NOTE: These writing tips are from articles I’ve written. When all the tips from one article have been discussed, I’ll make the entire article available here as a PDF.
Tuesday Writing Tip
FEBRUARY 10, 2015
Mistake No. 19: Rewriting a story over and over again instead of moving on to something new. Writing has an energy and some stories are going to have “beginning writing” vibes no matter how much you rewrite. Don’t beat a story to death. Write something new. If that initial story is really special, you can return to it later, when you have better writing skills. Just like your story, you need to keep moving forward. Move on!
Mistake No. 20: Poor grammar and language usage. This isn’t as common, but I do see it. If you get a lot of comments about your grammar, consider taking a course. Also there are a lot of good grammar books available, and good online sources. You can also get an editor to review your grammar. There are many good book editors available.
Tuesday Writing Tip
FEBRUARY 3, 2015
Mistake No. 17: Over editing and polishing the life right out of the story. Sometimes I critique work that is completely sterile. The writing is technically good and is clean and flows well, but there’s no life, no spark. Good writing is not the same as good story telling, as we have already mentioned.Often the fresh, raw writing is straight from our heart and soul is much more powerful than the over-polished version (which is always more mental rather than emotional). Try not to polish the life out of your story.
Mistake No. 18: Writing just for contests or partial submission, not finishing the book. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of entering contests, and working and reworking the required first chapters, without ever finishing the book. Or maybe completing the book, but failing to make the rest of the chapters as good as the first few. Agents and editors have told me this is very common. The first one or two chapters catch their interest, and they request more of the book, only to find the rest is poorly written. Your primary goal should be completing the entire book, and making all of it the best it can be. Remember to keep your focus on the writing, and don’t let contests sidetrack you. I’m not saying you shouldn’t enter contests; they can be great for getting good critique or catching the eye or an agent or editor. But they shouldn’t be the main focus. Writing the best book you can takes precedence over everything else.
Tuesday Writing Tip
JANUARY 20, 2015
Mistake No. 15: Not listening to good critique advice. This is tough, because our books are our babies, and we have strong ideas about how we want our stories to go. But you have to learn when to listen. If you keep hearing the same advice and feedback over and over; if three or four contest judges or critiquers/editors have told you the same thing, then you need to pay attention.
Mistake No 16: Not trusting your own instincts and story vision. This may sound contradictory, but it’s not necessarily so. There are times you have to listen to your instincts, have to stick to your guns. It’s a fine line, but if a suggestion really feels wrong to you, and you have a valid reason for not using that suggestion, then don’t. Don’t fall into the habit of rewriting a project every time you get feedback. I’ve know writers who do that, and it often results in the situation listed below.
In some instances you can compromise. Keep your vision but add elements that will balance the story better.
Tuesday Writing Tip
JANUARY 13, 2015
Hello, and Happy New Year! Since I’m getting to the end of my article on writing and the issues I’m discussing have shorter comments, I’ll start combining them.
Mistake No. 13: The writing isn’t balanced. There might be too much dialogue, too much description, too much action, etc., to the point it’s overwhelming, confusing, or downright boring. Try to have a blend of all the writing elements.
Mistake No. 14: Letting the writing get in the way of the story telling. This occurs with the author gets too caught up in the words rather than the story itself. How many of you have read books where the writing was fairly ordinary, but the story was spellbinding? I’ll take a good story any day over fancy writing technique. Don’t let the words get in the way of the story. We’re storytellers. Tell the darned story!
Tuesday Writing Tip
December 9, 2014
Mistake No 12: POV (point of view) glitches.
The viewpoint character is whomever we’re seeing the story through in any given scene. If the story isn’t in first person, there can be a number of viewpoints. Try not to switch viewpoints too often or go back and forth. My personal rule is to switch only once per scene. Yes, Nora Roberts can do it, but she’s a very skilled writer and can pull it off. The rest of us mere mortals need to refrain from head hopping. Limiting the viewpoint shifts forces us to write better. We can’t just jump into someone else’s mind so the reader will know what that character is thinking. We’re forced to *show*, with actions, reactions, dialogue and detail what the other characters in the scene are feeling. This also helps a writer to show rather than tell.
