Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Goal, Motivation and Conflict

I spent Halloween at the Emergency Room with my mother. Yep. Halloween in a college town on a Saturday night with my 83-year-old mother. My mother was having some problems and wasn't really safe in her apartment in the assisted living facility. There was a bed open in the skilled nursing facility in her retirement community.

My goal? To get my mother in that bed.

My motivation? To keep my mother physically safe.

My Conflict? The rules that say that a doctor's orders have to be given to move someone into the skilled nursing facility and that the doctor has to actually see her which means the ER on a Saturday night.

So I ended up hanging out with my mother and my sister and the guy who got in a fight and got hit over the head with a beer bottle and nearly lost his ear and the kid who was having an anxiety attack after ingesting something he shouldn't have and a long line of very slender young ladies barfing out the sides of their gurneys from having way too much drink.

Now, if I was writing this, I might well have been tempted just to let the sweet little Mommy go into the skilled nursing facility because that would probably have been the point. Show the caring daughters getting their mother into a safer situation. But what would have made the scene interesting was Beer Bottle Guy and the Bevy of Barfing Girls.

My approach to writing a scene has always had to do with what I, as the author, needed to accomplish. Is there a piece of information or misinformation that must make it to the reader? Is there a character to introduce? A plot point to reveal? It's all about me, me, me.

Of course, I've heard other writers talk about having each scene have the POV character have a goal, motivation and conflict, but this seemed like one more straight jacket that might paralyze me and keep me from writing the scene at all. I thought it might deaden the scenes and make them less organic and flowing.

Then on Friday, I got totally stuck trying to end a scene. It had started out fine. I'd let the reader know what I wanted them to know and I couldn't get it to end. It finally occurred to me to wonder what it was my heroine wanted in the scene, what was stopping her from getting it and how she might work around that. Presto! I managed to get her out of her damn kitchen! Woo hoo!

I'm always looking for a way to improve my writing, to take it to the next level. I'm not certain I can apply the whole Goal, Motivation and Conflict thing to each and every scene that I write, but I'm wondering if it might add some extra SNAP!! to my writing so I'm willing to try it.

Anybody else a slave to GMC? Love it? Hate it? Use it when you're stuck?


Maureen McGowan said...

Eileen, so sorry about your Halloween. I can only imagine. (There was a great line on the Parks & Recreation Halloween episode. The nurse character was excited to not be working on Halloween for a change and said: those teen girls dressed as sex kittens are going to have to pump their own stomachs this year.)

GMC really saves me if a scene isn't working. Or thinking of Dwight Swain's: Goal, Conflict, Disaster, Reaction, Dilemma, Decision as the format for structuring scenes.
No, I don't go into every scene thinking about it... but if something isn't working, usually it's because of a lack of a goal or a lack of conflict working against that goal.

Eileen said...

I have this terrible habit of removing obstacles for my characters. I like them and don't want their lives to be difficult.

And oh did that nurse have it right. There were so many skinny little girls being wheeled in as we left at midnight.

I like the Swain thing, too. It's a good way to structure a whole book. I just don't know if I'm disciplined enough to not wander off in my own merry way.

mynfel said...

I have a hard time wrapping my head around GMC. Not that I don't think it's useful...but I can't say that I've ever thought of my writing in terms like that.

Not sure why. Or maybe I do and I just don't call it that. I find it limiting to shove my thoughts into little boxes like that. Being mostly a panster, I tend to just see where it goes. If I need more conflict later, I'll go back and add it.

Eileen said...

That's been part of my problem, too. I'm afraid that having to answer too many questions before I start writing a scene will keep me from EVER writing the scene. I like it when it flows organically, but I'm wondering if I'm giving myself to much of a pass, you know?

mynfel said...

Yup - makes perfect sense to me. It almost starts to become a block - like if it's too much work up front, I don't even want to be bothered. (Of course, yes, I've written myself into a few interesting corners as a result, but I've also had some really brilliant things come out of it too).

Molly O'Keefe said...

I totally hear you about writing with your goals in mind. My scenes are so often getting from point a to point B. But a little less of my goals and a little more character would probably help dress things up a bit.

Sorry to hear about your halloween! Hope your mom is okay.

Eileen said...

Thanks, Molly, she's doing much better, but to be honest, getting old kinda sucks.

and yes yes yes. How did I get her from this point in the plot to the next? That's my whole mindset. I'm going to really try to add to that now though.

Sinead M said...

Sorry to hear about your Mom, Eileen... As for GMC, it's something I think about when editing. To me it's crucial to pacing.. every scene needs a solid purpose.. and that pretty much covers GMC

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