GOAL, Motivation & Conflict

by | Jan 24, 2024 | Writing with StoryCAD

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In 1996, Debra Dixon published a book, Goal, Motivation, & Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction. 

Several decades later, it’s taught in writer’s workshops and discussed in writer’s blogs all over the Internet. The reason is simple enough; Dixon has identified relationships between elements of a plotted story which were not given sufficient attention. They are: 

• G = Goal. (What is it the character wants to achieve or avoid?) 

• M = Motivation. (Why does the character want this goal?) 

• C = Conflict. (What stands in the character’s way of achieving the goal?) These are all parts of each problem and scene in your story. 

These elements are sometimes known by other names: 

    • Goal – desire, want, need, ambition, purpose 

    • Motivation- drive, backstory, impetus, incentive 

    • Conflict – trouble, tension, friction, villain, roadblock 

Make your protagonist’s goal urgent, or your reader won’t care if he succeeds. He has to want it badly. 

If the Goal is ‘What”, Motivation is the “Why”. Motivation is key to providing verisimilitude. If your character doesn’t have a good reason to seek his goal, your reader won’t believe the travails you put him through as he tries to achieve it. 

Conflict makes a problem a problem. If there is no obstacle that will keep your character from attaining her goal, there’s no tension, and your reader won’t wonder what happens next, the question that propels her to read on. 

Each problem is a story in its own right, with a main character (the protagonist), who has something she needs or wants (a goal), and a reason she needs to achieve the goal (motivation.) There’s also something that stands in the way of success (conflict), which is what makes this a problem for your protagonist to solve. 

Conflicts will change over the course of the story. Hamlet will convince himself that Claudius is guilty and feel impelled to take his revenge. But the conflict can’t just evaporate; if Hamlet decides his uncle (perhaps with his mother’s help) didn’t kill his father, there’s no story. 

The Antagonist gives your conflict agency. He will have his own goals and motives: 

A single StoryBuilder Problem Story Element contains tabs for both Protagonist and Antagonist. A problem’s Conflict Type can be Person vs. Himself, with your main character both protagonist and antagonist, with an inner problem or flaw to confront, but a different Story Element from the external, outer problem.

Dive deeper into the intricacies of narrative structures and how they unfold.