When you’re creating characters, they need goals. A clear, specific goal that is vital to the character’s happiness tells the reader what to worry about. It powers the story along with motivation and conflict. These are foundation elements for solid writing and storytelling.
I can’t praise Debra Dixon’s book GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict enough. Her book helped me understand so many areas that were muddied in the writing techniques I’d been trying for so long to grasp.
Bits and pieces shone through from time to time that resonated with me, but the getting the whole picture eluded me. You’ll see much of her wisdom in this blog post along with a few others.
Once I discovered how closely characterization and plotting are related, the mega-ton of writing crap I’d been slogging through disappeared. This was a major breakthrough. When you read this, please remember that each of us have strengths and weaknesses in our writing. What comes easy for me may be the thorn in your side; which makes this a writing goal. Do you accept the challenge?
Goals are everywhere. Like the characters we’re discussing are you going to take action to improve your skills in the craft of writing?
Writing is complicated, yet simple. Once you think about it, it does make sense.
There are details and nuances that can take years to fully grasp but when you do, there is an added richness to your stories and characters. I find that’s one of the many beautiful things about writing.
Being a life-long learner of the craft of a wordsmith is exciting, exasperating and humbling. By the very nature of putting words to paper, creating a three dimensional character and infusing it with life, you bare parts of yourself in each fictional world and the people who reside in it.
Learning external goal, motivation and conflict was easier than internal for me. As I look back I think because I was in an abusive marriage and in survival mode all of the time, deep introspection wasn’t something I was able to do to the fullest extent. Like puzzle pieces forming a partial picture, I became frustrated at myself for not grasping this aspect of writing like I desired to improve or rise to the next level of progress.
Here is a brief look at goal, motivation and conflict. I hope you’ll find something here that will help you in your writing.
The goal is what the character wants to achieve, something they desire or are passionate about. This is something they will go to great lengths to obtain. The character will take action to reach their goal. The character will not give up because it is essential to their well-being, their happiness that they reach this goal. The character’s goal has made him/her motivated and determined to keep control of his/her life.
This is kind of character is someone a reader can care about.
And when a character takes action, it creates plot. This is where characterization and plot come together and show you can’t have one without the other.
The above sentence is vitally important. Post it by your computer if you need to.
I know some of this material may sound simple, but understanding the why and how characterization and plot go together will build the strong foundation of the story.
The characters have to care about their goal, it must be important to them or they won’t care enough to take action. Example: Maggie has two small children. She needs a job and money to buy food. This is important, urgent for this character. We can sympathize and/or empathize with her. Food and shelter are basic necessities of life.
Be sure the goals of the hero/heroine conflict with each other and the villain. All of these characters have their own desires and a plan on getting what they want. The villain can’t be a wimp or else everything will be too easy for the hero and the reader will be mad.
Definition of External Goal: External is something that is concrete. You can touch, taste, smell, see and hear. It’s physical.
Definition of Internal Goal: Internal is something that affects the emotions, spirituality, life lessons.
To create a character that’s three dimensional they need to have both internal and external goals. Pause for a minute and consider what internal and external goals you have. How does one affect the other? There are long term goals, short term, scene goals.
This is the outline I use when I plot my romances. You might have something else that keeps you on track. Of course, use what works for you. I find it helps looking at the methods other writer’s use. If there’s an area that doesn’t quite work and needs tweaked look at what other writers are doing. It might help.
Opening scene: This is the point where the character’s normal world is changed.
Inciting incident: The problem that has threatened the character and their world so they are forced to take action, even if they are reluctant.
Lead up to first plot point/turning point: Character can still be refusing to accept the change and their part of the adventure.
First major plot point/turning point: The character is committed and pulled into the story problem.
Pinch #1-this is the tightening that occurs from the first plot point
Midpoint– for romance this is where emotional commitment or possibly physical commitment occurs. The buildup has risen to this point. Hero/heroine’s journey has shifted from self. This is the point of no return.
Pinch # 2 (downward arc of character development) the tightening begins as things fall apart and refers to the first Pinch.
Second Major plot point/turning point (heading toward crisis) Conflicts of the hero and heroine blend in both internal and external as an event or a series of them are thrown at them. Ex. Hero and heroine can’t be together because of _____ and they’re kicking themselves for opening up their heart and trusting someone.
Dark Moment/Crisis: They’re at the very bottom and all looks like is lost. A hard, difficult choice must be made. The reader is wondering how can the characters get out of this mess (we hope!) or will they lose everything? The choices are ugly and cut to the core of the character’s greatest fear(s).
Climax/Resolution of main conflicts: The supreme sacrifice has been made. By making the choice to take the hard way, the hero/heroine has faced their worst fear(s), sacrificed their focus on themselves and have now embraced a new goal, a life together.
Final Scene/Epilogue: By risking everything the hero and heroine are better off than when they started including having their internal needs met and the story question raised at the beginning of the book is answered. They are complete now they have each other and have learned life lessons making them wiser.
Reading the blogs of other writers has helped me tremendously. Kristen Lamb as a blog topic that falls right into place with this one. You can find the post here: Kristen Lamb’s Blog (Three Ways To Add the Sizzle to Fiction That’s Fizzled). Kristen has an amazing blog!
Take care and keep creating!