Posted On June 22, 2015 by Print This Post

It’s All About Your Characters with Robin Gianna

Happy Monday, RU crew! Today, Robin Gianna discusses the importance of GMC in character development. One lucky commenter will win a copy of Robin’s latest book and a tote bag. 

Great to have you back, Robin! 

I’m starting a new book this week! While the first thing I do is come up with a basic story idea, the very next step I’m working on is figuring out the answer to this question:

Robin_GiannaWho’s going to drive the story?

By that I mean, who are my characters? Not what they look like, or where they’re from, or what they do for a living, though those things are important to know, too. But the most essential things to decide from the very beginning are what many craft books talk about – their Goals, Motivation and Conflict.

I believe it was Debra Dixon who coined that actual phrase in her workshops and books titled GMC. But many authors and craft experts have their own spin on it, and once you figure it out, I promise the story and plot will follow.

So, what does your character want to accomplish in this story? The more tangible the better. For example, in my current release, the heroine is an archaeologist, and she wants to find a specific treasure her late parents believed might be found at the dig site where she’s working. That’s her goal.

Why does she want to achieve this goal? Well, sure, it’s what she does for a living, and everyone wants that kind of success, but why else? Here’s where you start to dig deeper. My heroine knows she wants to find this in her parents’ memory, to bring closure to their work and put their names in the archaeological magazines one last time. But she hasn’t yet realized she wants this because of feelings of inadequacy she carries deep inside, not having achieved the career goals they’d pushed her toward and expected of her. Unconsciously, she still wants to ‘show’ her parents she’s not a failure, even though they’re no longer alive.

What obstacles are keeping the character from getting what she wants? Take the time to come up with several answers to this question, and at least one of them should be internal, something that is emotionally scary for them. In my above example, the first external problem the heroine has to deal with is that the team leaders become mysteriously ill. This puts her in charge with new responsibilities, and also leaves the dig team down two workers. The attractive doctor (the hero of this story) who’s taking care of the team leaders wants her to shut down the dig until they find out if there’s a connection between the dig and the illness. But if she does that, they’ll never find the treasure. At the same time, she’s responsible for the young people on the team the same way she’s been responsible for her sisters since their parents’ deaths. She believes she didn’t do a very good job trying to raise her sisters – wouldn’t putting the team at risk make her a poor leader there, too?

Emotional resonance happens in a story when you add this kind of conflict. Find a way for your character to want two mutually exclusive things, and eventually have to choose. She desperately wants to find the treasure, but wants to be a good leader, too.

Figure out the one thing your characters fear, then make them have to face it. Decide how you want the book to end, then think about what’s going to have to happen to your protagonist to bring about that end. How will your protagonist grow from confronting the obstacles he or she has to deal with? How will they have changed from the start of the book to where they are on the last page? What events will make that happen?

Getting these bones in place make fleshing out the story a lot easier. Whenever I find myself stuck about what should happen next, I realize it’s because there’s something I don’t understand about my character and his or her GMC. That’s when I go back, ask myself more of the kinds of questions, and usually find an ah-ha! moment that propels the story forward again.

Do you have any special ways you get to know your characters and who they are?  A questionnaire or character study you particularly like? Chat to me, I will give away a print book and tote to one commenter.


Her GreekHer Greek Doctors Proposal  [HM&B Medical Romance – June 2015]

The question he thought he’d never ask… 

Archaeologist Laurel Evans put her career on hold to care for her younger sisters. Now, close to achieving her goals, she won’t let anything distract her. Laurel has come to Delphi to dig up ancient treasures, but she finds a modern-day Greek god instead—local doctor Andros Drakoulias!

A devoted single dad, Andros is determined to give his little girl stability. He knows his fling with Laurel can’t last, so why is it so hard to imagine a future without her by his side?

Read Reader Reviews – Read an Excerpt 

 Amazon Kindle – AmazonAus – Amazon UK – Harlequin US – Mills & Boon UK – B&N


Bio: After completing a degree in journalism, working in the advertising industry, then becoming a stay-at-home mom, Robin Gianna had what she likes to call her ‘awakening’. She decided she wanted to write the romance novels she’d loved since her teens. Robin embarked on that quest by joining RWA and a local chapter, and working hard at learning the craft of fiction writing.