Here’s a tip: If a scene isn’t working or flowing right, try switching the viewpoint character. If you tried it from the heroine’s POV, switch to the hero instead. That often is the problem, and the story will flow if it’s in the right viewpoint. The viewpoint character should be the one who has the most at stake in the scene.
Tuesday Writing Tip
November 18, 2014
Mistake No. 11: Not upping the stakes, or changing the level of intensity from scene to scene.
The story sounds like a monotone. As the story goes forward, the amount at stake must increase. The tension must increase.
Example from Shielder:
- The heroine (a Shielder) accepts a dangerous mission and has only four weeks to accomplish it and hope they find a cure for the deadly virus implanted within her, or she’ll die. So the story opens with a ticking clock.
- Then her ship breaks down in space.
- Then she’s rescued, only to discover her rescuer is a shadower, a bounty hunter who tracks down Shielders for profit. So she can’t explain her dilemma.
- Fortunately, he doesn’t know she’s a Shielder, but instead of taking her directly to her destination, he insists on taking side trips in an attempt to track down the person he believes is responsible for the death of his colony.
- Finally, in desperation, she hijacks his ship when he’s on a planet searching for his quarry—only to discover she has active Orana, the virus that was incubating inside her. If she doesn’t get medical help quickly, she’ll die.
- She tries to get to the medical lab that can help her, but the hero catches up with her.
- Then they’re both caught by the authorities and imprisoned. She’s growing weaker and sicker.
With the progression of the story, the stakes grow higher and higher. It doesn’t have to be a ticking clock, just a progression of events that heighten the tension and tighten the screws.
Tuesday Writing Tip
November 4, 2014
Mistake No. 10: Flat, boring, unbelievable, or unsympathetic characters.
This is closely related to mistakes 8 and 9, with mundane events or the same old way of saying things. You can also see how this is linked to GMC. Obviously, if you get your GMC for each character solidified, your characters will seem more like flesh-and-blood people. And it circles back to show, don’t tell. Generally, each aspect of writing is deeply intertwined with the other aspects.
You need to tap into a character’s emotions to fully form him or her. That emotional link will enable the reader to truly connect with the character, to feel empathy and to care about that character. If the reader doesn’t care what happens to the character, then she won’t be invested in the story.
Each character needs to change and/or grow during the story; to learn lessons, to travel the road of life. Static characters can become boring, with nothing at stake.
You also need to make your characters bigger and bolder than real life, to make them memorable. Use strong and visual descriptions that are unique to that character.
Here’s an example from Prince Charming, by Robin Wells:
“Hell no. I’m not all right.” His voice was a deep, gravelly rumble, as low and ominous as thunder. He stalked to the rear of his vehicle and stared at the bumper. “What in Christ’s name have you done to my truck?”
Josephine squinted at him, the light still in her eyes. Backlit by the low-riding sun, he looked like he was on fire. A chill chased through her, despite the unseasonably warm March air. He reminded her of the fiery demons her father used to preach against. His black eyebrows curled like gargoyle wings above coal black eyes, his blue-black hair looked like it hadn’t seen a comb in weeks and his face was grizzled with what looked like a week’s worth of stubble. The effect was altogether disreputable, completely intimidating and more than a little dangerous.
Josephine backed against the smashed fender of her Mercedes as he moved along the rear of his truck, running his hand along the fender. His palms were large and square and his fingers were long and tanned, and the sight of them made her distinctly uneasy. So did the message emblazoned on the back of his dirty gray T-shirt under the picture of a crawfish: ‘Suck the Head and Eat the Tail’.
Robin skillfully uses dialogue, description, great comparisons (eyebrows curled like gargoyle wings), his clothing, and Josephine’s reactions to show this man. This is not description that would fit just any man. A lot of “showing” as well. From these few paragraphs, we know a lot about him, and about Josephine. This is great, vivid description that makes him very real.
