Monday, November 12, 2007


Before I joined TARA, if you had asked me about my GMC, I would have described the pick-up truck my dad drove during the '70s.

But when a writer refers to the GMC, she is referring to Goal, Motivation and Conflict as described in the classic book by Debra Dixon.   The GMC drives the plot.   (Pun intended.)   It can be defined as follows:

Goal – what the character wants
Motivation – why the character wants it
Conflict – why the character can't have it

I've been contemplating whether or not I could apply the GMC model to real life.   We all have goals.   Simple goals.  Complex goals.   External goals and internal goals.   Whether it is to fix the kids a healthy lunch, lose weight, or get to work on time, we have hundreds of goals every single day.

We all have motivations behind these goals as well.   We want to fix the kids a healthy lunch because we love them.   We want to lose weight because that 25th reunion is around the corner.   We want to get to work on time because we value our jobs.

So far, so good.   Now we come to conflict.   We know we have plenty of that!   I want to fix the kids a healthy lunch because I love them, but the dog snagged the loaf of whole wheat bread from the counter and ate it.   I want to lose weight in order to look good for that reunion, but Thanksgiving and Christmas arrive first – with all that tempting food.   I want to get to work on time because I value my job, but I picked up a nail in my tire and have a flat.   Sometimes the conflict is a consequence of our action or inaction, other times it arises from sources beyond our control.   But wherever it comes from, we have it to spare!

The difference between an author's GMC and real life is that in real life, we do not want conflict.   We do everything we can to avoid it.   We pray to be delivered from it.

An author, on the other hand, creates characters she loves, then tortures them for your reading pleasure.   There are a few important reasons an author persecutes her characters.

Without conflict, a story is boring.   Imagine a 400-page novelization of Teletubbies or the Wiggles.   No, even those shows have conflict of the mildest sort.   Four hundred pages of dialogue from a Wal-Mart greeter?

Conflict helps readers connect with the characters in a story.   If you are divorced, you may relate to a character who is looking for love after a divorce.   If you are fighting cancer, you may understand a character who struggles with the disease.   If you are an archaeologist with an expertise in medieval weaponry who is chasing a serial killer who murders his victims in bizarre ways, you've been reading Karen Rose's Die for Me too long.   Put the book down and step away.   (Sorry.   I couldn't resist.)

Conflict also helps an author reveal a character's moral fiber.   How do I show that the heroine is strong if she never struggles?   How can you learn that a hero is faithful if he is never tempted?   How will we know a character is courageous if he never faces difficult circumstances?

Author Julie Leto writes "tough-cookie heroines" -- so tough, she needs some serious conflict to reveal any weaknesses.   "One of the only ways I can make my heroines vulnerable is to have them nearly electrocuted and put in the hospital."

An author has great reasons to inject lots and lots of conflict into stories, but do we need adversity in real life?   A boring life doesn't sound so bad to me.   It reminds me of the supposed ancient Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times."

Does adversity help us connect with others?   Look at the proliferation of support groups for your answer.   We all suffer in various ways, and no one understands our pain like someone who has been through it.

After my ectopic pregnancy, I went through a period of serious depression.   My concerned husband called my OB/GYN, who referred us to a pregnancy and infant loss support group at our local hospital.   The group was led by a couple who had experienced two miscarriages.   We found tremendous healing in that group and became good friends with this couple.   Later on, our experiences in infertility led us to help start an infertility support group in our community.

Experiencing infertility and losing a pregnancy made us more sensitive to others in the same situation.   We were helped by a couple who suffered before us, and in turn, we were able to help others in need.   In hindsight, I can see purpose in the pain we faced when we lost our first baby.

Adversity definitely tests and reveals our moral fiber.   It can also reveal the character and nature of God.   In John 9:1-3, we read:

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life."

Jesus went on to give the blind man his sight.

I don't want to carry this analogy too far.   I don't want to cast the Creator as some Cosmic Stephen King, merrily inflicting terror and disaster on His creations for His own entertainment.   I only want to illustrate that pain may have a purpose – to help us to relate to those in need, to test and reveal our own strengths and weaknesses, and to reveal the character of God.   Does pain serve any other purpose?   We'll continue exploring that soon.

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