Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Goal, Motivation and Conflict


"I think that men tend to be more romantic than women. When my guys fall, they fall incredibly hard. And they fall forever." Suzanne Brockmann

Goal is the future. Motivation is the past. Conflict is the present. It’s what characters want, why they want it and why they can’t have it. It’s the backbone of the romance novel. Creating it takes skill, planning and careful thought.

Goal (What They Want)
Every character in your story needs a goal. The objective is to make those goals believable and measurable. Your long-term goals will state the characters ultimate wishes or desires. So ask yourself what are their dreams or purposes in life? The goal needs to be clearly defined so the reader can get a sense of what’s at stake.

Short-term goals focus on the immediate needs of the character. They must be met in order for characters to achieve their long-term goal. They create inner conflict, change long-term goals and lead to character growth. Read Writing the Perfect Scene by Randy Ingermanson in which he applies principles from Dwight Swain’s book Techniques of the Selling Writer. He talks about motivation reaction units and a way to incorporate a goal, motivation and conflict into each separate scene. He also talks about sequels and establishing reactions, dilemmas and decisions.

Motivation (Why They Want It)
Motivation stems from the past. It’s the reason why a certain character acts the way he/she does. Every action and decision made by a character is done because the character is motivated by something. That something inspires characters to make choices and take action and the action should be appropriate to the motivation. Motivations need to be realistic and lead to a honest reaction on behalf of characters based on their goals and personality. So how am I going to show a reader why my characters want something? First of all I’m going to create character traits and a personality for my character. Next I will create a backstory or a history. Some of this may come out in the story and some of it may not. I am going to ask myself – why? Why do they want what they want? What are their personal beliefs and core values? What are they willing to sacrifice to get it?

*Goal and motivation will change and evolve as the story progress.

Conflict (Why They Can’t Have It)
Conflict, of course, should exist on two levels: external and internal. I’m going to stick to internal conflict because that’s the part I’m lacking in my writing. The tricky part is creating an emotional (internal) conflict strong enough to carry an entire book. For readers of the romance genre, emotional conflict is the point. It’s why we pick up a book. It needs to be strong and not easily overcome. We want to see them suffer first.

Conflict is the clash between wants and needs. Ask yourself: What stops a character from doing what he/she must versus what he/she wants? Another important question to ask is this: Why is loving this person the worst thing this character can do at this moment? Your hero and heroine want to be together but there are obstacles in their way. These obstacles need to be HUGE. They need to evoke fear and dread. They must expose vulnerability and escalate emotional risk. They must repudiate strongly held beliefs. Conflict is the reason the hero cannot have what he wants. Conflict or obstacles force an emotional confrontation and lead to achieving goals.

Along the way I discovered a couple of great ‘articles’ on developing beliefs and values.

Suzanne Brockmann provides her workshop Tall, Dark and Believable: Creating the “Perfect” Romance Hero in the Reader’s Guide to the Troubleshooters Series on her website as a downloadable pdf file. Scroll down to the end of the page.

Check out Kate Walker’s blog and her recent All About Alpha’s Challenge. Very interesting and contains pictures of Hugh Jackman. Never a bad thing.

Virgina Kantra’s article Developing the Romance in Your Romance Novel. It includes questions to ask to help develop your characters.

Ray-ann Carr’s Emotional Conflict in Romance Fiction lists extensive questions to help you figure out if you have enough emotional conflict in your story.

While researching this topic one thing became blazingly apparent. I need to buy the book Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Deb Dixon. Many people listed it as a must have resource book.

I hope this gives you some place to start if you’re mired down in conflict troubles. I know it helped me. Feel free to share how do you handle GMC? Share examples from your own works. Do you have a system? Any words of advice? Any favorite resources?

17 comments:

Anita Mae Draper said...

Good morning, Karen. Excellent post. I don't have a problem with goals, motivations, or outer conflict, but I do with inner conflict. No matter how hard I try, I want them to get over their conflict quickly so I can show them falling in love. What I need to do is show them falling in love despite their conflict.

So thank you for the links. I'm checking them out.

Karen said...

Hey, Anita. I know what you mean. I have exactly the same problem although my goals and motivations need work too. I'm in the process of strengthening the emotional conflict in my wip so the tension carries on to the end of the book. I think by erring on the side of believable I've created something to easily solved and too passive.

Hope you enjoy the links.

ban said...

ohhh, i'm off to check them out too - soon as the little one goes in for a nap ! my problem would be external conflict - i have no problem making my MCs clash emotionally/internally - they've both got backgrounds strong enough to keep them at each other's throats forever ... i need more excuses to break them down, bring them TOGETHER despite their 'aversions'. That would count as external conflict right ?

Karen said...

Hi ban, It sounds like you have strong goals and motivations and enough emotional conflict to carry your story to the end. Part of creating emotional conflict is, as you say, breaking it down and bringing characters together. As the story moves forward the conflict needs to progress causing the goals to change and motivations to shift. External conflict forces characters to interact and deal with each other. How they deal with each other depends on their goals and motivation therefore creating internal or emotional conflict. External conflict is the action and internal conflict is how we deal with the action. How does that sound?

Oh man, please correct me if I'm wrong.

ban said...

sounds about right - if not for the external conflicts bringing them together, they'd happily go their seperate ways ... in spite of their mutual attraction. they're just stubborn that way :)
i see what you mean about conflict making the goals and motivations change - very interesting !

