GMC at the Movies

For some strange reason I’ve yet to figure out, writers love acronyms. The one you’ll probably hear most often is GMC.

What is GMC? Well, it stands for Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. Yeah, I know. Big help.

Try answering the following questions: Who is my hero and what does he want? Who is my heroine and what does she want? What keeps my hero and heroine from reaching their goals? (***Note: These are the first three questions in my Top Ten Questions for a Successful Synopsis article.) That’s your GMC.

Each of your characters must have a dream, a desire, a want they cannot have (GOAL). There must be a reason they want to fulfill that dream (MOTIVATION). Stumbling blocks of both an emotional nature (INTERNAL CONFLICT) and a physical nature (EXTERNAL CONFLICT) must prevent them from achieving their goals.

Still confused? No problem. I’ll break it down even further for you. At the heart of every romance story are two people searching for something. No?not love. Love is what they gain at the end-the reward for all their struggles. Love is the HEA (Happily Ever After?see what I mean about those acronyms?) the hero and heroine gain for growing emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

But love is not what they’re seeking at the beginning of the story. They’re probably not even seeking the same goal when their paths cross. They might be. But even if they are seeking the same thing, they’ve got vastly different reasons to want whatever “it” is. I see your eyes glazing over from here. Relax. Pop some popcorn, grab a drink and settle in with a few romantic movies. Let’s see if these help.

One of my favorite movies to use as an example of GMC is Romancing the Stone, starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. Remember the storyline? Let’s use my questions from earlier and see what we come up with. (Since the story opens in the heroine’s POV-oops! Point of View-we’ll start with her.) Our heroine, Joan Wilder, wants to rescue her sister from kidnappers in Colombia. Our hero, Jack Colton, is a poacher trying to capture enough rare jungle birds to buy a sailboat. Those are their GOALS. And note they are not the same.

Still with me so far? Excellent. Let’s move on.

What are the characters’ motivations? Joan knows the kidnappers will kill her sister if she doesn’t bring them the treasure map her brother-in-law mailed to her before his murder. Jack is a loner who wants nothing more than to sail around the world.

What are their conflicts? Joan is naïve, sheltered, and has never experienced love or adventure (INTERNAL CONFLICT). When she arrives in Colombia, she gets on the wrong bus and winds up stranded in the middle of the rain forest (EXTERNAL CONFLICT). Her misadventures stack up from there, and are all based on her internal conflicts. Jack’s internal conflicts are that he’s suspicious, unreliable, and slightly on the shady side of the law. When Joan inadvertently releases his cache of rare birds, he sees all his hard work and hard-earned money fly away with them.

Using that GMC formula, we’ve not only given the basic plot, but we’ve also set up how our characters will meet and eventually, fall in love. Where’s the love in all this?

Still obsessed with their own goals and conflicts, the two characters hook up and decide to go after the treasure themselves. Joan believes the treasure will be a bargaining chip for retrieving her sister. Jack intends to steal the treasure to finance his sailboat. But the more time they spend together, the more they grow as individuals. Joan becomes more secure and explores her more courageous side, discovering she’s not the shy, incompetent nobody who closeted herself in a New York City apartment. Jack learns that being a loner means living alone and after spending time with Joan, that’s not such a hot prospect anymore.

That’s GMC. In a nutshell, you can cut it down to the following statement for each character. Simply fill in the XXXX with your character’s name and the words in parentheses with your story’s specifics: XXXX wants (GOAL) because (MOTIVATION) but (CONFLICT) stands in the way.

Too simple? Not quite sure you’re ready to solo? Then let’s pop in another movie! How about Shrek? Our hero, Shrek, wants to be left alone in his swamp because he’s an ogre, but a prince from a neighboring land coerces him into retrieving an enchanted princess if he wants to keep the swamp to himself. Our heroine, Princess Fiona, wants to be rescued by a handsome prince because she’s been placed under a spell that can only be broken by true love’s first kiss, but she’s rescued by an ogre instead of the prince she’s been hoping for.

Again, we’ve set up the basic plot and how the two meet simply by answering the GMC question.

Shall we try another? You glutton for punishment, you! Let’s go with a Meg Ryan/Kevin Kline classic: French Kiss. Our heroine, Kate, wants to go to Paris because she wants to win back her wayward fiancé, but when she arrives, everything goes wrong and she winds up penniless and alone. Our hero, Luc, wants to sell a stolen necklace because he plans to use the money to buy a vineyard, but the necklace has accidentally wound up in Kate’s unknowing possession.

There are, of course, different versions of GMC for different story genres. But most will follow the basic tenets described here. The difference will be in the ending, the reward. For a suspense story, the GMC might be an FBI student wants to consult with a killer psychiatrist to help solve a string of serial murders but winds up drawn under the doctor’s spell (Silence of the Lambs). Or you could describe a tragedy as two young people want to marry because they’ve fallen in love but their feuding families interfere with catastrophic results (Romeo & Juliet).