An example from my book, Touched by Darkness:
Still on the porch, Mac snarled and snapped, his hackles raised. The stranger stopped on the near side of his vehicle, raised his palm toward the dog, making a sharp motion. Mac immediately quieted, lowering his tail between his legs with a small whine.
The stranger turned toward Kara. She couldn’t see his eyes through the dark glasses he wore, but the rest of him was intimidating. He was a big man. The black duster emphasized his tall length, made him appear even more ominous. His long midnight hair was sleeked behind his neck and tied, leaving bare the slashing lines of his lower face.
He didn’t move for a moment, then slowly, deliberately, he raised his hand and removed the sunglasses. Steel blue eyes, glowing with a preternatural energy, seared through her. He made no effort to shield his power; rather he seemed to direct it outward, its insidious force penetrating her mental barriers, a psychic barrage.
Kara felt physically broadsided, emotionally violated. Any doubt about her earlier assumptions concerning this man’s identity was evaporated by the blast of pure, unchallenged power.
Hopefully this gives a vivid picture of this man, and a sense of the impact of his power.
We’ve all read books where the characters jumped right off the page and linger in our minds, possibly for years. I bet you’ll recognize the names below, and know which books (single or series) they’re from. They probably still invoke strong images.
Strive to make your characters fully fleshed out, totally engrossing and unforgettable.
Tuesday Writing Tip
October 28, 2014
Mistake No. 9: Using the same old tired phrases and ways of saying things
I see a lot of clichés in beginner writing. So do editors and agents. You need to dig deep and find new ways to describe things. Then take it one step further and make that description specific to the situation or the character. Make it vivid and powerful.
From Dark Lover, by J.R. Ward:
Darius watched the sea of humans split as they steered clear of an imposing, dark shadow that towered over them. The flight response was a good survival reflex.
Wrath was six feet, six inches of pure terror dressed in leather. His hair was long and black, falling straight from a widow’s peak. Wraparound sunglasses hid eyes that no one had ever seen revealed. Shoulders were twice the size of most males. With a face that was both aristocratic and brutal, he looked like the king he was by birthright and the soldier he’d become by destiny.
And that wave of menace rolling ahead of him was one hell of a calling card.
From my book, Touched by Light:
Realizing the briefcase was a much more substantial weapon, she smacked him in the head with it. “You Neanderthal! You arrogant, overbearing jackass!”
“Damn it, Julia!” Adam pulled over to the shoulder of the highway, began slowing.
Pure emotion driving her, she had her seat belt off and the door open before the car stopped. As it lurched to a standstill, she swung her legs out, grabbed her cane, and took off. She didn’t know where she was going—not that she could see past the red haze wallpapering her vision.
She only knew that if she didn’t get as far away as possible from Adam Masters, she would explode from the rage. There would be nothing but raw, bleeding bits of her scattered like debris from a plane crash.
Be original, be true to the characters, and be bold!
Tuesday Writing Tip
October 21, 2014
Mistake No. 8: Mundane events / Scene going nowhere.
As with the lifeless openings I see, I also see scenes where the characters are just doing “stuff”, but it’s mundane and everyday and it’s *not* moving the story forward. Nor is there any character development.
Yes, to place us in the scene, the writer must give some description setting up the scene, but only a few lines are required: In the drawing room (brief description), tea time, Lady Eleanor Smithson and Lord Ravenshawk present. But from here, the dialogue had better be crisp and sparkling, the emotions underlying their reactions shown, as well as a real reason for this scene. Idle chit-chat just to showcase a possible sexual attraction between the hero/heroine isn’t enough. It must move the story forward. Is the purpose to develop the sexual attraction? Then make them both very aware of it, show their reactions, hopes, fears, dreams, and set it up so that something comes out of it—good or bad.
Tuesday Writing Tip
October 14, 2014
Mistake No. 7: Telling instead of showing.
