GMC: Goal Motivation & Conflict by Debra Dixon: A Review

Once you've been around the writing scene for a while, you know that there's hundreds of middle of the road books about writing that don't offer anything new, but sometimes new information isn't what you need. You need something that helps you grapple with the principles you already know. A new way to see story elements that's going to click with the way your mind works. This is one of those extraordinary books that does that.

In a recent story I wrote, my hero and heroine started life with full-blown goals, motivations, and conflicts. I knew exactly what each of them wanted from page one, why they wanted it, and what stood in their way. It was a gift from the gods. All I had to do was stand back and watch them fight for what they wanted. *sigh* If only all characters came so fully equipped.

Most of the time you have to equip your characters yourself. How to do that is the main thrust of GMC. Even if you already know that your characters must want something (goal) and you know why they want it (motivation) and why they can't have it (conflict), this book is still worth having in your library.

One of the reasons is because, if you're anything like me, you sometimes confuse the elements. And it's easy to do. If you'd asked me before I read this what my heroine's goal was in the story I channeled, I'd have said, "to have a family of her own" but that's actually her motivation.
GMC provides a formula to encompass the three elements. That formula comes down to 3 words: want, because, but.

The little girl wants ice cream because all the other children at her birthday party are having ice cream but she's lactose intolerant.

And there you have it. Goal, motivation, and conflict. Interestingly enough, this formula comes in handy when you need to pitch your story.

But it's not always that easy for me. One of the examples Dixon uses extensively in GMC is Casablanca. In the beginning of the movie, Rick's goal is to keep the bar open, but what's the motivation? Initially, I drew a blank because, for me, the fact that he needs money is so basic and so universal that I skate right over it. It's a "duh" motivation. But apparently, "duh" motivations are valid. My guess is, however, that if you have a "duh" motivation, your either going to need interesting goals and conflicts or have additional goals for the character to keep the reader engaged.

While identifying the GMC is the books main thrust, Dixon touches on other things: black moments, showing vs. telling, viewpoint, dominant impressions, urgency, and query writing because these things tie to GMC. She handles each subject with the clarity that has made so many aspiring writers find a permanent place on their bookshelf for this book.

What revelations have you found in writing books, magazines, or websites? Which resources do you recommend to others?

If you'd like to see reviews of other writing sources, go here.  

Best Books of the Year

As the year draws to a close, it's only natural to reflect on what the year brought into your life. Books are always a big part of that for me. I find new books (or at least new to me) by browsing bookstores (online and mortar) or by word of mouth. Sometimes I take a risk based on an online review. That's getting more common for me. Since I thought it might be for you as well, I decided to share the ups and downs of my year and invite you to do the same. 

What was the best book you read this year? The best new author you discovered? The most astounding non-fiction? The biggest disappointment? Don't limit yourself to one per category. I know that sometimes it's impossible to choose just one and I won't make you.
Here's my choices. Maybe you'll find something you just have to read.

The Best Book:
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Wild Fling or Wedding Ring by Mira Lyn Kelly

Honorable Mention:
All Larry Brooks' back list. He's like a darker, more twisted version of Harlan Coben.

Blood and Circumstance by Frank Turner Hollon. He always amazes me because he writes such tight stories in like 200 pages and this is no different, except he completely blew my mind with this. Ambiguous endings don't usually make me happy, but this one just made me reread the story, trying to build a case for the ending my heart wanted.

Sugar Creek by Toni Blake. What can I say? She's one of my favorite authors.

Highway to Hell - John Geddes. Written by an ex-SAS officer who is boots-on-the-ground in Iraq. Timely and informative.

The Quest for Cosmic Justice by Thomas Sowell. I "discovered" Thomas Sowell because, well, frankly, I'm an economics junky. But he's written on so many subjects that one has to classify him a true renaissance man. Clear thinking and wise.

Reaper's Line:Life and Death on the Mexican Border by Lee Morgan. Another timely book. Written by an ex-border patrol officer, this illuminates a lot of what's really going on at our southern border.

And for me, there's always a special category labeled "Writing Books."

Most Disappointing:
The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. I don't think I need to elaborate  about this choice.

The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King. I'm not very forgiving when an author takes the easy way out and gives the character an "I'm TSTL" moment to make the plot work out. What else can you call it when a "retiring" pirate strips her ship of all it's weapons while still sailing the waters where she plied her trade? Something bad then proceeded to happen. Uh, gee. Ya think? (Gotta wonder—didn't her editor notice either?)

So here's my favorite part. Share your favorites with me (or your disappointments.) What did I miss that I absolutely should read?

Writing Nuggets for December

As promised, I'm posting links that I think will take you to interesting and useful places. These all seem to revolve around character this time. I've already blogged here about how important character is, so my focus this month shouldn't be too surprising.

An interesting way to measure character motivation and growth

If you're like me, you don't find those character charts very useful. You know the ones I'm talking about. The ones that think you should know what each character's favorite color is. On the other hand, these nine questions will lead to interesting insights into your characters.

This is a little harder to get to because you have to be a member of Savvy Authors. Basic membership is free however, and this article describing a technique for deepening character point of view is worth every penny. ;) I turned a critique buddy onto it (hi Joey) and her writing jumped several levels almost instantly.

If you visit any of the sites and find them useful, I'd love it if you came back and wrote a testimonial to help guide others.

Modern Mythology 101: What Are You Teaching Your Audience?

