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.

The reader needs to understand the overall goal and motivation by the time they’re done reading 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.

Although you probably won’t explicitly tell the reader why the main character wants what they want, if a reader is asked, they should be able to articulate it without too much trouble.

But most importantly, you the writer must be able to explain the goals and motivation and build scenes that clearly demonstrate these two aspects of your story.


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

Overall in The Wizard of Oz, conflict is ably provided by the Wicked Witch of the West, with a little help from the Wizard due to his own natural ineptness. If Dorothy’s internal goal is to prove she’s a person of merit, the conflict provided thwarts her ability to take care of herself at every turn. This conflict is only resolved when she understands she’s had the power to do what was needed all along.


Does your story have clear goals and motivation for your main character(s)? Is the conflict obvious? If not, spend some time before you continue to write to figure this out.

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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