GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict

If you’ve worked with me on your fiction project, we have likely discussed goal, motivation, and conflict. These are elements that can almost always need improvement, no matter how many books you’ve written.

It’s always timely to check your book for adherence to these principles–both overall in the arc of the book and scene by scene.

A book generally has a main character. That doesn’t mean he/she has to be the POV character in every scene or chapter, but that his/her external and internal goals are the arc that covers the whole book. And his/her motivations drive those goals. Conflict is provided by a person, internal beliefs, societal beliefs, nature (think Jack London), and the like.

We need to see the overall goal and motivation in the first five to ten percent of the book.

Hopefully, you are familiar with The Wizard of Oz movie. Let’s look at these aspects from the point of view of that book.

External vs. Internal Goals

Dorothy’s over all goal is get home. That’s an external goal–fairly visible and clear to the audience. Her internal goal might be to get people to acknowledge she’s capable and grownup (a classic coming-of -age story.

Goals also need to be defined for each scene. In the first scene, she’s bored, so she’s trying to get someone .. anyone … to pay attention to her. That’s her external goal in that scene. Her internal goal isn’t far off. She wants to be seen as someone who counts.


Why does she want to get home? Her external motivation is to take care of her aunt so she doesn’t worry. Her internal motivation could be to feel safe again.

In the first scene her external motivation could be she’s bored. Her motivation for the internal goal is so she feels like she’s a contributing member of the family–both the odd group of misfits in Oz and her family.

We need to see the overall goal and motivation in the first five to ten percent of the book.


The conflict must be in direct opposition to the POV character’s goals.

Overall, conflict is able provided by the Wicked Witch of the West, with a little help from the Wizard due to his own natural ineptness. Dorothy has to go against her own natural inclination to let others solve her problems; her internal conflict.

In the first scene, everyone else is too busy to pay attention. Not evil conflict, just an opposition of goals. Internally, her self-absorption prevents her from being acknowledged as anything but a nuisance.

The first scene gives Dorothy a place to to in her character arc through the story.

Additional Reading

GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon

Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder

I’d love to be part of your writing journey in 2019. Shoot me an email if you’d like to discuss your next project.

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