My Goal is to Have Motivated Characters

But the little bastards won’t play along

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My current nemesis: GMC. (Not the car company.) The unfortunate side effect of all the research I’ve been doing on how to write is that I have found out, well, how to write. Sometimes the worst thing you can get is what you asked for, right? So I have entered the forest of GMC; Goal, Motivation, Conflict. It is a thicket with deceptively large entry signs that turn into wandering little footpaths of hope, angst, self-doubt, and double-guessing. There is no yellow brick road.

Goal: My main character has a crystal clear goal, right? I mean, she is the main character. By the laws of such things, that means she has a goal. After looking it over several times. . . no, she doesn’t. The way I’ve written it, she’s just drifting along and happened into marrying the man who loves her. Why? Who knows? My readers sure don’t. In my head she’s decisive and practical, family oriented and loving. The more I read and edit, the more the sneaky idea that she’s not in fact the main character bobs out from behind bushes, waving and grinning. Her new husband, the man who has always loved her, is edging into my main character spot. It’s easier for me to get in his head and his goals are clear. And I now need a new opening chapter to my finished* manuscript, from the point of view of my real main character.

Motivation: I feel like I’m stomping around like the most spoiled actress in Hollywood, the kind who demands silk toilet covers and golden bowls full of petit fours and ice balls. What is going on with my characters? Why are they making these choices? What is my motivation? *wails* This one is harder than the goal, and sounds suspiciously similar. Isn’t motivation the thing that makes you go after a goal? So is it the steps to that goal, or the root of that goal? Or is it more Freudian; the deeply buried schema, the fears, the primal urges that motivate you toward that particular goal? I’m over-thinking my thinking, about thinking. I give up. My characters, one of which is the newly elected MC, have external and internal goals. They are trying to meet those goals while the obstacles pile up. End O’Story.

Conflict: By now I’m reeling around this GMC forest banging off the trees and barking my shins on the knobbly roots, blind in the dark. This sucks. In the plot in my head, my characters face definite conflict. My main character has always loved her and is over the moon that she said yes to him but there are subtle indications that things aren’t quite as perfect as he imagined. He pushes it away, buries himself in work, but of course it forces its way out and he realizes his beautiful bride wasn’t actually in love with him when she said yes. She might have been in love with (dun dun dun) Another Man. Making him the Second Choice. She, meanwhile, has fallen in love with him and is starting to face that fact just a bit too late which creates more conflict between the two. The more I try to summarize it though, the more I second-guess myself. The way it’s written and the way I see it, there is plenty of conflict, unrequited love that turns into requited love. It’s a slow burn, and the romance world seems to have no place for slow burns.

Oh GMC, I love you as I curse you. It’s important to have a clear plot and at least a vague sense of where this is all going in the back of my mind, even if I end up deviating into new footpaths. This is a tool to get me there. It’s the kind of tool that ends up making you bash yourself in the knuckles a lot though. The self-doubt can be vicious. I love my story, and I believe in my characters. I’m confident that it’s the kind of story that will give my readers a happy feeling. In the end, to stay sane, I have to toss a strict GMC table out the window and leave this forest.

*Finished, for a given value of finished.