Goal, Motivation, Conflict: The Importance for Authors

Cynthia Ruchti

Goal, Moviation, Conflict

by Cynthia Ruchti

Every novice novelist soon learns about goal, motivation, and conflict. The mysterious GMC factor drives a good novel. And it isn’t produced by General Motors Corporation.

Debra Dixon wrote a classic resource for writers–Goal, Motivation, Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction. 

Following are the definitions Dixon uses:

GOAL—desire, want, need, ambition, purpose

MOTIVATION—drive, backstory, impetus, incentive

CONFLICT—trouble, tension, friction, villain, roadblock


reading goal, motivation, conflictWho?



Their goals or quests, often in conflict with one another.


That’s the motivation. What’s a stake? What do they stand to lose? Or gain?


What gets in the way? Both internally and externally?

In addition to writing characters worth rooting for, novelists who master the art of meaningful goals, significant motivation, and believable conflict pave the way for great storytelling.





What’s the goal? Deepen their faith. Understand suffering. Rebound from woundedness. Heal from grief. Lose weight. Eat healthier. Pull free from financial bondage. Discover biblical truths that apply to their current need….


What’s the motivation? Why does it matter? What will they gain because of your nonfiction book? Relationship tools they haven’t had before. Understanding. A glimmer of hope. A way through their pain. What’s at stake? Souls.


goal, motivation, conflict hurdlesWhat gets in the way of the quest? Misunderstanding. Lack of knowledge. Resistance. Time. Insecurity. Doubt. The writer’s inability to communicate clearly….


Now, consider how all of the Christian publishing industry is forever engaged in a goal, motivation, conflict struggle.


Readers, Authors, Agents, Editors, Publishers, Retailers, Librarians, Marketers, Publicists, Sales Teams…


We all want to present readers with the resources they need to be uplifted, encouraged, strengthened, drawn to Christ, live godly Christ-centered lives.


We’re motivated by God’s tug on us to use the gifts we’ve been given to carry out His purposes in our circles of influence. His love compels us (II Corinthians 5:14).


What gets in the way? The simplest and most complete answer is everything. Because the industry is in constant flux, and because we’re motivated by high goals, we press on despite both the internal and external forces at work to disturb, disorient, or disengage us. Conflict, dilemmas, conundrums, and battles are to be expected with this much at stake.

In novels, conflict paves the way for great storytelling. So why should it be different in publishing? Are today’s battles paving the way for tomorrow’s greatest stories?

From 1891 to 1936, paperbacks were virtually banned because of a copyright ruling. Hardcover books–the norm–could not be reprinted in paperback form. By 1980, about 70% of all books sold in the United States were paperbacks.

Yet, we sometimes waste our worry about publishing. Carving letters on clay gave way to goose quill and ink on paper. And goose quill gave way to pen, which gave way to typewriters, which gave way to computers. But books live on.

We have a solid goal. We have more than enough motivation. The conflict moves the plot.

So write on!

How does goal, motivation, conflict affect your nonfiction? The industry?