Character Development Part 6

Let’s talk about character goals a bit more and look at things from a different perspective.

Remember that your character needs goals. They need the thing they need. They want the thing they want. Ideally, these two things (the need and the want) conflict with each other. Goals and the inability to achieve those goals also make conflict. Conflict is good for readers.

But how do you choose your character’s goals? Let’s ask some questions.
What is your character dissatisfied with? What is making them unhappy? This is the trigger for what they want. They want to be happy.


What does your character believe will bring them happiness? This belief is your character’s aspiration. This belief is also most probably wrong. Your character THINKS this is what will make them happy. But in reality, it’s a misbelief. And the misbelief creates conflict. Conflict is good for readers.

What can your character do to turn their aspiration into reality? This is your story goal. Your character wants happiness and if they do these steps they will achieve what they want. Except, there is always something to get in the way of the steps. You know that phrase, “One step forward, two steps back?” Yeah, that applies to fiction, too. The thing that gets in the way creates conflict. Conflict is good for readers.

What keeps your character from taking the action necessary to turn their ambition into reality? This is your internal conflict. This is the fear-based issue of some sort usually. They really want to be happy, and they could be happy only if they would do these simple things, but they can’t because if they do those simple things then…they might succeed, or they might lose a relationship, or they might fail and they are afraid of that, or…you get it, right?

Your character can run, but they can’t hide from their goals.

What would it take for your character to act on the above in spite of their fear? This is what will launch your character into action. They don’t want to act, really, or they can’t, but something happens that forces them to act. This forceful event/thing/person creates conflict. Conflict is good for readers.

The decision to act in spite of everything is what propels your plot.

Let’s look at an example.

Remember that Harrison Ford movie called The Fugitive? If you haven’t seen it recently, watch it. If you haven’t ever seen it, it’s a good study in character goals, character motivations, and great conflict. Don’t worry if you write in different genres. This craft is the same for all genres. You just tweak them for your character’s individual circumstances.

Back to The Fugitive. Someone killed Kimball’s wife and Kimball is blamed for the murder. He escapes and wants to find the killer. Kimball is also hunted by law enforcement. His goal is to find the killer, but the thing getting in the way is law enforcement. There’s a scene where the cop chases Kimball into the sewer. Kimball can’t escape because the drainage pipe leads to a fall of hundreds of feet down into a raging river. He must give up. But he can’t. The risk of capture forces him to jump from the pipe, down, down, down, into the river. Kimball has to make that decision in order to be free  so he can catch his wife’s killer. And the conflict that resulted from Kimball’s decision propels the reader (viewer) on through the story.

Remember that the decisions to pursue the goal start small and grow incrementally as the story progresses so that the conflict grows with each decision until the climax. These decisions, this growing conflict, propels the story. Your characters must have goals. Your characters must be motivated. Your characters must have conflict.

Conflict is good for readers.


The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

Character Development: GMC

GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict) is essential for character development and is a major component of all well-written books that readers love. But what is GMC?

Goal = I want

The Goal is what the character wants, or thinks he/she wants. The goal is so important to the character they can’t let it go, even if the goal isn’t important to other characters. The goal must be relevant for that particular character otherwise it will affect your overall story logic, and if the goal is also urgent, all the better, because the urgency will help move the character forward in the story. The goal should be difficult to achieve and come with challenges and obstacles so that each decision that the character makes will make the goal harder or easier to obtain. You characters’ goals are what drive the novel, and stories without goals for  each character have an incomplete structure. You character should have short-term goals as well. The short-term goals may be steps to the long-term goal, or the short-term goals may just keep your character alive so they can achieve the long-term goal. Regardless, each and every character should have a goal.

Motivation = I want because

Motivation is the “why” part of the goal and expresses why a character wants that specific goal. It is the logical reason the character wants the goal more than anything else in the world. The motivation is what keeps the character from giving up. Strong motivation will create conflict and force the character to move forward. The character must choose the goal in spite of the conflict otherwise there is insufficient motivation.  If the motivation is urgent and/or compelling, this will also help move the character forward in the story. Note that coincidence is NOT the same as motivation. Coincidence happens when the writer has failed to plan a way for the character to get out of the pickle they are in, and it causes the reader to suspend their disbelief. If your character is escaping from evil minions and comes across a car with the keys in it, that is coincidence. Don’t depend on coincidence. Depend on GMC. Your reader will notice all those coincidences, even if you don’t.

Conflict = I can’t get because

Conflict is the “what” which keeps your character from achieving the goal and it is the conflict which is the whole point of the story. If your character reaches the goal immediately, then there is no story and you can just type THE END.  Dealing with each conflict that arises forces the character to decide how to move forward in order to reach the goal. The character may get side-tracked, but they never lose sight of what they want. They push forward. They fight. They will reach the goal or die because it is that important to them.

Types of Conflict

Ideally GMC is both internal and external for each character. The two types of conflict create depth and believability. For even more depth put the two types of conflict in opposition to each other. And for even more depth make the GMCs f one character oppose the GMCs of another character. This use of conflict will ensure that the story contains a natural tension which will keep your reader turning pages. Note that natural tension does not necessarily mean realistic tension. Fictional conflicts must be larger than life just like fictional characters.

Internal Conflict deals with the character’s emotional issues which complicate the character’s ability to reach the goal. The inner anxiety of the character creates tension. Internal conflicts (such as tropes listed here) can be nearly infinite with creative options and opportunities for the writer.

External Conflict consists of problems developed from events or other people which keep the character from reaching the goal, and it is the external conflict that is crucial for plot development. Think Man vs Nature, Man vs Man, etc…and how this relates to plot types.

Generally, writing a strong, well-rounded character, as well as developing a great plot will come down to GMC. A story’s tension is created by good motivations and a story’s momentum is created by good conflicts. You characters must have well thought out goals to make both possible.

Next time: Character Arc