Mythologist, teacher, and author Joseph Campbell said that the purpose of mythology was to teach people how to live their lives. That would explain why so many myths endured for so long.

As different as our modern world is from ancient times, it's nearly impossible to see how these stories apply to the lives we live today. So where does our current mythology comes from? I think it comes from books and movies. Maybe even video games. That kind of makes what we write today really important, I think.

But isn't romance just light, fluff reading? Housewife porn, some call it. Surely nothing to take seriously. Only suitable for air-headed girls.

But doesn't the romance genre speak to us about how we should treat each other? About how to value ourselves? About what a relationship between men and women should be? These are important lessons. And the audience is bigger than we think it is.

Some time ago, I read Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Ayaan was raised as a Muslim in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and Kenya. She later became a member of Parliament in the Netherlands and this is her story. It's quite an amazing story, too, and I recommend it highly. My point in mentioning it here is that one of the fascinating tidbits she relates is how she and other young Muslim girls used to read Harlequin category romances on the sly. These books were her introduction to the idea that a woman might be treated as a man's equal. The one-man, one-woman relationships made these stories almost fairy tales, they were so far out of her frame of reference. The stories didn't cause any sudden liberation tendencies in these girls, but they did put a seed in her mind. One that helped her adjust later, when she so bravely left the Muslim world behind.

One of the lessons I learned from her story is that you never know who might read your story or what the impact on them might be. Even if what you're writing is "only" romance.

I'd love to know what modern "mythologies" took seed in your mind and how they shaped your thinking.

Panning for Gold

I'm not always the most up-to-date person on the web. Okay, I'll admit it. I'm rarely the most up-to-date person anywhere. Are you happy now?

Often it's because I have way more stuff to do than I have time to do it in. I want the time I spend online to have value. That means I can't follow every blog or tweet or even facebook post I might like to (especially Twitter. Do people really think I have a burning need to know what brand of cereal they had for breakfast?)

I'm sure a lot of you face this same time crunch I do. It's so easy to miss good content because you don't have time to hunt it down. When I find something I think is really valuable, I have this nearly overwhelming urge to share it. That's what's led me to the decision that once a month, (in the future, the first Friday of the month, I think.) I'm going to post links to what I've found recently that's struck me as worth the attention of other writers who want to perfect their craft. The posts I'm linking to may not (okay, make that "will not") be hot off the presses. They may be years old, but they're new to me and the wisdom in them has a forever shelf life. Sort of like Hostess Twinkies.

I haven't decided yet if I will announce these posts. Mostly because I don't want to be that naggy blogger who elbows her way to the front of the line every time I fart. So after you check out a few of the links, if you think you'll have a burning need not to miss any of these bright, shiny coins of wisdom, you might want to sign up for either the blog's RSS feed or email alerts.

Now that all that disclaimer stuff is out of the way, let's get this show on the road.

I like this post because it doesn't just tell you to fix the problem, it gives some guidance on how to identify the problem and then some suggestions on how to fix them.

Be sure to click through to Larry Brooks analysis. It's educational. Keep in mind, Larry writes suspense and he writes it extremely well, but suspense has certain conventions and expectations that don't necessarily hold true for other genres (like romance.) Just the same, 99.9% of what he says applies no matter what you're writing.

I'm still wrapping my head around proper story structure. If you are too, this is another good post from Larry Brooks.

That's it. Only 3 today. Check them out. And let me know if any of them speak to you.

Because I Said So - The "Rules" of Writing

Any writer who's been around me any length of time at all knows that I don't want to hear "they say" in a critique of my writing. I've been doing this long enough that it makes we want to scream when someone pulls out some rule that often doesn't even apply because they don't know what the rule is meant to accomplish.

The "rules" will teach you to write well but to really get good, you need to understand the reason behind each rule. If you don't, then you'll never know when to break the rule. FREX, you'll be told not to used -ing verbs (progressive tense verbs). That's because too many beginning writers don't understand that this verb form implies continuing action. Used in a complex sentence, it can also imply simultaneous action. This creates problems when you see a sentence such as:

"Opening the door, she crossed the room."

Uhm. I think not. Not unless she has extremely loooong arms. (This rule, along with a number of others, is enumerated and explained in the Turkey City Lexicon which can be found at:

There's also a "rule" about gerunds. (Gerund is a progressive tense verb used as a noun. e.g. Running is good exercise.) The "rule" says don't use gerunds (though I suspect this often comes from new writers who can't tell a noun from a verb and so are applying the previous rule wholesale.)

The real "rule" is that gerunds slow the pacing. Well, gee. Maybe I want to slow the pacing. Maybe this is a good place for a gerund. See what I mean? How would you know unless you understand why that particular rule exists?

I suspect that the codification of the rules happens because new writers tend to make the same mistakes over and over until more experienced writers are tired of explaining over and over why they need to change what they're doing. They become the writer's version of "because I said so." That makes them dangerous because new writers pick them up and share them among themselves, spreading their non-wisdom like the bubonic plague.

So my advice to all new writers is: whenever someone tells you "don't do that" but they don't explain why, ask. If the answer comes back as some version of "they say", stop and think about it. Does the advice make sense? Do published authors whose style you admire do this? If they do, is it only rarely?

Few writing rules are truly unbreakable, but you need to understand what they mean to accomplish before you'll know when to break them.

When it comes right down to it, the rules have a lot in common with the Pirate's Code; they're more like guidelines. You were never meant to follow them off a cliff.