With a Little Help From (New) Friends

Well, friends of the paper-and-ink and cyber variety if not exactly of the flesh-and-blood type.  I’ll take help however I can get it!

Like many writers, I’ve read a lot of the  books, the blogs, and the magazines out there for writers. Sometimes all it takes is someone at the right moment, explaining things in a different way, for the heavens to open and angels to sing! Suddenly, the concept is clear and I stop banging my head on my writing table.

Specifically, the new helpful friends I’m referring to are:

 GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction by Debra Dixon

“The Plot Whisperer”, Martha Aldersen, at www.plotwhisperer.com 

How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson on his Advanced Fiction Writing website.

A few months ago, I hit a wall with my writing. I was trying to be looser, less structured. I had an general roadmap for my novel, but I’d plan only a few scenes ahead of my actual writing. I had little enthusiasm for what I produced and it was damn hard to put butt in chair and get it done.

When I tried to explain my novel to another writer at a workshop, I realized what a chaotic mess it really was. The story meadered all over and the characters lacked depth. My writer friend loaned me the book that was the kick in the pants I needed.

Debra Dixon’s way of explaining her concept of GMC broke through to me. Goal, motivation, and conflict obviously aren’t new, but her way of looking at them and using them was new to me. She creates GMC charts showing the internal and external goals, motivations, and conflicts for each named character in a story. I thought I had done this with my character worksheets and the tidbits of personality and backstory I learned about my characters as I wrote. But something about putting that info into a visual chart clicked with me. I could see some goals weren’t urgent enough and needed to be tweaked. I could see where I needed stronger motivations and that some of my conflicts were pretty lame. Once I began working with GMC, I could visualize all this and it helped to make my characters much more layered. 

Dixon uses the GMC chart during every step in her novel-creation process. In fact some of the uses were “Duh!” moments for me.  For instance, she puts the GMC charts of her protagonist and antagonist side-by-side and compares them. If they don’t clash enough, some rethinking and reworking need to be done to make sure they do. In fact, all the characters need to feed off of each other and their charts should show how their GMCs overlap to create echoes and generate conflict. If each character has it’s own agenda, the story is much more complex and interesting. Using the charts can help to visualize where the story is going and show if the motivations are strong enough to push your characters in the direction you want them to go. When you have this info clearly defined, the characters come to life. The story has more depth, more layers, more meaning for the reader.

I worked with the GMC charts for a while and generated some interesting stuff, but ran into the “Well, what happens next?!” variety of problem.  What I was having trouble with was PLOT. I now had rich, interesting characters and a better idea of what needed to happen in my story, but not enough. I needed, well, more. Possibilities were both endless and extremely limited. Endless, in that I created a fantasy world in which just about anything could happen as long as it was logical within the context of the rules I set up. Limited, in that my imagination is still rusty from years of focusing on the practical issues of running a household and raising children and bookkeeping. I didn’t allow my imagination to come out and play for so long that once I tried to give it free-reign, it got shy and stubbornly refused to come out from behind the curtain, or maybe it was a concrete wall (depending upon the day I was having).

That’s where Martha Aldersen aka The Plot Whisperer came to my aid. She’s written a book, has a consulting business, conducts workshops, etc. But what really made a big impression on me is Martha’s video series on YouTube, How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay which can also be accessed from her website.  She breaks down plot into easy-to-digest morsels that just made sense to me.  Her website is also the home of PlotWriMo (Plot Writing Month) which happens in December right after NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November. Martha had some really good posts this past December to help in revising NaNo novels and they went along with the video series. The first couple of videos are very basic, but once you get a little farther into the series, it’s worth the time. After each video I was just bursting with new and better ideas for my novel!

I’ve been to Randy Ingermanson’s website, www.advancedfictionwriting.com , before and saw the value of what he had to say, but I wasn’t ready to use it at that point, apparently. This time, I was more receptive to his Snowflake Method of writing a novel. It linked up well with what I learned from Holly Lisle about starting with The Sentence, only Randy recommends 15 words or less for the one-sentence novel summary. (I’ve lost count how many times I’ve rewritten that darn sentence, but each time it does get better!) Then, each new step expands  what you wrote in the previous step and adds a bit more complexity (like the layers that make up a snowflake) until you have your rough draft. So far, I’ve worked through 6 out of 10 steps and I was able to sharpen my focus even more.

Utilizing these three sources I have discovered so many new and better possibilities for my novel. Strangely enough, instead of feeling overwhelmed, I’m energized! I always felt I was a plotter at heart, but wanted to try the semi-pantser method to give it a chance and learn something new. I see now that I need the planning and the structure before I can feel comfortable sitting down to write.

All with a little help from some new friends.

How is your writing coming along? Have you found any new sources of inspiration lately?



6 comments on “With a Little Help From (New) Friends

  1. duke1959 says:

    It’s getting there. I have started a new project.


  2. Thanks for the new resources. I will definitely use them.

    Still haven’t seen the new True Grit yet but I did see the older version with John Wayne for the first time. I liked it and I’m looking forward to seeing the newer movie with Jeff Bridges.


  3. Diane says:

    The GMC charts sound similiar to the Dot & Line process Holly taught. I know a lot of people did not get the full scope of the Dot & Line, but just reading what you explained about the GMC charts could be a better way to compare the conflicts of and between characters.
    I just finished an edit of a YA I worked on throughout HTTS & HTRYN. I am more confident in accepting and rejecting other editing comments, because I better understand the plot and characters as I needed them to be, not as others wanted them to be. 🙂
    Randy I’s snowflake software is very similiar to yWriter5 (which is free) but Snowflake method is more structured, so if you complete one step at a time, it builds on the previous step logically. Hope you understand what I mean! 🙂 Also similiar to Dramatica Pro. I have both of these software, but use Dramatica Pro to develop every story I write.
    Have fun learning. 🙂


    • ekcarmel says:

      You’re absolutely right, Diane! I like the visual elements of both methods. I thought I did pretty well with dot and line as a way to get started, but once I got farther into my story, I loved how the GMC charts got me to focus on the “meat” of the character that was important for the story.

      Congrats on finishing an edit on your YA story!!! “I better understand the plot and characters as I needed them to be, not as others wanted them to be.” – I LOVE THIS!

      Thanks for the run-down on the different writing software. (I get what you mean about Snowflake building on the previous step. That’s what I really like about that method. I figured the software would work the same way!) I don’t think I’ll get any software right at this point, but I suspect I might in the future. I’ll keep your comparisons in mind!


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