(Another) Lesson from Critique Group

A couple of weeks ago, at my critique group meeting, one of my fellow group members handed me back a hard copy of my piece after she finished giving me her feedback verbally. Across the top of the first page were these words: Too surface. No clear GMC.

“What’s ‘GMC?’ ” I asked.

“Goal, motivation, and conflict.”

“Oh.” Yeah, I can see how not having any of that could be a problem.

When I looked at the scene I’d written again, through my writing friend’s eyes, I could see what she was talking about and I also wondered how I could have missed it.

I’m working on a novel and this is not the first—or the second—draft.

Obviously, I’m in need of my critique group.

I think part of the reason that I haven’t seen what is so clearly lacking in my drafts before now is that I’m still feeling pretty overwhelmed by the whole idea of writing a novel. My goal has been to keep writing and to get to the end—with each draft.

Now, I realize, I can’t keep tweaking each scene superficially and submitting it. I need to step back and look at the whole picture and I need to look at each scene and make sure it works.

This may take some time.

And, I realize, that’s the biggest reason why I haven’t done it yet. But the longer I put it off, the longer my novel is going to stay an unemotional, passive piece of writing that no one would want to read, never mind publish!

I know I have the bones of a great novel, now I’m going to look for “GMC” in each scene.

  • Goals: What is the goal of the scene? What is the goal of the protagonist in this scene? What is the goal of the antagonist?
  • Motivation: What is my protagonist’s motivation for doing what she does in this scene? Why does she care about whatever is going on around her? What is my protagonist’s motivation in general? Why does she get up in the morning?
  • Conflict: What’s the conflict in the scene? How is it resolved?

I just submitted another piece to my writing group and I’m hoping this one has a lot more “GMC” than my previous pieces.

I’m also going to go back to the beginning and complete a synopsis of my novel—I started one many months ago and found it very helpful, but I didn’t carry it through to the end of the novel. I think it will help me figure out the overarching goals, motivations, and conflicts of the novel, my protagonist, my antagonist(s), and every other major character.

Wish me luck.

How is your writing project going? Do you have “GMC?”

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: is a writer, blogger, mom, life coach, and family physician. Now that MasterChef is over, I can devote more of my evenings to writing!

40 thoughts on “(Another) Lesson from Critique Group

    • Hi taylorgraceauthor,
      Thanks for your comments. Wasn’t MasterChef great this year!? I just found out they are doing a MasterChef Junior show–yikes! More time away from my writing!

      I tend to do the same thing you do, the “surface” edit. I’m trying to dig deeper now.

      Happy writing–and editing!


  1. To me GMC is substance. Sometimes I read blogposts and there’s no substance, there’s no point to the sentences being posted. Your piece is a reminder to not write or post anything like that.

    • Hi Randee,
      Thanks for your comments. I agree, we need to look for the GMC in each piece we write. I feel like I can do it with shorter pieces, but I’ve been missing it with my novel. Hopefully now I’m on the right track!

      Happy writing!


  2. Googled “GMC”.. Just came up with trucks. Tried to buy some at “Amazon.com”; No luck there either. Will just have to keep searching. 😉
    As always… Very helpful..!!

    • Hi Mr. CATSOE,
      Good luck with your search! I know you’ll find some GMC if you keep looking!!

      Thanks for commenting!


  3. Hah, I think I may have Gmc but can’t seem to get the overall structure figured out to present it into a comprehensive “story” format!! How did you find a writing group you liked? I think I could benefit from one too.

    • Hi Kyrielle,
      You are well on your way if you already have a handle on GMC. When I lived in Maine I took a class that turned into my first writing group after the class was over. When I moved to NH, I tried many different ways to find a good writing group. I spent about a year trying without much success but I knew what I was looking for so I just kept looking. I tried local bookstores and local libraries–they usually have a bulletin board that people looking for critique or writing groups can post to. I also joined an online critique group. That worked for a while but I was really looking for an in-person group. I formed my own group and joined others. I finally met one person who I felt I could work well with. She agreed and we formed our own two-person group. Since then we’ve added two people.

      It’s not easy to find a good critique group but it’s worth the effort to have someone who can see what you are missing in your story. I wrote a post about creating a critique group you love: https://nhwn.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/finding-or-creating-a-critique-group-that-you-love/

      Good luck!


      • Thank you!! All good advice! I’ve tried a couple so far, but I have to be brave now and actually submit stuff for review this month ;0)

        I will check out your post too. Thanks again :0)

  4. the only goal of writing is writing, but as a reader, and as a normal thinking person, i think the best that you get out of writing, is the suspension of all that is real in your life, i.e. putting the mind into a fresh space where there is space, and from a readers perspective, that’s flow, meaning, the better you get to know the character the less explanation necessary, best of look, you have talent.

