More on Systems: Goal, Motivation, Conflict

Goal, Motivation, & Conflict by Debra Dixon

Goal, Motivation, & Conflict by Debra Dixon

The whole point of plotting a book is to have a system to make it easier to write.  For linear thinkers, an outline is obvious. For us random types, a.k.a. pantsers, it’s torture. So again, I’m looking for a system to help me out.

Debra Dixon’s excellent book, Goal, Motivation and Conflict, is not the first book I’ve ever read on this topic, nor the tenth. But last night, the information I needed about a secondary character came to me easily from her questions about the goals, motivations and conflicts. The idea is not a new one to me, but her list of questions was much more helpful for me than the chart that she starts with.

Goal Motivation Conflict chart from Debra Dixon.

Goal Motivation Conflict chart from Debra Dixon.

The chart itself is a graphic organizer, a simple place to put the phrases to help the writer think about what drives the character: what she wants, why she wants it, what’s in her way.

But I needed more than that, and the list of questions that are in the book, some 20 of them, helped me dig deeper into the character who does not have a simple goal in mind, who has no idea why he can’t achieve it, and what he is willing to do to resolve his conflict. It’s another type of system, a framework that allows the mind to answer a question, rather than facing a blank page.

Answering those questions brings up more information about each character and their interactions with other characters as I go through the process. What’s important to me is that within an hour or so, I know how the relationship with the other characters plays out, since this character is not the hero, not the romantic lead, and certainly not the villain. He is basically a little more than a walk-on, a person for another character to interact with, but a potential client.

But his decisions affect hers, and both of them are clients for my fairy godmother. This chart, and the list of questions that came with my purchase of the book, gave me a system for listening to the character in a way that was most helpful. It gave me a usable system to support my own goal.

This is an affiliate link to this book from Amazon. If you buy a copy at these ridiculous prices, I can pay another month of web hosting. The image at the top goes to where you can get the 164-page book at a more reasonable price of $20, with no affiliate kick-back for me.  Not bad for a hardback that has a good system.

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18 Responses to More on Systems: Goal, Motivation, Conflict

  1. arleen says:

    Interesting post. I wonder if the best selling authors use this method or do they have it down so they don’t need to do this. Sounds like using this book is a good idea.

    Thank you for the post.

    • Charlotte Henley Babb says:

      Stephen King has this so clearly in his bones that he just writes. I’m not him. It’s also a fact of writing life that name authors (who shall be nameless here) can get by with work that a first time author could not sell. So it’s up to me to learn how to get this in my bones. 😉

  2. eyenie says:

    Very cool post Charlotte, and the book sounds interesting! I do coaching, and may actually do that little chart to “get to know” my clients in a different way a little better…definitely good food for thought! And, that said, what a great way to create content that will really serve our readers, right? YAY! Thank you! 🙂 (here from UBC 🙂 )

    • Charlotte Henley Babb says:

      I hadn’t thought of using this character development idea as a way to make a buyer persona, but that’s a great idea. I’m always wondering where my day-job demographic hides out.

      I have a coach, and we do a lot of activities that ferret out my conflicts of goals and motivations.

  3. Isn’t it great to have resources like this book to help you figure out what your characters are thinking? By the time we’re finished writing and editing the book, we know them so well it’s hard to set the novel aside.

    • Charlotte Henley Babb says:

      My characters are real people to me, just folks that I don’t see every day, but more real than some people I know on facebook. It is satisfying to get into their heads, but sometimes I wish I had Maven’s wand to make it easier. It is still up to me, mostly, whether their wishes get granted.

  4. This is an interesting post, Charlotte. I’m not a writer, but if I was, I would be grabbing every resource I can to help me through the whole process of writing a book. Your article is no exception. Thanks for sharing!

  5. This book sounds like a great resource. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Erica Ardali says:

    I like the idea of goal, motivation, and conflict. That can be used for anything. Thanks for sharing this post. But ummmm… I don’t think $100 for a book is in the budget right now!

  7. Justin says:

    Hi Charlotte,
    I am a lot like you. I am not a linear thinker whatsoever, I get thoughts and ideas, and how to implement them from all different directions. I will check out Debra Dixons book and see if it can help me out a little.

    Take Care.

    • Charlotte Henley Babb says:

      I hope it helps. I’m also working with Larry Brook’s book Story Engineering. You might like Randy Ingermanson’s snowflake method as well. WRITE ON!

  8. Althea says:

    Hey there, just became alerted to your blog through Google, and found that it’s truly informative. I will be grateful if you continue this in future. Many people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

  9. Hi therе! І κnow this іs somewhаt off topic but I was ωonderіng which blog platform аre
    уou using for this site? I’m getting sick and tired of WordPress because I’ve had pгoblems wіth hаckers and I’m looking at alternatives for another platform. I would be awesome if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

    • Charlotte Henley Babb says:

      I can’t help you there. This is a wordpress blog.
      Try changing your password to something with capital letters, symbols and numbers, and don’t use that same password for any other social networking sites.
      Other than that, try reading some help files on
      I set up a new blog today, and something is screwy with this one. I have Godaddy hosting, and I’ll probably call them for help.