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If it hurts, it’s working

I am not a fulltime author. By day, I’m in marketing for a customer engagement software company that caters to auto dealers. This year, we’ve been utilizing a fantastic sales coach to help train our sales team, and I’ve had the pleasure of sitting in.

Remember being a kid and having your parent or guardian put Chapstick on you for the first time when you had chapped lips, and when it hurt, they said that just means it’s working?

Sales training is like that.

Likewise, exercises that really help you grow as a writer or push you to see the flaws and holes in your current project sometimes need to hurt too in order to work.

Dreamspinner Press and their various imprints and team members that I’ve had the pleasure of working with has been a joy from start to finish—until they rolled out GMC (Goal – Motivation – Conflict) Charts for submissions.

I kid, but this type of exercise, no matter how well you know your main characters and the story you want to tell, is just plain hard. It’s also supremely helpful once you push through the initial suffering.

You start with basic character info, describing the character’s personality, past, and how and why they ended up where they are at the start of the story. The harder part comes in describing their external and internal goals, motivations, and conflicts to flush out what they want, why they want it, and what they need to overcome during the story to achieve it.

You can see why this would be useful, especially when first plotting a story, but it’s harder than you might think to take what seems obvious to you as the author and make sure everything comes across well in the events and obstacles your characters face.

Never forget to ask the question – why? If the answer is plot convenience, you need to rethink things.

I recommend to all writers, especially those looking to be published for the first time, to try this exercise, whether your story idea is in its infancy or almost a finished manuscript.

First, who is your character? What are their positive and negative personality traits, their background/family history/relevant past events and influences, and any negative traits they need to work on because of that past.

Next, what do they want from an emotional standpoint (to be loved, for example) as well as professionally or socially driven (like a new job).

Then, what motivates them to want those things, such as the background/past events previously described.

And finally, what stands in their way from achieving these things?

Internally, maybe they want to be loved but a bad childhood makes it difficult for them to connect with people. Externally, maybe the return of a past lover reminds them of all the things they dislike about themselves and has them second guess being able to move on with someone new.

Ultimately, a happy ending means overcoming these obstacles, but without conflict, there is no story.

Try your best to fit this exercise onto a single page. Be concise but specific, and no matter how much it may hurt, I promise you, you’ll pull back afterward and have a better understanding of your characters and how to make the best version of your story.

Thanks, Dreamspinner. GMC Charts may be painful, but they are a tool every writer should use.

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