Wednesday, 9 April 2014

How To Use GMC Charts To Plot A Novel

Goal. Motivation. Conflict.

These are three of the basic building blocks of a character that drive plot. In other words, what does the character want, why, and what’s stopping them getting it? This is the core of your plot, and when two characters both have the same goal, or otherwise interfere with another’s goal, things start to get really interesting.

GMC charts are used to track all the goals, motivations and conflicts of all the major and important secondary characters. It not only cross-checks that all your characters are doing things for good reasons (and not just because the writer wants them to) but that everyone is sufficiently impeded from getting what they want.

Conflict is essential.

It also helps you to plot, as the chart can help you to spot associations you might not otherwise have made. He wants this, and she wants that, and if she does this, look, it gets in his way…

Here’s what a GMC chart looks like:

Private Life
Professional Life
Personal Life
Goal: Deal with her emotional issues about men
Motivation: Necessary to heal her dying father
Conflict: Has a lot of baggage including a history of child abuse, and rape.
Goal: To leave her life as an assassin
Motivation: A lover and a baby make her reconsider her life path
Conflict: 1) Risks letting her adopted father die if she does, 2) Her fellow assassins may try to hunt her down and kill her for betraying them 3) Her lover doesn’t know she is an assassin.
Goal: Identify and neutralise a bounty hunter in the castle
Motivation: If she doesn’t, he will kill her first
Conflict: His identity is unknown
Goal: Find a magical artefact to heal her adopted father
Motivation: Love
Conflict: The artefact is hidden in the castle of a mad duke
Goal: Use Aldenon to get access to his key
Motivation: Gives access to the room where she thinks the artefact is hidden
Conflict: 1) Her fear of men 2) She finds herself genuinely attracted/falling in love
Goal: Relationship with Aldenon
Motivation: Falling in love
Conflict: He has a secret keeping them apart
Goal: Help Raylee find the missing girls
Motivation: Genuine concern for her new friend and a touch of self-interest
Conflict: Limited freedom in the castle and doesn’t want to blow her cover
Goal: Kill Danek
Motivation: Revenge
Conflict: She’s pregnant and her adopted father is protecting Danek
Goal: Wants to be an assassin
Motivation: Assassins have more power than spies
Conflict: Jeharv won’t agree
Goal: Wants to be master of the Order
Motivation: Wants more power and sees an opportunity when learns Jeharv is dying Conflict: Astarl is trying to save Jeharv
Goal: To steal the artefact and become immortal
Motivation: Largely opportunistic – sees an opportunity to steal the item from Jeharv
Conflict: Needs Astarl to find it but taking it from her won’t be easy, and doesn’t want anyone to know he has betrayed them yet.
Goal: To distract and ultimately eliminate Astarl.
Motivation: To secure the artefact
Conflict: Astarl is a canny assassin and not an easy target.

This is only a short extract showing two characters from my book Deathhawk's Betrayal, but you can see that not only does each character have multiple goals, but the goals can be categorised according to which part of a character’s life they affect:
  • Private life – the character’s innermost life, kept hidden and private – secret fears and desires;
  • Professional life – the character’s work; and
  • Personal life – The character’s friends, family, living arrangements, personal goals etc.
There are multiple goals because the protagonist (and possibly the villain) will have a main goal, and then also various sub-goals that help them work towards the main goal. Tracking out each interim goal can be useful to focus on sub-plots.

You can also see from this sample how Danek and Astarl’s goals overlap, which breeds potential for conflicts. You might also see how two otherwise unrelated characters can be linked, so that their goals and motivations clash with one another.

This is only a tool for identifying plot weaknesses and opportunities. Once you’ve gotten this far, it’s up to you where the plot and the characters take you.

GMC charts are tools for plotters more than pantsers. Sure, you can stop halfway through a novel and whip out a GMC chart to see what direction you’re taking, but as a pantser you probably won’t want to do that. A GMC chart can be most useful in the initial stages of planning, midway through a novel to check the direction you’re headed in, and after a first draft has been written and before revisions, to find where plots can be strengthened or linked.

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Bob Milne said...

Good advice. I don't generally plan my writing out to that extent, but I do draw out the overall story arc (exposition, conflict, climax, etc.), just to keep myself on track.

My A to Z Challenge

A.M. Guynes/Annikka Woods said...

I usually don't plan my writing out like that. I don't really plan it out at all. I just write what I think the story is. I go looking for things like that in edits. Which is why it takes me so long to edit things. I've tried plotting things out before I started. Halfway through I pitched it and started again. But this will definitely help me in resolving some issues in my current project.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

It's not for everyone, although it might ehlp you in speeding up edits. It's definitely more a tool for plotters.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

This was one I did before revisions. I do one before I start writing, but it's much simpler. Later, as I write, more ideas occur to me, so then I'll do another chart at the end of drafting and before revisions to help me make sure all the plot ideas are consistent.

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