Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Organic Structure: Part 2

You told me what it was, but you didn't tell me how it works...

Let's talk about GMC, Motivation-Reaction Units and Turning Points. GMC is Goal, Motivation and Conflict, otherwise known as "Deb Dixon's book".

1) What do they want? 2) Why do they want it? 3) And why can't they have it?

Dwight Swain did something similar in Techniques of the Selling Writer, but called it motivation-reaction units.

1) What causes something to happen? 2) What happens in reaction to that stimulus?

Mckee, in his ground-breaking structural work, Story, talks about how turning points spin the story and increase momentum.

All valid ways to look at plot. In a plot-driven story, event B is always caused by event A. So GMC is pretty much A>B>C>A>B>C, Motivation-reaction units are A>B>A>B and Turning Points are A>B>C>XX>A>B>C>XX2.

Plots are linear and look a little like algebra.

In other words, if I want John back in school, I need a reason.

In organic structure, we start at point A, but how we get to point D is different. In a linear plot, you'd see John get a pink slip and walk past a Workers Retraining poster. In an organic, character-driven story, you'd see John in a crappy job, staring at the ceiling in bed, a stack of bills on the counter, his kids in a rundown second rate school and his fear that maybe that's all there is, maybe he can't get his kids out of poverty.

By the time John walks into the admission office, you know why he's there, but there's no one specific goal or motivation because his goals are as complex as his motivations.

Linear-John is easy to flesh out because his character only needs to be developed to the point of supporting the plot. I can easily give John gorgeous blond hair, dazzling blue eyes and an Armani suit, because for the purpose of the plot, he's a blank slate.

Organic-John is defined by his circumstances and character. He's got kids, he's got a crappy job--they live in a ghetto. That means he might wear a suit, but if he cares about his kids, it's the Sears clearance suit and his gorgeous blond hair is shaggy and unkempt, or military tight so it can go longer between cuts. Maybe he cuts it himself and messed up one side. Maybe he's too proud to ask for help, so he's always hungry.

The difference is depth.

It's not easy to write an organic story. The underlying structure is logical, but that logic is the result of many plot threads coming together that don't always appear logical on the outside--although they are true to your character's internal logic.

John might not get to school because of a pink slip--but he does get to school. In an impressionist painting kind of way.


deanna said...

If I'd have had time last week I'd have tried looking you up. My parents and I made it as far as south Seattle.

The characters I work with are the people in my life, and so I try getting inside their complexities to find their stories. Learning to look for A causes B causes C is helping me lately, just to think a little more linearly than I tend to. How did so-and-so get from here to there? But I hear what you're saying. I admire the building of characters from the toes up.

Debra Dixon said...


I sort of wrote "Deb Dixon's" book. Could I add a thought (or two) to the discussion?

I'm a big believer in layering. I'm a big believer in pantzing if that's how a writer comes to story. Understanding the concepts of GMC doesn't mean you have to plot ahead of the actual writing.

Concept acquisition doesn't mean you can't feel your way through a story, building it from an organic process rather than a structured/outlined process.

Knowing why the readers of commercial fiction need an anchor, why understanding the story and the character helps keep the reader in the story doesn't mean a writer has to make charts and graphs. Heck, no! I pound this into the heads of writers in my workshops.

There are a million ways to skin this cat called fiction. The trick is in understanding story, aborbing the key learnings, and then finding your way to the right process for YOU.

Some writers discover their GMC, both internal and external, as they write.

I guarantee you'll find the GMC in any well-published book (national publisher, strong editing) whether or not the writer could articulate their GMC. You can find GMC in books published through smaller publishers, too. Maybe not as well crafted (depending on the exact publisher and exact book), but GMC is one of those bedrocks of commercial fiction and film.

GOOD motivations are multi-layered. They're buried in the hearts and souls and lives of the characters. They're more complex than a simple pink slip. They have to be. If there is no emotional resonance within the motivation, then the motivation isn't serving a strong story purpose, isn't helping to reveal character.

In my personal method/process, I build stories from character, and great characters are built from the ground up with more than EXTERNAL GMC. You need the whole internal piece of GMC.

Just some additional thoughts.

Hope you don't mind! Great blog. Good food for thought.

jodi said...

woot, Deb Dixon--I thought you were a mythological construct. :)

Hi, and thanks for stopping by. Wonderful--can you call it a post if it's a reply? I think you've been unfairly pigeon-holed if you're looking at double GMC, because when I see it talked about, it's always external GMC that people are talking about. Then it gets pretty micro, as in "micro-gmc units", almost to the point of beats.


Much food for thought, I'll take another look.

jodi said...

lol, Deanna--you know you're more than welcome to visit, even spend the night if you're so inclined. (although all I can offer is a couple of couches) You were probably no more than twenty miles away since I live in South King county. :)

Jeanna said...

Now I want to see a better shot of your haircut.

jodi said...

My hair is not ready yet, Jeanna. I'm in that in-between stage, shaggy and growing out and getting ready to cut and die (oops, I meant dye). :) I can do a photo in another week (or two)

Debra Dixon said...

Jodi- LOL! Yep. Living, breathing, the whole 9 yards.

The reason you see/hear/read about external GMC so much is that people can readily grasp that piece. Hammers are easy to use. It's that metric allen wrench that's harder to get a "handle" on.

I could riff some more, but alas I must go pack.

Thanks for the comment space. Um...post space. (g)

Kaycee James said...

Very interesting post. Especially since I happen to be re-reading Deb Dixon's book at the moment. :-)

jodi said...

Wow, thanks again, Deb. It's wonderful to have you. :)

Hi Kaycee, thank for dropping by. I know there's a lot going on in your life. I know you're going to get a lot of "Deb Dixon's Book", lol. She's a wonderful writer.

jodi said...

oops--that was--I know you're going to get a lot "out" of Deb Dixon's book. And that's what I get for typing too fast.

And if you're still there, Deb. I hope you have a wonderful trip and if you ever want to stop by, blog/post--whatever, you're more than welcome. It was a pleasure having you.

Alice Audrey said...

You can pretty well guess where I come down on the issue. I have both internal and external GMC columns on my plotting spreadsheet. I also have a column for Emotional Arc.