Monday, July 25, 2011

Keeping Characters Consistent Using GMC

One of the things writers struggle with is keeping characters consistent throughout the piece while they work through their conflict to meet their goals.

There's so much to think about as your write your story arc, but without character growth, or change, you really don't have a story. One of the easiest ways I've found to plot or chart this arc is to use the GMC method, as taught by Deb Dixon. IMHO, this book should be on the shelf of every writer.

*In fact, I feel so strongly about this that I'm giving away a brand-new signed hardcover copy of GMC to one lucky commenter!* I'll pick the winner on Friday 7/29, and snail mail it to you. If you live outside the US it may take a while to get there, but I'll send it anywhere.

I had the privilege of hearing Deb speak at one of our Music City Romance Writers workshops last year, and was so moved by her approach I bought a copy of the book for myself as well. It changed the way I wrote so much that I finally achieved my goal of publication.

GMC stands for Goal, Motivation and Conflict. They're the building blocks of all fiction, not just romance. Deb gives some wonderful examples in her book to illustrate her points, and I won't duplicate them here, but instead will use my own work. By the way, learning how to plot your stories in this way will not only keep you on track with keeping your characters consistent, but being able to define your novel, novella or short story in terms of GMC will give you that one to three-line pitch an editor or agent wants to see. Think of it as your elevator pitch.

GOAL: This is what your character wants to accomplish. In a romance you'll have at least one goal for each MC. The goals should be meaningful and measurable, and make sure they're something your readers can relate to so they get behind your hero or heroine right away. If they aren't invested in your MC's reasons for doing what they do, they have no reason to keep reading.

Example: Faina wants to become human again. Jace wants a wife who can keep up with him in bed. These are the main goals of my heroine and hero in Book 1 of my Seduced By A Demon series, THE LAST SOUL. To give your hero and heroine plenty of conflict to work through before they can be together, these goals should be at cross-purposes with each other at the beginning of the story.

In The Last Soul, in order for Faina to reach her goal she has to seduce one more male into signing away his soul, and that just happens to be Jace. Jace thinks his goal is within reach when he meets Faina, until he realizes she's a demon sent to ruin him into signing away his immortal soul.

MOTIVATION: This is your character's reason for wanting to achieve their goal. The more compelling you can make this, the more depth your story will have.

In HUNTED, Book 2 of the Seduced By A Demon series, Jahi's motivation for the goal of staying one step ahead of her former guardian angel is pretty strong. He's out to destroy her. Our hero, Dagon, is a Nephilim who works as a bounty hunter. He starts out with one goal-to capture Vassago, the fallen angel he's been tracking for three years. He soon develops a secondary keep Jahi safe from Vassago.

Their goals and the motivation behind them force Jahi and Dagon to work together to find Vassago, and since they're both very independent beings, used to surviving just fine by themselves thank you very much, the sparks fly from day one.

CONFLICT: Your hero and heroine will each have at least one conflict to work through. The conflicts in a romance have two roles: to keep the hero and heroine apart until the end of the story, and to keep them from reaching their goals too soon. How they work through the resolution of their conflicts, both individually and together, gives you both your story/romance arc and character arcs. By keeping your story focused on the believable resolution of these conflicts, you keep your characterization consistent.

Everything your hero and heroine do should move them toward resolution of these conflicts, and should spring from their motivation to reach their desired goals. If you can understand this concept, you won't have trouble keeping your characters consistent throughout the story, because every scene will be written with this purpose in mind.

Conflicts work best when they threaten basic needs, or when they spring from something deep or traumatic in the character's past. Your conflicts shouldn't be easy to resolve, otherwise all your hero and heroine need to do is have a nice sit down and chat in chapter one and you're done. :) Not much of a story, is it?

Make them work for it! Readers love the journey of two people falling in love, despite the odds. It's a romance. We know they'll end up together. We read them because of the stuff in between. The HOW WILL THEY OVERCOME THIS? of their blossoming romance is the meat of your story, and is what will keep readers coming back for more.

In The Last Soul, Faina's initial conflict revolves around the fact she can't find anything about Jace to use to ruin him, but knows she has to get him to sign away his soul, or she'll be forced to submit to Mastema, her nasty demon boss, for eternity. More conflict arises when she finds out Mastema has tricked her into ruining Jace. The battle between self-preservation and following her heart intensifies as she falls in love with Jace.

In Hunted, Jahi and Dagon make love despite knowing it's forbidden in their world for a demon and a Nephilim to do so. Added to that risk is the constant threat of Vassago, who always seems to be one step ahead of them.

It may seem like a lot to think about, but starting with working out your main characters' GMC statements will give you a foundation on which to build your story. You won't find yourself written into corners because you don't know where the plot is going, or risk having your characters act in inconsistent ways because they're just walking through the story with no clear direction. The great thing about GMC is that it works for any length story, and for any number of main characters. Even if you write menage you can use this.

Would you like your very own signed copy of GMC? Just leave a comment on this blog post and you're entered in the contest! Good luck!


gayl said...

This post could not have come at a better time for me. It has shown me how to work past my current mind freeze. After writing down the goals, motivations and conflicts for my main characters, it helped me get past the urge to write meaningless scenes and narrowed my focus. Thank you for this!

Pepper said...

Hi Carol: Excellent reminders on how to build a compelling story. Have always meant to buy GMC. Would love a copy! Share, sister!

Ju Dimello said...

I've heard so much about GMC, and how it sustains the plot...But you have really broken it down into simpler, understandable ways !!! Thanks Carol!

And yes, I'd love to win Debra's book on GMC..Thanks for sharing that with aspiring authors :)

judimello AT gmail DOT com

Lorraine said...

Excellent post, Carol! Thank you for sharing. I do up a GMC sheet for most of my novels and work from there, but would love to win GMC.

Carolyn Rosewood said...

By random number generator the winner of a hard cover signed copy of Deb Dixon's GMC is.... Pepper!! I'll be contacting you to get your snail mail address! Congratulations! Thank you to all who entered!!