GMC: Looking at the M

A few days ago, I blogged about the G in GMC. The G is the goal, or the what. What is my character working toward throughout the course of the book? In Getting into Character, Brandilyn Collins calls the G the action objective. The action objective is the character’s desire and it should be stated as an action verb.

Instead of: Jimmy John wants to be successful. You make it: Jimmy John wants to win first prize in the pie eating contest. The more specific, the better. So now that we’ve established the need for every good book to have a G, let’s look at the M.

If G is the what. M is the why.
M stands for Motivation. For every goal we give a character, we better have a reason, a motivation, a why, for giving this character that goal. What motivates Jimmy John to want to win a pie eating contest? Why does getting first prize matter to him? If we want this story to be believable, there better be a good reason. And this reason better be strong enough to drive Jimmy John through the course of the story.
There are a whole number of reasons why Jimmy John might want to win first prize in a pie eating contest. Maybe he’s really skinny and his dad’s a big man who always took pride in his girth and the amount of food he could eat. Maybe Jimmy John grew up teased by his equally big brother who said real men have big appetites. Maybe winning that pie eating contest is Jimmy John’s way of proving to his father and his brother that he’s just as much a man as either of them. Even though this idea is absurd, it’s believable.
Because the motivation is there.
Debra Dixon says motivation is one of the most important elements in writing fiction. Because without a plausible and strong why, the story falls apart. There are no limits in fiction. We can do anything we want. If we want Jimmy John’s goal to be growing his toenails out until they curl under his feet, we can do it. If we want Jimmy John’s goal to be cloning his dead uncle Bob, then we can do that too. We can make these stories believable as long as we establish the WHY. Motivation is key. Every character needs a goal, and every character needs a motivation for that goal.
Debra Dixon’s advice as far as finding the motivation?
Keep it simple. Keep it strong. Keep it focused.
God has brought a person into my life recently. And this person gave me advice that has lined up very nicely with what I’ve been reading in Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. She says, “Every time you have your character do something, always ask WHY?” A strong WHY is what suspends disbelief and engages our readers in the story.
Questions to Ponder: Do your characters have motivation? How do you go about finding the reasons that drive your characters to act the way they do?
On a side note, I apologize if my use of the name Jimmy John made any of you hungry for a sandwich.


12 thoughts on “GMC: Looking at the M

  1. […] (to learn more, check out the G in GMC), the motivation is the whyΒ (to learn more, check out the M in GMC), and the conflict is the why not. Let’s reacquaint ourself with Jimmy […]

  2. Katie

    If you're looking for a writing book to read, you should put this one on your list, Jody! It's very simple and basic stuff – yet at the same time, so enlightening. It's sort of like, duh, why didn't I think of that? And the way she relates everything to the ever popular movie, The Wizard of Oz, helps everything click and make sense.

    Erica – I want Jimmy John's too! They have the BEST sandwiches!! It's only 10:15 and I'm already hungry for lunch! I'm so happy I purchased this book. πŸ™‚

  3. Erica Vetsch

    Okay, as soon as I read Jimmy John, I wanted a sandwich BAD!

    GMC. The bedrock of my plotting system. πŸ™‚ I have a place on each lower corner of my plotting board for the h/h GMC's. It sure helps keep the story focused and makes writing that one sentence summary much easier!

    Jimmy John wants X, because of Y, but Z is stopping him. πŸ™‚

  4. Jody Hedlund

    This is a great post, Katie! I've heard so much about this book but haven't read it yet. I once read in one of Camy's posts that we have to have an overarching story goal (I think she called it an ARC), and it has to be one that the character can't walk away from. In that case, motivation is critically important. And as Krista said, weaving it through the story is the key.

  5. Katie

    Krista – you know, that's probably a good problem. At least it's better than shoving the motivation down the reader's throats. Less is always more. You just have to find those ways to sprinkle in a hint here and there. πŸ™‚ Another thing Debra Dixon says is motivation is what allows readers to empathize with our characters – even if the MC has a "bad" goal, if you give him/her a believable motivation, reader will empathize.

    Jeannie! WOW! $1600?? That's insane! Do you have any idea what might have caused the crash? Was it a virus? Too bad your comp. company wouldn't pay for it… seeing as it's a brand new computer. I miss you a lot too! Call me anytime! It's summer now, so I'm available almost anytime. And we're finally in the same time zone! Can't wait to talk!

  6. Jeannie Campbell

    isn't GMC good? since i haven't been able to type on anything, i've been reading a lot. i'm also reading kaye dacus's debut novel, The Stand-In Groom. just finished Siri Mitchell's latest, Love's Pursuit. great stuff.

    to answer your question about my hard drive, i'm staring at the defective one in a heavy plastic bag. i'll be researching places to send it online tomorrow. i've been quoted $1600 for one place. can you believe that? i've seen some internet prices around $300….but i'm not sure if they are as professional? anyway….at least i have my computer back. just like i got it out of the box….SO sad to boot it up. i'm overwhelmed with trying to customize it again.

    you know i love you and miss you a lot. let's talk soon.

  7. Krista Phillips

    ohhh, yes motiviation. I've been dinged on that several times. Not because my character HAS none, but because I failed to SHOW it. Yeah, doesn't help when it's just in authors head! Working on that point though:-)

  8. sherrinda

    Marybeth and Katie, if you are FB friends, you could chat online. πŸ™‚

  9. Katie

    Hi Marybeth! How do I let you know I'm online…. you see, I may be relatively young, but I am completely computer illiterate. I shall email you and comment on your blog. Hopefully we will connect!

    Sherrinda! I don't know what you're talking about – curling toenails are sexy! Umm… just kidding. They sort of make me gag as well. Fire in Fiction is on my list of craft books to read once I'm done with the two I'm reading now. πŸ™‚

    T. Anne – I'm glad you liked the post! Hoping to help out my fellow writers by sharing the wisdom!

  10. T. Anne

    Oooohh I like that "without a plausible strong why, the story falls apart" I love that! I will be asking 'why' for each character as I begin my revisions. Thanx for another great post!

  11. sherrinda

    Eeeeewwww! Curling toenails (gagging here!) are totally yucky! (excuse me, while I take a sip of my tea…sigh, much better!)
    I love the question WHY. I am reading Maass's book Fire in Fiction and he talks about each scene needing goals, though not necessarily a goal met at the end. The goal drives the scene, but may or may not leave the reader in expectation and wonderment.
    Great post!

  12. Marybeth Poppins

    My MC is caught in a battle between her motivations….does that make sense???

    Hey…when you are online let me know…I have a question for you πŸ˜€


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