Beyond Goal, Motivation, and Conflict

I started plotting my fourth book last week. I know not everyone is a plotter, but I need a plan when I start that first blank page. Part of my planning process involves getting to know my main characters.

In the beginning, I did a standard electronic version of a GMC (goal, motivation, and conflict) chart. The Mid-Michigan RWA chapter has an extensive example of a GMC here (link is a PDF).

I needed something more specific than just the whys of things. I wanted to know what the whys meant in practical terms. It was fine for me to know my character was motivated by a driving need to protect others, but how does this manifest in their decisions and reactions. I added questions to my GMC chart to help flesh those things out. Before I make my plot outline, these are the questions I answer for each of my main characters:

  • What is his/her best memory?
  • What is his/her worst memory?
  • What is their secret dream?
  • What is their biggest fear?
  • What is, in their mind, the worst thing that could ever happen to them?
  • What is their external goal?
  • What is their internal goal?
  • What is their external motivation?
  • What is their internal motivation?

In addition to these questions, I make note of things as I learn them. This list sometimes includes things like what kind of family they came from, how they react to certain things or people, pet peeves they have, tics, and speech patterns.

Over time, I have moved to taking notes on legal pads instead of Google Docs and I have modified what I fill out for each character. I write these answers out by hand because the physical act of writing, as opposed to typing, helps me remember details. I copied reams of notes in college when I studied for exams.

If you want a book on this topic Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon is an excellent resource.

How do you get to know your characters?