Building a Character: GMC

In 1994 Debra Dixon was the guest speaker at the Mid-Michigan RWA Chapter’s “Retreat From Harsh Reality.” That was the first time I heard her talk about GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. It was one of those light bulb moments.


I’d been writing for over ten years by then, but what Debra was saying made absolute sense. If my character had something he or she wanted to achieve (a goal), there had to be a reason for that (motivation). If my character ran into any difficulties, anything that might stop her or him from achieving the goal (conflict), then that motivation better be pretty strong or my character might just say, “Forget it.”

As soon as her book was published (GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict. The Building Blocks of Good Fiction by Debra Dixon, published by Gryphon Books for Writers, Memphis, Tennessee in 1996) I purchased a copy. (I understand they are now difficult to find, so don’t ask to borrow mine.) Over the years, I have used GMC to create all of my characters, whether they be heroes or villains. I’ve found it’s important to know each character’s reason for doing what he or she does. (At least the primary characters, and sometimes the secondary characters.)

I’ve also discovered using GMC helps me create that short tag line that we use in an elevator pitch and can be incorporated into a query letter.

I am currently working on a follow up story to A Killer Past. My main character is Mary Harrington, a 74-year-old widow who has been living in a mid-western town for forty-four years without her family or friends knowing she was an international assassin in her twenties. I now want to put Mary into a new situation where she must use the skills she learned in her younger years to thwart a possible assassin without exposing her past. Here’s where I am so far.

[dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”auto” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]            Mary Harrington

Goal: To keep a low profile and not bring any attention to herself
Motivation: She’s afraid if her son or people of Rivershore knew what she did in the past, she would lose their respect, and if one man from her past knew where she lived, he’d want to kill her.
Conflict: A police officer she’s friends with keeps urging her to teach some of her skills to the elderly in the town, and a woman from her past threatens to expose her. [/dropshadowbox]

Is that how my GMC will end up? Not necessarily, but thanks to Debra Dixon it’s a start. Now I need to figure out the GMC of the woman from her past.

By the way, this is the new cover for A Killer Past. It will be on the Large Print edition of the book. I’m curious if the Large Print will be sold on Amazon or if it will only be available in the UK.


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8 Responses to Building a Character: GMC

  1. Diane Flannery says:

    Dixon’s GMC book has a “forever” place in my bookshelf. I consult it often. I wish I had heard her in person, I’m sure it was exciting. I like the new “Killer Past” cover.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Debra was a great speaker, Diane. I’m sure you would have enjoyed her. Thanks for your comment regarding the cover. I loved the other one, so it’s taking me a while mentally to accept this one.

  2. Melissa Keir says:

    Love the cover and wish you all the best with your writing! 🙂

  3. Maris,

    I’m not familiar with the book, but it makes a lot of sense. So thanks. Also, nice cover and congrats on getting a large print edition.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Thank you, Jacqueline. The cover is much lighter than the original. I’m wondering if that might be because those who want large print might also have trouble seeing the images in the darker cover. Whatever the reason, I like both covers.

  4. Diane Burton says:

    I remember that retreat with Deb. What an eye opener GMC was. I’d only been writing a year, so this was just what I needed. Have her book. It’s dog-eared and highlighted and I won’t give it up.

    So glad Mary’s getting another story. Loved the 1st one. Best wishes.