This is a tough one to explain, but to me, showing is letting the reader “see” through the eyes of the viewpoint character, and filtering details through the characters. It’s often tied to description (which can be confusing, because too much description or the wrong type of description could be considered telling). It also uses the senses: touch, taste, smell, hearing, because those things will help the reader “feel” what the characters feel.
In brief, showing involves filtering through a character’s perceptions, use of emotion and the senses, as well as dialogue and actions.
Two examples of showing through a viewpoint characters perspective from my book, Touched by Fire:
Sex. Desire, fueled by lust and pheromones. They coiled through the atmosphere of the Red Lion Pub, edged by forced gaiety, quiet desperation, drunkenness, and cigarette smoke. It was relatively early in the evening—six o’clock—but happy hour was in full swing, and the bar was packed with business professionals eager to celebrate the arrival of Friday night.
(We get the setting, the time, the day, the atmosphere, the type of people there and their mood, all in one brief paragraph.)
Her lips compressed into a thin line, and he knew she’d run out of ammunition. “Damn you,” she said. “And damn the law. I just want to find to Marla. I want to talk to her and see for myself that she’s—” Her voice trembled, and she paused, took a deep breath. The sheen of tears glistened in her eyes.
(Her action, his perception, her dialogue, her emotional reaction—through Adam’s viewpoint)
From my novella, Street Corners & Halos: The high heels of her boots made a distinct click on the sidewalk, amplified by the exaggerated swing of her hips. She knew that the strut and the boots, along with the rest of her skimpy outfit, were terribly clichéd, but why should she care? After all, she was what she was. She saw no need to pretend otherwise.
(You can probably guess that this woman is a prostitute, without actually being told that she is.)
From Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer: My mother drove me to the airport with the windows rolled down. It was seventy-five degrees in Phoenix, the sky a perfect, cloudless blue. I was wearing my favorite shirt—sleeveless, white eyelet lace; I was wearing it as a farewell gesture. My carry-on item was a parka.
(This is a good example of an intriguing opening, and showing rather than telling. When a story is in first person, it can be even harder to show. But from this one paragraph, we know Bella is in Phoenix, that it’s warm, and that she’s leaving to go somewhere cold.)
Another example from Twilight: One of the best things about Charlie is he doesn’t hover. He left me alone to unpack and get settled, a feat that would have been altogether impossible for my mother. It was nice to be alone, not to have to smile and look pleased; a relief to stare dejectedly out the window at the sheeting rain and let just a few tears escape. I wasn’t in the mood to go on a real crying jag. I would save that for bedtime, when I would have to think about the coming morning.
(This one paragraph gives information about Charlie and Bella’s mother. It also clearly reveals Bella’s mood—her despair and desire to be alone, her apprehension about her new life. We see that she’s a private person and doesn’t want to display her feelings. We get all this without too much narrative and without telling.)
Tuesday Writing Tip
September 30, 2014
Mistake No. 6: Contrivances
This includes contrived dialogue, conflict, events, sexual tension. This is actually closely linked to GMC, and is another very common mistake, where the author is trying to force something to happen without motivating it correctly.
It’s where the heroine suddenly signs up for a shooting course when she *hates* guns, but the author wants her to meet the hero there; or when the hero, who’s sworn off women, suddenly sees a woman he can’t live without and starts following her. Or the heroine stares in the mirror to give the reader a description of herself. Contrived! What makes it contrived is the fact there’s no logical motivation behind these actions/reactions.
Memorize this statement: In writing, you can get by with almost anything, as long as you motivate it properly. Put it on a sign above your computer. Chant it to yourself ten times a day. Let’s see how proper motivation can put a new slant on seemingly illogical actions or reactions:
In the above example of the heroine suddenly signing up for a gun course—what if she’d been mugged and almost raped? Or what if a serial rapist is terrorizing her neighborhood? She’s still terrified of guns, but she’s more worried about her personal safety. Now her action makes sense. Now she can meet the hero at the gun range and we won’t be rolling our eyes.