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Great post Karen, it's really helpful to view GMC in terms of past-present-future. I'll keep that in mind.

I didn't really think much about those things when I started writing, but when I'd reread earlier work, I'd usually end up picking out a common theme that kept coming up over and over. In the case of my current WIP, it was freedom vs. debt. Now I focus the story consciously toward that end, and intend to know what I'm doing better for the next project I start.

Writing in a different genre, the romantic element doesn't take the same central position in the plot for me, but it acts as a vehicle for the mc achieving her goal. I've let the relationship go where it pleases, a little more, since it doesn't play the same role in the plot as it might in a romance. They still clash though, and the ups and downs of their emotional progress have large impact on the rest of the story.

The one thing I've found I really learned from developing romantic elements and conflict in this ms is that things never really resolve. Realistically, we don't get married, have a HEA moment, and never have more conflict. The fights just change after marriage, and throughout marriage, hehe. So I've found the same developing things with this ms, that even if I come to a break-through moment in the relationship, things still aren't 'fine'. There are fights, misunderstandings, and all sorts of things spurred by the external conflict. The internal conflict just changes (as you said) within the romantic element, as opposed to losing one conflict being resolved and vanishing from the plot.

Karen said...

Hi Hayley. Definitely the best stories never end with things being tied up and packaged with pretty paper and a neat bow. HEA is more the promise of committment for me.

You're right life continues. One of my favorite books in the Black Daggar Brotherhood series by JR Ward is Zsadist's story. He is one damaged individual. By the end of the story his past hasn't changed (of course) and love doesn't bring him some miracle cure but it does help him find a way to deal with life. He lives a little less in the past, deals a little better with the now, and accepts the possibility of a future. He's one of my favorite heros.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Karen, I love that name, Zsadist. I should take a look at that series. It sound like a good, compelling ending, leaving things still a little raw in spots.

It reminds me of my 19th century lit class, where we ended up having a discussion at the end of Pride and Prejudice about whether we thought it would really be HEA for those two (and of course Jane and Bingley, who get stuck with Mrs Bennett). All the little subtleties that lurk beneath the tidy wrap-up that Austen knows how to include.. but not everyone does.

For that reason, I may not have enjoyed reading George Eliot in school, but I agreed with her writing reacting against the "and they get married, the end" thing, in that she chose to write Middlemarch about what happens after marriage. Now if only I could get through that doorstop of a book.

Helena said...

Thanks, Karen, for such a rich collection of sources. I enjoyed the first one on Scenes and Sequels, and MRUs so much that I copied it. I don't often do that. I still have to check out the rest.

As for conflict ... I really enjoyed Donna Alward's blog last Tuesday to Thursday (a three-parter on conflict which I also copied for future reference). She really clarified for me the types of conflict: internal, external, and core conflict.

I'm learning so much these days that sometimes I just itch to spend more time writing to put it all to use. Well, I've been trying to do that, too. The May Blitz is helping.

Karen said...

Hayley. I'm at this very minute watching Pride and Prejudice trying to escape the miserable weather.

It's one of my favorite movies but I'm always left wondering how Lizzy is going to make out when forced to partake in London society as I'm assuming she must as Mr. Darcy's wife. Traversing that mindfield would put a strain on any marriage. (snort)

Karen said...

Hi Helena. I constantly refer to that link. I came across and a light in my head started to flicker.

I will check out Donna Alward series on conflict. It sounds very helpful.

I'm enjoying May Blitz too. It's proving very productive.

Janet C. said...

Isn't it amazing what the universe provides for you - just when you need it?

First Donna's three part blog on conflict and now this fantastic post on GMC (well done, Karen). I've been doing a lot of thinking about Lady Bells and what is lacking - and here the answers are appearing before my eyes. This is going to be bookmarked and filed away for future reference.

I struggle with conflict - sometimes I think I'm afraid to really put the screws to my characters. But no more - watch out heroes and heroines, your life just got a whole lot tougher :)

Jana Richards said...

Hi Karen,
GMC is the cornerstone of romance writing (any writing really). But it's really hard to master. Thanks for all the good links. You really are great at finding interesting links.

Like Janet, I hate to make my characters suffer too much. But in recent writing I've started to ask myself "What's the worst that can happen?" And then I try to make that happen. The truth is it's kind of fun (evil laugh!) It's especially fun if it makes the black moment blacker, the conflict more disastrous, and the writing stronger. Love your characters, but make them suffer!

Jana

Karen said...

You and me both Janet. No more easy glide into love. Lily, Chase, Mena and Hugh - you've been warned.

I'm going to have to check out Donna's blog!

Karen said...

Hey Jana. I think I knew I was in internal conflict trouble when I had a tough time coming up with a black moment scenerio. Not good!

I've started asking the same kind of question and it really does work!

I'm glad you enjoyed the links. I should mention that Kate Walker also has written a resource book that comes highly recommended. I think it's called - Kate Walker's 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance. I'm looking at getting both her and Deb Dixon's book for summer reading.

Janet C. said...

Karen - check the library list, I believe the SRW has a copy of Kate Walker's book.

Delia Latham said...

Wow - glad I found this blog post! Excellent points, all. And now I'm off to search out Dixon's book myself!