Robin loves pushing her characters toward their own happily-ever-afters! When she’s not writing, Robin’s life is filled with a happily messy kitchen, a needy garden, a wonderful husband, three great kids, a drooling bulldog and one grouchy Siamese cat.

Robin Gianna on the web: Website     Facebook      Twitter


What’s next: Author K.M. Fawcett joins us on Wednesday, June 24th. 

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21 Responses to “It’s All About Your Characters with Robin Gianna”

  1. I have been trying to read a “NY Times Best selling author’s book for 2 weeks.(An assignment in a craft class I am taking.) Another one of hers I threw to the wall. I kept trying to read it – got – by force – 50-60 pages in. (You shouldn’t have to force yourself to read) Then it dawned on me. I HATE THE CHARACTERS! This applied to BOTH BOOKS. I really hated the wimpy female protagonist in one book and I despised the male (hero) in both. I talked to a couple other authors. Right. At our age — we don’t have time to waste on characters we don’t fall in love with.
    (When you have a hero in the love them and leave them variety – he has to have SOME saving grace. Looks don’t count.) Sub-characters were non-supportive. They were paper dolls on stage. Whole plot was telegraphed and weak. I expected so much better. (I write , am close to self-pub releases, and read voraciously. )

    Posted by Donnamaie White | June 22, 2015, 12:54 am
    • I feel your pain, Donnamaie! I’ve experienced the exact same thing, though I don’t have to force myself to finish it for a class 🙂 The good news is that reading stories we hate can be as educational as reading books we love, at least from a craft stand-point. When I read a book I dislike, or a story with characters I can’t relate to, I ask myself why I feel that way. Hopefully, I can avoid making the same mistakes in my own work. And, from reading your post, I’m sure you will too 🙂 Best or luck with your self-publishing!

      Posted by Robin Gianna | June 22, 2015, 9:11 pm
  2. Great post! I find these posts on structure so helpful, especially when revising.

    I’m realizing now that I’m not sure the motivation of my heroine in a story I’m revising, so that’s something I’m taking a deep look at. Thanks for sharing this!

    Posted by G.G. Andrew | June 22, 2015, 7:26 am
    • Hope it helped, G.G! Believe me, there are many times when I think I know the GMC of my characters, but realize mid-write that I don’t understand it nearly as well as I need to. Good luck, and thanks for commenting!

      Posted by Robin Gianna | June 22, 2015, 9:13 pm
  3. I’m doing a happy dance! Robin, thank you–for some reason, your post penetrated my fog of not being able to come up with a GMC for my heroine. I adore both this heroine and hero, but while I’ve been able to come up with a GMC for the hero I’ve floundered with the heroine for some time.

    I knew the answer to the first and third questions, about what she wants to accomplish and what’s standing in her way, but I couldn’t answer the second question, why she wants to achieve this goal, to save my life.

    I copied out the question 2 and 3 paragraphs and replaced your words with my own (as a guide, just for my own use), and voila! For some reason–even though my heroine’s goal and motivation are completely different than yours–suddenly it clicked, made sense, and fell into place almost immediately.

    I realized I’ve been going for the wrong internal motivation, which has been sending me around and around in circles. It was an interesting motivation, but it just didn’t work for the story. The one that came to me when I spelled it out modeling your answers to the questions made the biggest freakin’ light bulb ever go on over my head. I could power the state of Michigan with that bulb, LOL.

    Amazing how you can read things and hear things over and over and over, but it doesn’t sink in until someone tells it to you in a way that makes the dots connect. Thank you!

    Posted by Linda Fletcher | June 22, 2015, 8:46 am
    • I’m so glad, Linda! You’ve made my day 🙂 It’s funny isn’t it, how sometimes one little thought can just throw doors wide open. We can’t make it happen often enough, but occasionally a small group of writer friends and I get together to brainstorm each other’s stories. We all sometimes can’t see the forest for the trees on our own, but one nugget from someone not as close to our work can be just the trick to spark a new idea.