Or the hero who’s sworn off women is suddenly attracted to a strange woman—what if she looks just like his first love, and he’s compelled to follow her to find out if it’s her? Or put a twist on it and make her a dead ringer for a woman suspected of committing a crime—mistaken identity—so he follows her, then discovers a visceral attraction. Give us a good reason for his actions, and we’re right there with him.
Here are two real examples from writing I critiqued:
I critiqued a medieval fantasy romance where the hero doesn’t ride horses, so he’s forced to ride behind the heroine on her horse, which creates sexual tension between them. The problem is that the main way of traveling in this society is via horseback, so to me, this was just a contrivance to throw the heroine and hero together. Some solutions that I suggested: Be sure to give us a reason why the hero doesn’t ride a horse: 1) He’s allergic to horses (in which case, he’ll sniffle and sneeze all the way home); 2) He does ride, but his horse was stolen (don’t want to kill a critter in a book <g>); 3) He comes from another culture that doesn’t ride, or from an impoverished upbringing and couldn’t afford a horse—or forced to sell his horse. The key here is that we need to know why this man can’t ride a horse, so it will make sense. We don’t need a lengthy explanation, just a brief understanding.
I critiqued a SF romance where a small, two-man scouting ship is attacking a huge warship. They’re doing this because of a disturbing signal coming from the ship that they want to investigate, but this huge warship is about to blow them to debris. Huh? Why would they attack this warship that has them outmanned and outgunned? To me, this was just a contrivance to get them captured—which is what happened. Some solutions I suggested: Put them in a situation where they have no choice but to fight. What if the warship comes upon them suddenly, or they use light speed, and come out where the warship is? Use a logical method to put them into the path of the warship, and then it’s believable when they try to defend themselves.
Try to let events unfold naturally during the course of the story, and make sure there’s a solid reason for those events to occur.
One more time—repeat after me: In writing, you can get by with almost anything, as long as you motivate it properly.
Tuesday Writing Tip
September 23, 2014
Mistake No. 5: Pacing
Here the story moves too slowly or too quickly. More often it’s too slowly, where that author is trying to tell us too much, and where the story isn’t moving forward (more on that later).
Keep in mind that too much introspection or flashbacks stop the story dead in its tracks. During introspection or a flashback, the story makes no forward progress at all. You want to keep things moving. Dialogue is one of the best ways to move the story forward.
But a story can also move too quickly, where it’s all dialogue, not balanced by actions or emotions. Where it’s so frenetic, the reader can’t breathe. Or where it’s been over-edited (also more on that later).
It’s important that the story move quickly but not so fast that the reader can’t get a feel for the characters.
Tuesday Writing Tip
September 16, 2014
Mistake No. 4: Too much back story
This is often at the beginning of the book, and often prevents that BAM! opening. I’ve heard this before, and it bears repeating: “Write the first three chapters, and often you’ll find you can throw away the first two chapters and let your story begin with chapter three.” Here’s a direct quote from Debbie Macomber: “When plotting a book start as close to the end of the story as you can and still tell the story.” We don’t need to know all that information beforehand. Really.
This applies to too much information anywhere in the story. Keep in mind that when you’re providing back story, the actual story itself is stalled and not going anywhere. The reader can start losing interest. Weave in any vital back story information as you go along, popping it in where you really need it.
A great example is the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. Remember when they were trapped on a high cliff and Butch tells Sundance they have to jump into the river below? That’s where we discover that Sundance can’t swim. That’s where we need to know this information. And it wouldn’t have nearly as much impact if it had been dumped in earlier.
Tuesday Writing Tip
September 9, 2014
Mistake No. 3: The story starts out too slowly, or opens in a boring, predictable fashion.
I see this a lot. The heroine waking up and stretching. Going to work and staring at her computer. Going to a medieval fair with her family, taking the dog for a walk, talking to her best friend about how she sure would like to find a good man, etc. Boring! Time to throw the book across the room and let said dog chew it up.
