

GMC: it's not what they think they want that counts

I've been writing synopses, plotting, thinking about GMCs* and all that carry-on, and I had one of those minor epiphany moments I thought I'd share with you all (y'all? Youse? You know what I mean).

External motivation is usually easy, right? In your GMC? They want to slay the vampires or stop the serial killer or find the Magical Artifact of Plot-Driving. And the motivation is usually pretty simple -- if they don't, the vampire will eat everyone or the killer will kill again or the bad guys will rule the world.

It's the internal motivations that give us the trouble. Not so simple. And here's where my epiphany comes in.

Say you've got a character with a troubled past that's stopping him from finding true lurve. His last girlfriend fell off a cliff because he failed to save her.** And now he's convinced he's Dangerous and Unworthy of A Good Woman's Love.

His solution? Become a cold snarky rude-ass bastard and push away every woman who's even faintly interested in him. Which happens a lot, because he's, like, the hottest dude on the block. Of course.

So the GMC is easy, right? His internal goal is to hide from love by becoming a cold snarky rude-ass bastard. Like so:
G: to hide from love
M: because he killed his last girlfriend, and he thinks he's unworthy of love
C: chicks hit on him all the time and it's like, really hard not to pick up. And hey, the heroine's hot.


Heh. NO. No, no. You'll only confuse yourself. In a romance, no one's goal is to never find love. Hiding from love is only what he thinks he wants. He may behave like this initially, but his real, secret goal is to become whole again -- to accept that the cliffhanger incident wasn't his fault and that he is indeed Worthy Of Love.

So your GMC will actually look something like this:
G: to prove himself worthy of love
M: his last girlfriend died and he thinks it's his fault; ever since then, he's avoided relationships by being a cold snarky rude-ass bastard
C: he doesn't want to let his guard down, in case he gets hurt again (this is important. Sure, he doesn't want to drop any more chicks off cliffs -- but the real pain he's trying to avoid is his own. It's a romance. That's the way it is. Learn to love it, or go write a thriller.)

Note these things about the comparison between those two GMCs:
1) the real goal is a secret. It's the opposite of the way he's actually behaving at the beginning of the story. And it'll be the heroine who makes him lose his cool and go for what he really wants.
2) the conflict in the first one is silly. Not being able to articulate a sensible conflict is usually a good indicator that you've got the goal wrong.
3) the real conflict? His own emotional pain. Sure, sometimes there are other aspects, but usually in a romance it's 'because if he goes for his goal, he risks getting hurt'.

And you want to know the really good part?

This transition the hero goes through, from living his pretend goal to striving for his secret goal? From living behind a facade, to showing his true colours in order to get what he really wants? Character arc, folks. And it happened while you weren't watching :)

* That's Goal, Motivation, Conflict, for those who aren't up with teh buzzwords, dude.
** ahem. Not as silly as is sounds, okay? I've actually used this one -- Indigo dropped his ex-lady in SHADOWGLASS and boy, does it carve him up. Literally :)


  1. Peter aka King Yob the tall and skinnyJan 19, 2011, 10:26:00 PM

    Just when we thought you were dreaming of buying a chevy... ;)