The Transformation Twister
If you’re an author in search of that elusive publishing contract, perhaps you’re hoping to self-publish a story to rave reviews or maybe you’re researching ways to hone your craft, one of the most important skills to master in your trek to publication is character development. And a great way to guarantee your characters read as well-rounded, three-dimensional individuals, is to make sure they each contain a strong Goal, Motivation and Conflict (or GMC as it’s referred to in the publishing world) to carry them through the arc of your story.
An outstanding formula for describing Goal, Motivation and Conflict as it relates to character development is:
(Your character) wants (goal) because (motivation) , but (conflict) keeps him/her from getting it.
To further demonstrate an example of this, let’s turn to a classic MGM musical we all know and love: Dorothy wants to go home because her beloved aunt is sick, but she needs the wizard’s permission and help to make the journey.
Thus, we have the GMC of “The Wizard of Oz” in one sentence. If we stop and think about it, everything that happens on the yellow brick road is a result of this one simple sentence. Every decision, action and piece of dialogue from Dorothy boils down to this one inherent truth.
But is a strong GMC enough to break through the wall of rejection letters, low sales and ho-hum reviews? According to Dorothy and her friends, it’s not. Something else needed to happen to her while she was in Oz…and no, I’m not talking about her fabulous, sparkly red footwear.
Now, I want you to settle into your seats for a minute, because this is the fun part where we’re going to remove all the Technicolor and talk a bit about Dorothy’s journey as it relates to her personally and what happened to her internally during her trip to the Emerald City.
Who among us doesn’t remember the Dorothy prior to bumping her head and spinning off to Oz inside that character-cluttered cyclone? Come on, I know you can all see Judy Garland in her black-and-white checked pinafore, sitting on a haystack as she stares off into the sky and dreams what it would be like to be anywhere but a farm in the middle of dustbowl Kansas. (My apologies to all Kansas residents. No negative implications intended.) Now, envision with me, if you will, the END of The Wizard of Oz (we’re skipping the garishly loud costumes, remember?) after Dorothy gets home and she’s surrounded by her doting family.
Unless they’ve been living in a cave the past forty years, I would place bets that every single person in the entire world knows what Dorothy says at the end of this movie.
“THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME.”
AHA! So, tell me. What happened to Dorothy while she was in Oz? The answer? She experienced a transformation.
Yes, the movie encompasses her GMC—her struggles to get home, a green witch, a floating soap bubble, munchkins and making several dear friends along the way, but it wasn’t enough she melted the wicked witch of the west and discovered the true identity of the wizard. After all, how lame would it have been if the movie ended with Dorothy looking up at her family and saying,
“Uhhh…I wanna go back to where everything was in color.”
In order for the story to be fulfilling, Dorothy had to grow as an individual. She had to transform.
Alan Watt states in his book The 90-Day Novel: Unlock the Secrets Within, “at the heart of every story is a dilemma—a problem that cannot be solved without creating another problem.” (e.g. Dorothy cannot get home without traveling the yellow brick road. She can’t obtain the wizard’s help without delivering the wicked witch’s broomstick.) If you’re not sure how you’re characters transform in your story, consider this for a moment:
Problems are solved, while dilemmas are resolved through a shift in perception.
Let’s be clear: Dorothy doesn’t have a problem. She only thinks she does. This is key to understanding her character so the reader can connect with her and become invested in her struggles…and so they can experience her transformation right along with her. Dorothy has a dilemma. A problem, in and of itself, would not get Dorothy to the end of the movie because her problems are continuously solved throughout the story. (e.g. Dorothy makes it to Oz—problem solved. She melts the witch and obtains her broomstick—problem solved.) It is the meaning she makes out of her apparent problems (or dilemma) that is the force that drives the story.
At the heart of “The Wizard of Oz” is Dorothy’s longing to escape the confines of her reality, to discover a place where people understand her and colors melt like lemon drops. Who among us cannot relate to this issue? I know I can. However, once Dorothy does escape, she realizes things are not always so great out there in the big bad world. Again, another concept many of us are familiar with. During her journey, Dorothy experiences a shift in her perception. The dilemma of how she is going to forge out on her own becomes a non-issue because she grows as an individual and realizes she’s exactly where she needs to be…and she always has been.
The hallmark of skilled writing is the ability to track the beats of a story in a compelling and believable way that leads to a transformation. Transformation (a shift in perception) = a resolution to the dilemma.
Ref: Watt, Alan (2010-10-07). The 90-Day Novel: Unlock the Story Within
AJ Nuest has written all her life. She calls Northwest Indiana home, along with her husband, two beautiful children and several pets. She now writes romantic fantasy for Harper Impulse.
The Golden Key Chronicles
Book 1, Rowena’s Key
Antiques restorer, Rowena Lindstrom finds herself the owner of an ancestral armoire containing a hidden key and a magic mirror leading to another realm. But the handsome warrior prince waiting on the other side is truly the final straw. This must be an elaborate joke, right? As she struggles to discover the truth, Rowena learns Prince Caedmon Austiere needs the key to save his kingdom.
In the end, she cannot deny him anything. Including her heart.