GMC Is King

If you’ve been hanging around with fiction writers long enough, you might’ve been asked this question:

Are you a ‘pantser’ or a ‘plotter’?

These terms, which you may or may not be familiar with, refer to the idea that there are two types of approaches to the process of writing a story. “Pantser” is short for “writing by the seat of your pants” which basically means diving right in and figuring things out as you go. A “plotter” takes the opposite approach — meticulously planning with a detailed outline, maybe doing character sketches, and of course, making sure they’ve done all the necessary research.

The reality is probably that most writers fall somewhere in between these two extremes. Another reality is that it’s rare for a story to magically come together without a roadmap. So if you prefer to do a fast, rough first draft over taking the time to compose an outline, you’re likely to have a lot more work ahead in the editing/revising stage than someone who started with a plan.

But here’s a trick that can help all fiction writers, no matter which process they prefer: GMC.

GMC stands for:




To create a story, you need characters and a plot. To create characters, you have to figure out who they are, and by using GMC as a guideline, your plot will usually reveal itself while you’re crafting your characters.

So let’s delve in deeper, shall we?


Everyone has something they want from life. Everyone. Some people might seem like they have no goals, but I guarantee you that they do. Even if that goal is to spend as much time as possible sitting on the couch, watching TV and eating junk food. And anyone who says they don’t know what they want from life also has a goal: to figure out what they want!

So this is where you start, by deciding what your character(s) goals are. It can be more than one thing, and it can be external (school, career, travel, and so on) or internal (getting over an ex, growing more confident, overcoming trauma, etc.).

And keep in mind that what the character wants isn’t necessarily what they need. You want your main character to grow in the course of the story, to learn a lesson of some sort, and often that can involve their goals changing before the end.


Not only does everyone have something they want from life, there’s always a reason why. By figuring out the character’s motivations, you not only create more depth and realism to the character, but you’re also adding to the plot by developing what is called backstory.

Backstory is technically everything that happened in the character’s past, but you’re not writing a fictional memoir here, so it’s important to stick to the parts that are relevant. Maybe your character wants a career in law enforcement because they or someone close to them was the victim of a crime in the past. Maybe they want to become a healthcare worker because of an illness that affected a loved one.

There are a ton of options when it comes to developing character motivation, and the only rules are that you don’t get to skip this part and it has to make sense.

That’s it. Easy peasy, right?

Which brings us to what is possibly the trickiest part of GMC.


Goal and Motivation give you a setup,
but Conflict is the final and crucial element to turning your idea into a story with a capital S. To develop conflict, you start by asking yourself:

What is stopping my character from reaching their goal?

What is the challenge they have to overcome?


How will that conflict help them grow and change by the end of the story?

And that’s all there is to it!

Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, whether you work it all out in your head or write it down in great detail, the GMC method is an effective starting point for developing a story.

It’s also tremendously useful to me as an editor. Often I’ll find myself having a vague feeling that something is missing from a character or a story, and usually I can figure out what it is by asking myself if I know what the characters’ GMCs are. If I can’t answer it, then I know what’s wrong.

And then I’ll tell you about it. Most likely over and over again. You’ll have more fun if you just use GMC from the start. Trust me. 😉

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