By Jeanne Marie Leach

Read Part 1 here.
Read Part 2 here.
Read Part 4 here.

So, how does GMC help solve the SMS (Sagging Middle Syndrome) problem we discussed last week?

When I first started writing, people believed that without GMC you didn’t have a book. I didn’t pay it much attention to it then, but now I realize the value of these elements to gripping, page-turning fiction.

  • Make sure the main character has clear goals that compel them to act and conduct themselves as they do. Much of the story will move forward as the character reaches toward and acts because of their goals. This goal is what takes the character out of their home and sends them on a quest that might have dire consequences.

Example of goals in fiction: In The Devil Wears Prada, the character of Andy takes a job at a high-fashion magazine with the intention of only staying long enough until she can get a “real” job as a journalist. So her goal is to be a serious journalist and write stories that matter to people.

  • Using the same example, you might ask, why would she take a job she didn’t really want? Why not wait until the perfect job comes along? This is where motivation comes in. It explains why Andy took a job she thought to be meaningless. She needed money to pay the bills while she waited for the right job to come along. Motivation need not be any more than that.
  • Once Andy takes the job, the conflict begins. She doesn’t care about fashion and thinks it’s a silly pursuit, but everyone around her at the magazine would kill to have her job. Her lackadaisical attitude toward her work and her wardrobe gets her into trouble often—even to the point where she’s ready to quit. With the help of a colleague, she catches on to the world of fashion and makes progress with her boss, Miranda, the editor in chief of the magazine.

But the conflict doesn’t end there. Soon she’s practically living her life at Miranda’s beck and call, and she neglects the important relationships in her life. Sparks fly between Andy and her boyfriend, then her best friend, and next thing she knows, she’s got an amazing job but no friends who support her. Then she unwittingly stabs her coworker in the back and loses her as a friend. Soon she makes a huge mistake, and Miranda does everything she can to see to it that Andy quits the next day and never comes back.

  • Do you see how the pattern of conflict just keeps going? All this keeps the plot from going in a straight line. Just when the reader thinks they know what will happen, the plot takes a different turn and the conflict goes in another direction. In this story, Andy and her boyfriend break up, and she goes to Paris as Miranda’s assistant—the most coveted job anyone at the magazine could hope to get.
  • While there, she uncovers a plot to fire Miranda, and she warns her of it. Miranda ruins one of her colleague’s chances at his dream job in order to keep her own job. Then she tells Andy that they are both alike—that Andy would do the same thing if put in the same situation. Andy says she’ll never be like Miranda, and her boss reminds her that she stabbed her coworker in the back to come to Paris. This is like a slap in the face to Andy, and she finally walks away, realizing she’d taken a wrong turn in her life.
  • In general, a sagging middle is caused by lack of one of these elements of the plot – goals, motivation, or conflict.

What can be done to solve the problem of a sagging middle?

Often there might be lots of conflict, but we still have no idea what the character’s real goal is or what has driven them to make the choices they’ve made. This is where you realize that the middle is sagging and you need to prop it up with GMC.

You can use this wonderful checklist, written by author, Cara Putman for the ACFW’s Novel Track Editing loop to help you assess your GMC (used by permission).

  1. Make sure the character’s goals are important and urgent. It’s also okay for the goal to not be achieved. Often the goal will change as the character realizes what they thought they wanted isn’t so good after all.
  2.  If a character feels flat, make sure they have both external and internal goals and conflicts. Internal conflict is always emotional conflict.
  3. Motivation is the “why” behind the goal. Does that motivation push the character toward their goal and provide motivation as they act? If not, go back and layer in this element.

Conflict is required in most fiction. It’s anything from a struggle where the outcome is in doubt to tension and opposition. Another author once said that conflict is two dogs fighting over one cat. Whether it is due to a girl, a job, or a nuclear bomb, the book must contain conflict in order to have a reason to exist.

In Part 4, we’ll take a look at Sub-plots.