Throw us into the action quickly! If at all possible, always start the story at a point of action or a major change in the character’s life. The heroine wakes up to flames in her bedroom, gets fired the minute she steps into the office, gets kidnapped by a knight in full armor from the medieval fair, gets dragged by the dog to a dead body. Quick! Immediate! The BAM! factor, where we’re sucked right into the book. Do this in the opening line if you can.
Some examples (all opening lines):
From my book, Shamara:
She needed to lose her virginity—and fast. (This immediately followed by the heroine’s uncle telling her she’s just been traded to a barbaric Leor as a bride.)
From Operation: Midnight Rendezvous, by Linda Castillo:
Jessica Atwood ran blindly through the darkness. Around her, rain poured in icy sheets. Trees and brush slashed at her face and clothes; mud sucked at her shoes like quicksand.
From Charmed & Ready, by Candace Havens:
“Two weeks of sipping raspberry margaritas and mojitos on the beach. No worries, just sun and fun.” I shifted on the dirt floor. The smell of dead rats overwhelmed my senses. I couldn’t face Simone. The chains binding us to the steel pole wouldn’t allow much movement.
If your story set up doesn’t allow for immediate action or change, then at least have an intriguing opening that piques our interest:
From Wicked Ties, by Shayla Black:
“Have you ever wanted to put yourself in the hands of a man whose sole purpose is to give you pleasure?” The words flashed across Morgan O’Malley’s laptop screen.
From Something Wicked, by Evelyn Vaughn:
I can tell you exactly when I became a bad guy. I can describe it down to the very moment, as abrupt as . . . As the blow of a hammer.
From my book Touched by Fire:
Sex. Desire, fueled by lust and pheromones. They coiled through the atmosphere of the Red Lion Pub, edged by forced gaiety, quiet desperation, drunkenness, and cigarette smoke.
Think of your opening as the hook that catches the fish, or in this case, the reader. Make it so intriguing that they don’t want to get away.
Next week, we’ll discuss the fourth common writing mistake, too much back story. Until then, happy writing!
Tuesday Writing Tip
September 2, 2014
Last week, I started discussing common writing mistakes. Mistake No. 1 was the character GMC’s (Goal, Motivation, Conflict) not being well developed. This week’s tip is intricately related to GMC.
Mistake No. 2: Not enough conflict, or contrived conflict.
This is a biggie. Often, the conflict I see is weak, contrived, or it’s not there at all. There must be real conflict between the characters, or at least conflict of some sort, and it must come from that character’s life experiences and emotional makeup. And it must be motivated.
Two characters taking an instant dislike to each other is not conflict. Her deciding he’s arrogant and him deciding she’s a stuck-up floozie, just aren’t good enough.
Her deciding he’s used to women falling at his feet, and just wants to have sex with her isn’t enough. Him just deciding she’s nothing but a heartbreaker isn’t enough.
Also, if the conflict can be resolved by a simple conversation explaining everything away, then it’s not real conflict.
But what happens if we motivate some of those situations I just mentioned? What if the arrogant guy is exactly like the heroine’s ex-boyfriend, the one who tried to dominate her and kill her? And what if she’s exactly like his ex-wife who cheated on him and then cleaned out the bank accounts before she left town with his best friend? Now we have motivation to make the conflict between them believable.
From my book, Shielder: The heroine is a Shielder, on a desperate mission, and she’ll die if she doesn’t reach her destination in time. The hero is a shadower (a bounty hunter who tracks down Shielders and turns them over to the Controllers for execution). He’s taken the heroine into his custody, preventing her from reaching her destination. He doesn’t know she’s a Shielder and he doesn’t realize she’ll die if she doesn’t make it in time. She doesn’t dare tell him because he’s the enemy and if he discovers she’s a Shielder, he’ll turn her in to the Controllers. Enough conflict?
From my book, Shadower: The heroine is a rape survivor who distrusts all men, most especially shadowers (bounty hunters), because both her abusive father and the man who raped her were shadowers. The hero is not only a shadower, but he’s an alpha male, highly sexual and masculine, and threatening to the heroine on all levels. Enough conflict?
