The basic structure of storytelling–goal, motivation, conflict

My first creative writing class ever showed me a couple of tricks to better storytelling.

The best lesson: goal, motivation, conflict charts rock!

I usually don’t give a lot of tips on technique here since I believe that real writers like those who are published and win Pulitzers and such, should give them out. But a friend of mine told me recently that I knew a lot already about what I’m doing since I’m always reading or writing or practicing different techniques.

But what to talk about? I could talk about how to structure a scene, what dialog should do, and a Hero’s journey, all WONDERFUL things to know when you’re learning the basics of story telling. But a GMC chart is step one and helps you avoid problems before they start.

Okay, the basic premise is that your character, which ever it is, has internal and external goals, motivations, and conflicts.

The goals are what they want to achieve. It could be physical like losing weight or intangible like the love of a good woman. The point is that every character good guy or villain wants something.

The motivation is the why. This is interesting and involves almost digging into the psyche. Why does your character want to lose weight? Perhaps an external motivation is that they want to look good naked. The internal is that they don’t want to be laughed at or want to catch the eye of a potential sweetheart (can’t you tell I’m a chick lit writer. ha!) This motive drives the character and your story.

A trick that I’ve learned with goal and motivation is to make the over all theme relateable to everyone. Everyone (most of us anyway) can relate to losing weight and wanting to feel good about ourselves.

The final is conflict and this is where you get to throw the book at the character. So that character who wants to lose weight to feel good about themselves and catch their sweetheart’s eye has a conflict. In this case let’s say his external conflict is that he works at Krispy Kreme as the new flavor taster. His internal conflict is his self doubt. Now we’re cooking with fire! What a conflict and what a struggle! Makes for interesting reading, I’m sure.

Now do this with all your characters, villains too. And it’ll help you avoid trying to plug in whole later. Trust me on that! The story I just finished had everything except an internal motivation and my critiquers caught that lasp quickly! Even though when I revised it, I know something was missing, I couldn’t put my finger on it. I didn’t use this technique. So you see, even people who use it often need to continue using it.

Make your own chart and see how things begin to flow. Happy writing!

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