#WriterWednesday: OMG! What have I written, and why does it suck?

Posted Mar 11 2015, 12:00 am in , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’m twelve published books into this gig, and still there are times when I genuinely don’t know what I’m doing. To say that’s frustrating is an understatement. Knowing that a story isn’t working, but not knowing why is a horrible feeling for a writer. But, there is a silver lining. (There always is with me.) Admitting that we don’t know everything and we never will—thank you, Emma Lai, for planting this seed—is the start of learning/relearning exactly what we need to know in order to write bigger, better, and bolder.

Remember goal, motivation, and conflict (GMC)? Maybe you call it who, what, why, and why not. I’ve started calling it the dream, the reason, and the roadblock. Whatever we call it, it’s the foundation of a great story. Without it, characters fall flat, and the plot has more holes than a Pittsburgh street after a long winter. GMC is essential, and I can’t believe I ever forgot it. (Well, it wasn’t so much that I forgot it. I simply thought I could write entirely “by heart” rather than partially “by head.” Pantser vs. plotter aside, I have a hunch that the most effective writers are a little of each.)

Believe me, in twelve books, I’ve tried a lot of “big ideas” to help me get the story out faster and cleaner. But as it is with other areas of life, moderation is the key. And the key to writing moderation is having strong goals, motivations, and conflicts for the hero and heroine (and any other major characters) in the story.

How strong? We should be able to fairly simply state what the dream is, the reason the character wants to achieve this dream, and the roadblock that is standing in the way of the dream. It seems so simple, doesn’t it? Unforgettable really. But honest to God, I’d been struggling with this for far too long. In fact, I’d stopping asking myself these questions completely—even when I was being judicious about other things, like plot points. As a result, I became more and more frustrated with the writing process.

When I sat down to refresh the “craft well,” goal, motivation, and conflict jumped off the page. I sat there, trying to answer those simple questions for my works-in-progress, and man, I might as well have been doing Calculus, because I was clueless. At best, I came up with half the equation. (No wonder some stories felt forced and sloppy.) It took two days of constantly turning dreams, reasons, and roadblocks over and over again in my mind, until the full power of GMC made perfect sense.

Going forward, I promise to start and end every story with goal, motivation, and conflict. I have the following written on a white board in my office:

  1. Name the dream.
  2. Explore the reason(s) the character wants to achieve the dream.
  3. Identify the roadblock that stands between the character and the dream. 

Of course, just because it’s written down doesn’t mean I’ve completely mastered it. My brain cells go on vacation from time to time, but hopefully this blog post will act as a road map to get me back on track the next time I wander into the realm of, “Oh my God! What have I written, and why does it suck?”

How about you? Is goal, motivation, and conflict something you worry about? Or is it a vague concept that you know exists but you don’t fret about? Do you struggle with it—even after writing multiple books? I’d love to hear your thoughts, and I welcome any tips and tricks you may have.



7 responses to “#WriterWednesday: OMG! What have I written, and why does it suck?”

  1. Rachel says:

    I did GMC’s early on and I still do them to some degree, but I don’t think they are the holy grail the way I once did. I read Story in an attempt to write a screenplay — man, that thing is dense, intimidating and pompous. But there are gems. I read some stuff about the hero’s journey. It’s funny, I tried reading Dixon’s romances after reading her GMC book and I couldn’t get through them! So, I think story is more than good GMC’s. Character arc, “negation of the negation” the “journey” of the character, the “hook” the questions the author leaves unanswered through out that you must discover –even/particularly in romance.

  2. Maggie Kelley says:

    Dream, reason and roadblock. Love it. Especially the dream part b/c it is more accessible, more romantic and more full of longing and emotion than goal. Important in rsnce, I think. I also agree with Rachrl in that hook is also very impt. A great hook can make a story feel fresh.

    Keep on writing! My guess is that it’s great.

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