GMC: Looking at the C

Let’s pretend for a second that a story is the same thing as a car. Let’s say our creative mind concocts an idea that might as well be a beautiful, cherry-red, brand-spankin’ new Ford Mustang. Do you know what we need to get the vehicle moving? Literally, gasoline. Figuratively, conflict! Conflict is the gasoline that drives our stories forward. Every story needs conflict, because without it, our fancy ideas are just going to sit in the garage.

In Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, Debra Dixon says the goal is the what (to learn more, check out the G in GMC), the motivation is the why (to learn more, check out the M in GMC), and the conflict is the why not. Let’s reacquaint ourself with Jimmy John.

Goal: to win a pie eating contest
Motivation: because he wants to prove he’s a man

What kind of story would this be if Jimmy John has a great two months of training, enters the contest, and wins? Talk about boring. We need something. And that something is the Why Not? Why can’t Jimmy John win the pie eating contest? What stands in his way? There could be any number of things. Maybe he’s competing against his big brother, who’s appetite is bigger than a horse. Maybe Jimmy John is super poor and can’t buy the pies he needs to practice. Or maybe he’s got a horrible case of IBS. I could keep going. The point is, every story needs a why not. Because without a why not, why should your reader care? Without a why not, how is your character going to grow?

Debra Dixon says: The strength of your book is your conflict.

Wow, that’s a big statement. However, it’s important to keep in mind that all the conflict in the world won’t mean a thing if we don’t establish an important goal and a compelling motivation. If Jimmy John doesn’t really care all the much about winning the pie eating contest, or he only wants to win because it would be fun, it won’t matter how many obstacles I throw in Jimmy John’s path, because if Jimmy John doesn’t care that much about the outcome, why should my readers?

Some things to know about conflict:
-It can be anything, as long as it prevents your character from reaching his/her goal
– Every page needs it
-Villains make excellent conflicts (Jimmy John’s older brother)
– Internal conflict brings out emotion
– Be careful not to go overboard with the conflict. You don’t want to numb your readers
– Bickering is not conflict
– Misunderstanding is not conflict

Ways to establish conflict:
– Raise the stakes: take your conflict, and kick it up a notch. Imagine the worst case scenario and run with it for a page or two
– Setting can increase conflict. How many horror films take place in creepy settings?
– Fish out of the water: Throw your MC in a situation that is so far out of his/her comfort zone that conflict is inevitable 
-And the ever famous, two dogs, one bone. Pit your characters against each other. They both want the same thing. Automatic conflict. (in Beneath a Velvet Sky, I do this. The bone is the farm, and the two dogs are Evan and Bethany)
Question to ponder: How do you come up with your conflict? Do you have a hard or easy time establishing the conflict? Are you an anti-conflict type of person in every day life?


6 thoughts on “GMC: Looking at the C

  1. Marybeth Poppins

    In actually life I avoid conflict at all cost. I hate it. Not that it doesn't come searching after me anyways. Maybe that's why it was not entirely too difficult to let the conflict pile on in my novel. Great Post!!! I really need to get me some of these books. I have a feeling my entire novel may need to be rewritten! (Although I hope not!!!)

  2. Katie

    Good morning Kelly! Glad to help get your mind prepared for a week of writing. Also glad my post was helpful. 🙂

    Thanks Jody! You're going to love GMC. Incredibly simple and makes so much sense. I loved your post today and look forward to Wednesdays!

    Erica – I can't wait to read your books! They sound awesome!

    Laurel – gotta use what you have, right? Hope your neighborhood isn't too creepy!!

  3. Laurel Rogers

    I am confident that I will never run out of inner turmoil at 3 in the morning in the middle of the night in a super-creepy neighborhood…Thanks, Katie

  4. Erica Vetsch

    Excellent post, and great analogy with the car.

    My GMC's usually come as a What if moment. What if a Duluth millionaire tried to acquire a monopoly on shipping out of Duluth harbor by marrying his three grandsons off to heiresses?

    Or in another series, What if – How would three brothers be affected in forming relationships and falling in love if their father was the town drunk?

    Then throw in lots of action and characters that are complete opposites, and a villain pulling strings in the background, and voy-oh-lee (as my daughter says) GMC.

  5. Jody Hedlund

    Thank you for sharing these posts, Katie! They've been so good! I've got this book on my list now to read! I love the simple break down of how it all works together. I've known each of these facets but like the way she so simply explains them!

  6. Kelly

    Thanks for posting…totally gets my mind right for the week. I think maybe I had all three of these, goals, motivation, and conflict in my last book. But maybe they weren't all directly related. I'm really beginning to understand all the rejection now! 🙁


Comments are closed.