Saturday, October 25, 2008

Debra Dixon's Workshop: Goal, Motivation & Conflict

Debra Dixon recently gave a workshop for two of my writing groups, Pikes Peak Romance Writers and Pikes Peak Writers. My blog partners went nuts. Tell us what you learned, they wanted to know. How may blogs do I have, I replied.

For anyone who doesn't know who Debra Dixon is, she is the author of one of the staples of craft writing,
Goal Motivation & Conflict. Without GMC, you don't have a novel, short story, joke, what have you. GMC is your foundation.

Debra started out the workshop doing two things: Having us set up two worksheets analyzing the
Wizard of Oz and our own Works in Progress (WIP). Personally, I love this form of teaching because while we can see the GMC of Dorothy, the Wizard, the Scarecrow, Lion, etc. when pointed out to us, it's not as easy to define in our own WIPs.

From this stage, Debra went on to show GMC, emphasizing you should
show don't tell these integral parts of your story. Conflicts get complex, not complicated, she explained. If your character is the same on page 400 as he was on page one, you haven't done your job.

She also taught that
goals are actionable, e.g. world peace is a dream; disarming a nuclear warhead is actionable. Conflict equals disruption. Further we want to anticipate the conflicts to come, and a point that really helped this writer is that conflicts and goals can change as the story progresses.

Using other craft mentors such as Christopher Vogler's
The Hero's Journey, Mythologist's Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth, Debra combined these techniques with her own to explain external and internal goal, motivation and conflict.

She used movies as examples, making it painfully clear to this writer that I don't watch enough movies. Perhaps one movie I have to see after Ms. Dixon's workshop is
The Hunted with Tommy Lee Jones and Benecio Del Toro. In this workshop, Debra explained the two main protagonists' GMC in two succinct phrases: Hunt to Kill, Hunt to Save.

I also loved that she pointed out our characters' GMCs will be occurring at different stages in the book, e.g. not everyone's story begins at the same point in time. I appreciated that she isn't black and white in how she expects us to to use her book and charts. She respects the writer's process. For instance if you need to know where you're going from start to finish of your book, great! However, if you're more of an organic writer (Panster), GMC is a gut check to make sure you're incorporating these critical components in your story.

I could go on and on about what I learned in Debra Dixon's workshop. This is mainly what
I got out of it, which is a whole lot. Above all, I was inspired. For anyone who has an opportunity to see Debra Dixon in person, or attend one of her workshops, and is wondering if her class is worth the expense, consider this. With the exception of a short lunch and two breaks, she never stopped teaching. Further, she puts Goal, Motivation and Conflict into perspective; Debra Dixon makes writing make sense.

From the book: GMC: Goal Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon
Check out for Debra's latest adventure in publishing.)

or Contact:

P.O. Box 172342
Memphis, TN 38187


Pam McCutcheon said...

I agree with Donnell. I've seen this workshop about four times (and sometimes teach part of it!) but I always get something out of it because I'm working on a different book each time.

I've never really liked or understood the Hero's Journey because it seemed to me that the black moment came way too soon in the journey. Now, after this class, I realize that the black moment is really called something entirely different (confusing!) in the HJ and I finally understand it. If you get a chance to hear Deb Dixon speak, take it!

magolla said...

Love, love, love me some Deb Dixon!! I attended a weekend retreat with Deb two weeks ago and she has a way of speaking to each person in the course of teaching her workshops. Everyone comes out of it learning something about themself as a writer, and about how to improve every story. She's simply wonderful!
(DD geek fan)

Edie said...

Great description of the workshop. Deb Dixon gave this at a WisRWA convention about 5 years ago. I'd rejoined RWA after many years away, and all the while she was talking I was getting aha! moments. I don't know how many people I've told to buy her book!

Audra Harders said...

Great information Donnell! It's so true, you can never know it all. I've read GMC many times and taken Deb Dixon's workshop twice. I've walked away with specific *ah-ha* moments each time.

I love the concept of dissecting your plot as you dissect a well known story such as Wizard of Oz. You're right, Donnell, WoO is so obvious, yet the GMC of our own books is sometimes the best kept secret of our time : )

Thanks for the reminder that we can never stop studying and learning.

Donnell said...

Hi, Pam, Margaret, Edie and Audra! Thanks for stopping by. When you take a workshop and a week later you're still thinking about what you've learned, that's a great workshop. I particularly appreciated Debra Dixon's love of Christopher Vogler's everyday world. I have to stop and think too about the black moment, I've never really understood turning points, a lot of what I do is by instinct, but I do love a book that grounds us in the opening in the every day world and then the call to adventure. That's probably why I went out and rented The Hunted. It's my kind of book (that and it has Tommy Lee Jones in it). I love the reluctant hero and the call to adventure. Great workshop. If you have a chance , don't miss it!

Delta Dupree said...

Great post, Donnell!
I bought Deb's book by referral and it's wonderful. I keeping referring back to it when I write. But, shame on me, I've yet to attend her workshop.

Leslie Ann said...

Pam, LA here. What did Deb say about black moment in the HJ. I'm wondering if it's more what we use in screenplay structure.

Leslie Ann

Pam McCutcheon said...

Leslie Ann, I was trying to understand how the black moment in the three act structure fit into the journey. I thought the ordeal and the reward (steps 8 and 9) sounded like the black moment and resolution, but the black moment actually corresponds to #11, Resurrection. The title of it is just wrong. :-)

Debra Dixon said...

Donnell !

Aren't you a sweetie to say such lovely things about the workshop.

I'm very pleased when people leave the workshop with actual practical knowledge they put into practice on their books. That makes me a very happy camper!