    • Hi bwcarey,
      Thanks for your comments. I love your perspective on writing and I agree–I put my mind in a fresh space and that’s when the writing gets really good.

      Thanks and happy writing!


  5. Learn something new everyday. I didn’t know the significance of “GMC”, until now. It’s a good thing to have a critique group, just have to get over “being” critiqued, and things should go smoothly. But, being a writer, being critiqued is part of success. Blessings on your novel.

    • Hi luis,
      Thanks for your kind words. I agree, getting our work critiqued is very important. We just can’t see our writing objectively after a while.

      Happy writing!


  6. This is a great article. I’m working on my first novel and it can get a little overwhelming. I have to agree that the goal, motive, conflict formula really cleans up a lot of confusion. Thanks for posting!

    • Hi kimrauker,
      You are very welcome. I’m so glad you found the post helpful. My novel feels overwhelming to me, too, but I’m trying to look at it from a birds-eye view these days so I don’t get buried in the details (which I think I was doing before I started thinking about GMC.)

      Best of luck with your novel!


  7. Yes, GMC can be forgotten. I have done it myself. Good luck with your writing. Just know that each day you are progressing whether it be one sentence or many pages. Eventually “The End” arrives.

    • Hi gpattridge,
      Thanks so much for the encouragement. Between you, the other readers on this blog, and my critique group, I am feeling so much better about my novel. I’ll get there!


  8. Thanks again. Yes. Look at your most recent ‘Healthy Choices’ closing comment -*- “What do you really want?” -*- and the value of the Opening in sequence above becomes even more clear: Start with your goal; and positively GO from there -*-

    • Hi WELL-Partners,
      Thanks for your comments–and for reading my Healing Choices blog! Goals really work for me, especially now that I’m giving them to my characters!


    • Hi courtneyjhall,
      Thanks! I feel very lucky to have my critique group. They are really helping me move forward as a writer!

      Happy writing!


  9. I spent this morning thinking about a couple scenes I like, worried that they’re extraneous “fun to write” moments that don’t matter to the plot. Thanks for reminding me of a clear way to verify whether those should stay or go away.

    • Hi sonworshiper,
      I’m so glad you found the post helpful. I’m finding GMC very helpful these days–although I am cutting a lot of scenes!

      Thanks for commenting!


  10. There is a wonderful book on GMC by Deb Dixon. I originally borrowed it, but it was so good I had to buy my own copy so I could mark it up.
    I think you can buy it directly from her website for $19.95+ shipping.

    • Hey Lee,
      Thanks for the information! I’ve been trying to find a book on GMC and couldn’t, so I really appreciate the resource!


  11. Dianne,

    I, too, am working on a novel (nothing to do with my blog). Having written numerous short stories, I sensed that I needed a vastly different approach. If I just wrote until I was done, I wouldn’t have anything very interesting, even to me.

    I decided the novel would be exploration of the evolution of three major characters. They enter a situation, one willingly, two unwillingly. As challenges emerge, they are forced to cope or fail, with dire physical and emotional consequences, whatever their response. In the end, one will fail, and the other two will emerge, different than they entered.

    I assigned Myers Briggs personality types to each. I can keep track of their behavior, and how they evolve. (Under major stress, a personality type may move away from dominant characteristics to less controlled and less integrated tertiary characteristics). I don’t mean to make it mechanical and deterministic, but it provides me with a structure and approach.

    I know the overall flow, and the stages the characters will go through. I have divided the story line into key scenes and, for want of a better word, continuity. The key scenes test the characters, and, eventually, force their evolution. The continuity scenes hold the story together, dampen out the waves of the prior key scene(s) and set the stage for the next key scene.

    Your thoughts on GNC are timely. GNC is precisely the type of concept I need to organize the key scenes.

    Thank you,


    • Hi Pat,
      Wow, your process sounds really cool! I need to do more of what you are already doing! I’m so glad you found the ideas about GMC helpful.

      Thanks for commenting and best wishes with your novel!


  12. Looking over my notes from a lecture (really- it was too fun to be called a ‘lecture,’ but, whatever…) by Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files), I found his “formula” for writing scenes- P.O.V., Goal, Conflict, and Setback (Outcome). It seems pretty solid, though GMC is a catchy-er acronym. Good luck!

  13. This makes me realize I need to go back through my drafts with this in mind. Thank you for sharing. Its great that you have a writing group to support you and help you through the process.

    • Hi Scorpio Scribes,
      I’m doing the same thing you’re doing! I’m looking at all my scenes with GMC in mind, plus looking at the arc of the whole novel with those three things in mind as well.

      I am lucky to have my writing group. I commented above about how it came about, if you’re interested.

      Best wishes with your writing!


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