      Thanks so much for your comment, and good luck!

      Posted by Robin Gianna | June 23, 2015, 8:16 am
  4. Great post. When I first started writing, I was more focused on plot.

    I’m finally getting that the character’s are what make our stories memorable.
    I’ve been a Jason Bourne fan from the 70s. I read the books, and watched a Richard Chamberlin (I think) movie, and I love the new movies. I might not be able to tell you the plots, but I can tell you about Jason.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

    Posted by Jackie Layton | June 22, 2015, 8:47 am
    • I have a good friend who’s been published longer than I have, and I adore her books. But she’s very much a plot person – loves coming up with plot twists and fun events. When we brainstorm her stories, she always has to take a step back from the plotting and remind herself about internal conflicts and GMC. So you’re not alone!

      Good luck!

      Posted by Robin Gianna | June 23, 2015, 8:21 am
  5. Great post.Congrats on your release and many happy sales!

    Posted by Terri L. Austin | June 22, 2015, 8:58 am
  6. Helpful post, Robin. My female characters have tended to be oh-so-reasonable and with rather flimsy motivations. Sigh. I’m finally starting to add “flaws” and challenges to make them dig deeper to achieve their very personal goals. Wow, it’s much harder than I ever thought it would be.

    Thanks for this very timely post!

    Posted by Celia Lewis | June 22, 2015, 12:40 pm
    • It IS hard, Celia! And even after getting more stories under my belt, I still will find mid-story that I haven’t dug deep enough for those all-important motivations, and the reason behind a character’s flaws. But knowing we’ve got to get there is 3/4 of the battle, right? 🙂 Best of luck!

      Posted by Robin Gianna | June 23, 2015, 8:23 am
  7. Evening Robin!

    Oh I struggle with GMC…lol….especially the M. Why is she motivated to do this? Why why why? And then what I usually come up with is some complicated disaster of a motivation. The only thing that works for me at the moment is to write the first couple chapters, figure it out, then go back and rewrite. It’s the lonnnng way to go about it!

    I’m definitely re-reading this article before I start another character!



    Posted by Carrie Spencer | June 22, 2015, 11:02 pm
    • Carrie, for what it’s worth, my process is the same (unfortunately!). Even though I sit down and spend time figuring out who the characters are before I start a book, it doesn’t fully gel in my mind until I’ve gotten a few chapters written. Which means I have to go back and revise those (sometimes a lot!) but it’s a necessary evil for me, and sounds like it is for you too 🙂

      Thanks so much for stopping by, and good luck!

      Posted by Robin Gianna | June 23, 2015, 8:28 am
  8. Hi Robin,

    I ‘try’ to establish GMC before I start writing, but it evolves as I question whether the GMC is plausible enough. Like you, I end up revising the first few chapters.

    Thanks for joining us again!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | June 23, 2015, 11:30 am
    • Thanks, Jennifer – it’s great to be here!

      Yes, wouldn’t it be wonderful if a story fell together perfectly from the very beginning? That would be called a ‘fairy tale’ methinks – at least most of the time! 😉

      Posted by Robin Gianna | June 23, 2015, 3:24 pm
  9. I’ve been using a software package called Character Writer to help with establishing GMC and a lot more. There’s even a section where you can use Eneagram to help create characters and predict how they will interact with each other. It’s the best tool I’ve found yet. Easy to use and detailed, without being overwhelming.

    Posted by Ruchama | June 23, 2015, 4:15 pm
  10. One weekend out of town and I’m totally off-schedule. So sorry for the late comment – this is a fabulous post, I wish I could just upload it to my brain!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | June 25, 2015, 12:02 am
  11. Thanks for the great article, Robin!
    What about your question, to know my character better I just pretend that I’m chatting with him, asking different questions and think how he would answer them.

    Posted by Pimion | July 10, 2015, 6:28 pm

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