The Goal is to Have Motivated Characters


by S. E. White

Everyone has heard of the Plotters vs. Pantsers camps for authors. Plotters take their story and attack it with outlines, guidelines, plotlines, and beat sheets. Pansters take it in a more relaxed way, writing as the story flows with plenty of detours as needed.

Most writers take elements from each side and fall somewhere on a spectrum that mixes Plotting with some Pantsing and a healthy dose of common sense to get their story written. In my quest as a new author to find my place on the spectrum I enrolled in an online writing class and ran head-first into a GMC table that the instructor recommended.



Goal Motivation Conflict
External Goal for story: Why are they acting on this goal? External Obstacles in the way:
Internal Goal: Why this goal? What is holding them back?

(Link to Pub (lishing) Crawl and a nice article breaking down GMC from Susan Dennard)

Although some authors may find the table to be their cup of tea, it solidified my knowledge that my tribe is very much Pantsers. If you approach your writing with a more Plotter attitude, you may like using GMC tables yourself. If you like the Pantser approach, you will enjoy reading about my struggle with it. Either way, here is a breakdown of the nemesis I found in trying to use Goal, Motivation and Conflict to plot my characters.



The main character had a crystal clear goal, right? They are the Main Character with the capital letter and everything. By the laws of such things, that means they have a goal. After looking it over several times . . . it’s not as clear as pure crystal.

The character I tried it on had external and internal goals that sometimes conflicted and changed during the course of the story. I started double guessing myself trying to figure out which one was The Goal. The more I tried, the more the sneaky idea that there was in fact no way to break my main character’s goals into a neat sentence or two bobbed out from behind bushes, waving and grinning. It started to get frustrating, so I moved on to the next letter in the acronym.



Here I started to suspect I was stomping around the GMC table 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 motivated my characters? Why did I have them make those choices? What is my motivation? *wails* This one was harder than The Goal, and sounded suspiciously similar.

Doesn’t motivation cause us to reach for a goal? So did it mean the steps to the goal, or the root of that goal? Or was it after the more Freudian motivation; the deeply buried schema, the fears, the primal urges that motivated my character toward that particular goal? I started over-thinking my thinking, about thinking. I gave up. My story had a theme and I knew my characters were motivated. But I couldn’t get it narrowed down into that little table.



By now I was reeling around the dark forest of GMC, banging off the trees and barking my shins on the knobbly roots. In the plot I kept in my head my characters faced definite conflict. The more I tried to summarize it though, the more I second-guessed. The external obstacles seemed too simple, the internal ones not scary enough to drive my story. Instead of helping me get the characters clear, the GMC table had me questioning every part of the way I structured my writing. The self-doubt was vicious. In the end, to stay sane, I had to toss a strict GMC table out the window and leave that forest.

Fellow Pantsers, hear my story. We might be well advised to steer clear of tables that have acronyms. I found a general outline that works much better for me, breaking my plot down into acts and reminding me to pay attention to the rise and fall, without being quite as strict as a GMC table.

My journey with this writing tool was rough, but that doesn’t mean it won’t have value for another author. Has anyone else had some experience with GMC for your characters? Did you find it to be a valuable tool? What plotting tool do you favor?




Guest post contributed by S.E. White. S.E. writes from the wild west of Nevada, which influences a lot of her books. She is a regular contributor to the blog Books Rock My World and a guest poster for various other sites like Writers Helping Writers, Women on Writing, Mamalode, and Her View From Home.

19 thoughts on “The Goal is to Have Motivated Characters

  1. I thought I was alone! I’ve also attempted to follow templates and grids but they’re not helpful; They place too much rigidity around something that should be (at least in the drafting stages) fluid and open. I can cross-check character motivation, goals etc in the editing stages, you can spot these things when you re-read, but to handcuff yourself from the beginning is terribly limiting. The drawback to “pantsing” is that you end up writing a bunch of stuff that you probably end up trashing, but I think that’s okay, it’s part of the process.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I think these tables keep us “focused.” They are in the back of our mind, so on those days that we are writing and we realize we might not be on target, maybe we are rambling, etc., we remember the table and realize we need to THINK a little more about WHERE we are headed with our characters/plot, etc. Nothing is in stone, writing tools are suggestions, we learn from everything. That’s why we take writing classes to keep building on what will make “us,” as individuals a great writer. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pantsers of the world, unite!

    I’m very much of that camp… and in the words of my Grandmother: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    So much of what we do is half understood voodoo anyway, no matter what camp you’re from.


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