RB: What’s your point?

I’m in the middle of reading a great story. I long to be BFFs with the heroine. She’s snarky, highly entertaining, and makes me laugh out loud at the most inopportune times. But there’s one problem…

When I’m not swayed by the author’s wonderful, witty dialogue; pant-inducing love scenes; instant, image-producing descriptions; I’m reminded that this story has no point.

I’ve been presented with many plausible plot points, but nothing definitive. The heroine has no goal (nothing clearly stated in any case), no motivation, and no conclusive conflict.

As a reader, I have nothing to focus on. Nothing to worry over. Nothing to anticipate. And if it wasn’t for the above praised aspects, nothing to make me turn the page.

Goal. Motivation. Conflict. These are the three most important parts of a story. It’s the writer’s job to make sure each character has all three.

Even the bike messenger who delivers a package to the heroine should have a GMC. The reader doesn’t need to hear it, (unless that will move the story forward) but those three elements will breathe life into that insubstantial character.

It’ll be the reason why he hands over the wrapped box with a smile because he just found out he was accepted into NYU. Or with a grunt because a nail found it’s way into his bike tire and he won’t be able to make the rest of his deliveries on time. Or hoping for a tip because if he doesn’t get any money his baby girl will go without food tonight.

Goal. Motivation. Conflict. It drives each character. Drives the story. Should be a driving point in each scene.

I highly recommend reading Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation, Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction novel. She fabulously explains each component and, bonus!, gives you a handy chart to use.

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8 thoughts on “RB: What’s your point?

  1. Honestly, for me, even if the book has no apparent plot whatsoever and the character has no apparent goals but to get through everyday life, I will still read it and enjoy it if the character is good enough.

    One example of such a book is Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About. It is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read, and I always come back to it even though it is no literary masterpiece and doesn’t have much conflicts other than the arguments between the guy and his girlfriend. I also never pass up the chance to recommend it to others!

  2. I’m going to argue. Not aggressively, because you’re certainly right if you talk to a writing instructor. But you’re writing about a box that writers make for themselves. From a writer’s perspective, if your story doesn’t fit into the box, then it fails. I’m as guilty of that as the next writer. I self-published my first book because I knew no publisher would ever want it and I liked it anyway and I knew twenty people would buy it. (I could list the twenty for you, but I’ll spare you.) But my heroine has no goal, no conflict except to keep herself safe, no motivation until the very end at which time she extremely reluctantly decides that she has to do something she doesn’t want to do. And the book currently has 206 5-star reviews on Amazon.

    Readers don’t care about the box nearly as much as writers do. If you’re writing for a writer, then okay, pay attention to the box. But if you’re writing for a reader, then you can keep them turning the page with “highly entertaining.” Yes, GMC is important–but “highly entertaining” trumps it. One of the 17 negative reviews of A Gift of Ghosts–and I’m counting the three-stars as negative–says that it has no plot. Yep, this is true. But it turns out that a lot of readers don’t care. That was a huge–HUGE!–surprise to me. And definitely one that I’m grateful to have learned before I spent twenty years trying to follow the rules. (Ask yourself this: how many Nora Roberts’ protagonists actually have a goal? Answer: some of them, but not many.)

    • Thanks for the comment, Sarah! I definitely see your point. After I finished reading this book, I went out and purchased the next two in the series. (And loved, loved them.) So the lack of GMC didn’t bother me that much, but the problem was when a scene wasn’t sucking me in, my interest would wane. I think I would have been 100% hooked the whole way through if the author had honed the heroine’s goal.

      I’m always happy when you stop by! Have a good one.

      -RB

      P.S. I read Gift of Ghosts – loved it! – and didn’t have any issues with the plot. Those people don’t know what they were talking about. 😉

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