From my novella, Street Corners & Halos (Demon’s Delight Anthology): The heroine is a vampire/prostitute who believes she’s a monster and not worthy of redemption. She wants only to be left alone. The hero is an angel sent to guide her back to her humanity. They’re so opposite in every way and have such opposing goals, that the conflict is intrinsic.
When you set up the characters and their GMCs correctly, the story will flow naturally from that.
Next week, we’ll discuss the third common writing mistake (story openings). Until then, happy writing!
Tuesday Writing Tip
August 26, 2014
I’m going to spend the next few weeks discussing the most common writing mistakes I see when I’m critiquing, judging contests, or reading a book.
Mistake No. 1: GMC not well developed.
I want to start with one of the most crucial and important tenants of writing a good book: GMC, or Goals, Motivation, Conflict. You’ll probably get sick of hearing about this, but if you can nail it down, your story will practically flow from there, and it will ring true.
Goals, motivation and conflict are crucial and are inseparable in a good story. You don’t have to develop complex character charts or sketches, especially if you’re a pantster like me (although if you function better with charts, more power to you). Regardless of your character-building technique, you do have to know what’s driving your hero and heroine, as well as your secondary characters. It’s not as necessary for minor characters with very small roles.
Crash course on GMC 101
Let’s have a quick crash course on GMC. One of the simplest ways to develop it is to start with questions, such as:
What past life experiences have shaped your characters and made them what they are today? That will basically create your motivation.
What are their goals? (They should spring from the motivation.) How are these motivations and goals creating conflict? What’s motivating the characters to action and what’s preventing their goals being reached?
How are the hero and heroine threats to one another, both on an emotional level, and in blocking one another’s goals? This is important, because your conflict will usually come from that, although it can be external as well. But because romance is typically character driven, the most impacting conflicts are usually internal. If you’re writing other genres, like SF or fantasy, they are often plot driven, so the conflicts there might be more external (outside people or forces creating the problems).
A great basic example would be Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. While her initial goals centered around being the most beautiful belle at the ball and winning Ashley Wilks’ affections, those goals quickly changed with the onslaught of the war. The severe deprivation she suffered became the experience that triggered her burning new goal that she’d never be hungry again. Of course, she still wanted Ashley, but she ran into two main conflicts (both external and internal) there: 1) The fact he was married to another woman and; 2) The appearance (and reappearances) of Rhett Butler in her life—a man who attracted her and kept her upended. She faced further conflicts (external) such as the Civil War, the necessity of surviving and providing for her family, etc. As you can see, everything is linked.
Here’s a breakdown of GMC from my book, Shielder:
Nessa is a member of a race being systematically hunted and destroyed. Her people are always on the run, short on food, medicine, sanctuary. She begins having unexplained seizures when she’s twelve and sustains an injury that leaves her with a permanent limp. Because of that, she’s outcast from her people, forced to live alone for the past ten years. When they need someone to volunteer for a highly dangerous mission—one that is crucial to their survival—she steps forward. She is implanted with the deadly virus that’s killing her race and only has four weeks to reach a medical colony in the hopes they can find a cure. Most of this is back story that occurs before the book starts, except for her volunteering for the mission and the virus being placed in her body. Here’s her GMC:
Goals (Note: the character sometimes has goals they’re not even consciously aware of):
1) Nessa’s immediate goal is to successfully complete the dangerous mission, and help save her people. Just as immediate is saving her own life, because she’ll die if she doesn’t reach the medical colony in time.
2) A secondary goal is to prove herself to her people and be accepted as one of them again.
Motivation(s): The dire predicament of her people, the deadly virus growing inside her, and the desperate desire to be accepted and loved.
Conflict(s): Lack of self confidence and belief in herself, obstacles—including the hero—preventing her from completing her mission, and therefore her impending death. Not only that, but the hero is a bounty hunter who hunts down her people—another huge conflict.
A great book on developing GMC is: GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict (The Building Blocks of Good Fiction) by Debra Dixon.
Undeveloped GMC leads to the next common mistake, which I’ll post next Tuesday. See you then!