Tag Archives: Writing

Check Out My New Website and Win


Dear All:

I’ve updated and redesigned my website. I think it’s pretty cool, but I’d love to know what you think! Please take a moment to have a look.


I’m excited about the new look of my site and also excited about the new series of novels I’m launching in July 2014. Volume 1 in the Wilde Dunes Series, Simmer, marks a departure for me. If you’ve enjoyed my Angel Ridge Series, you’ll know that I’ve been writing southern, small town, sweet romances. The Wilde Dunes novels will be more contemporary sexy romances. There’ll still be a small town, southern setting and plenty of romance that is guaranteed to make your heart melt. They’ll also make your heart race! Writing these books have allowed me to flex my writing muscles. I think you’ll enjoy both series. If not, there will be something for everyone!

So, back to the website. You may be wondering how you can win. It’s really simple. Visit the new website, go to the CONTACT page, fill it out and tell me what you think of the new site. That’s it! The winner will receive a $25 Amazon Gift Card. Winner will be announced June 1 on my Facebook page.

Blog Hopping About Bitter Root


Hello! If you’re visiting, welcome to my blog. If you’re a regular subscriber/reader, so sorry I’ve been conspicuously absent. More about that later.

This is the NEXT BEST THING blog tour. It’s the chain letter of blog tours. I was tagged (invited) to participate by Sandra Brannan (http://www.sandrabrannan.com/blog
) who blogged last week about her NEXT BIG THING, i.e. book project. She was tagged by my buddies, the writing team who is Sparkle Abbey (www.sparkleabbey.com). I’ve invited several of my writing pals. So far, the only one game is Loralee Lillibridge (http://loraleelillibridge.blogspot.com). You will here from her one week from today, January 30. In her post, she’ll tag several more authors, and so it goes.

Now, for my NEXT BIG THING, this is why my blog has been so quiet for the past month and a half. I am deep into research for my next novel, an historical. If you’ve read my Angel Ridge Series, you’ll know that they are a series of small town, sweet romances set in the fictional town of Angel Ridge, Tennessee. I’m five books deep in a six book contract with that series. In short, I’ve been writing this series for the past thirteen or so years given the fact that they started as short stories, moved to novellas, morphed into novels, and went through several publishers before finding a very happy home at Bell Bridge Books (www.bellebooks.com), thanks to Deborah Smith! Long story short, I need a break and thought, hey, let’s write an historical featuring a circuit rider preacher!

What was I thinking????

Sounds good on paper. Execution of same is another thing entirely. It comes out in October 2013. You’ll be the judge of whether I pulled it off or not!

So here’s a bit about it.

1: What is the working title of your book(s)?

My working title is Bitter Root.

2: Where did the idea come from for the book?

My great-grandfather was a circuit rider for the Methodist Church in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s. He was my father’s grandfather and died the year my father was born, in 1933. My dad also was a pastor. I’ve always been fascinated with my great-grandfather, Rev. James Wiley Grace, who traveled Southwest Virginia and Upper East Tennessee on his horse, Blackie, spreading the gospel. So, I thought this would be an opportunity to explore my Grace roots.

3: What genre does your book come under?

Historical Romance


4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?


This is a hard question for me. We don’t have good westerns anymore! I see the circuit rider in my story as man with secrets from his past that he wants to remain in his past. I just love characters who aren’t quite who they appear to be on the surface. He has light brown, golden hair and whiskey colored eyes. He’s badass, which doesn’t quite fit with the image of a preacher, but circuit riders had to be tough as they traveled in all kinds of conditions, often had to sleep outdoors, and were frequently attacked during their travels. Maybe Ryan Gosling. Who would you cast?

5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

After the Civil War ravages East Tennessee, an itinerate preacher travels the countryside doing what he can to unify this divided community and run from his past.

6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?

This book will be published by Bell Bridge Books.

7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Ha! Still working on that 🙂

8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

How about television series? I would say Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman and the incomparable Love Comes Softly series by Janette Oke.

9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?


My great-grandfather.

10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The book is set in East Tennessee right after the end of the Civil War, 1866ish. Reconstruction was an unsettled time in the South, but East Tennessee fared better than much of the South. 3 out of 4 people in this area were Loyalists who supported the Union. So, when the Union occupied East Tennessee the last two years of the war, things were not so bad for these folks who didn’t do quite as well when the Confederacy controlled the area. Still, the burden of supporting occupying troops was difficult with supplies limited and most men off fighting for one side or the other. After the war, those who survived came home. The confederates didn’t have a warm welcome, but the tone of East Tennessee, for the most part, was to forgive and get on with the rebuilding of the community together. Still, some southern supporters never returned. In their place were investors from the North hoping to invest in a New South.

Featured characters include a raven-haired beauty who was the Captain of the Blount County Ladies Home Guard. A former Union Soldier stationed in Knoxville who is relocating to Maryville as an officer of the government and peacekeeper. He’s also taken with the aforementioned spunky and outspoken lady. There’s another character, a woman who’s relocated to the area from Kentucky. Having lost her entire family in the war, she’s come to Maryville after the war to live with her uncle, a country doctor, and she’s considering converting her mother’s former mansion into a school.


I hope this has peaked your interest. Visit my blog again to follow my progress on this project, and please visit my website, http://www.deborahgracestaley.com. You can follow me on Facebook. My Twitter handle is @debgstaley.

Tag, Loralee. You’re it!



Why Baby Why


Why Baby Why


I don’t know about you, but I get hung up in the why loop. I think this peculiarity is what made me a writer. I always wonder why. Why things are the way they are. Why people are the way they are. Especially why people are the way they are. Why do some people like being around other people, and why are others more introverted and struggle in crowds. Why do some people love the holidays while others don’t? Why do some people like to cook and others prefer to not. Some people have tons of motivation; others don’t. Why?

But here’s where I can really get hung up. Why do I feel like I do? Why do I think the way I do. Why can’t I get excited about that holiday gathering? Why do I have days or weeks where there’s much that I am thankful for and excited about followed by days or weeks where I struggle to get excited about anything. The things I enjoyed last week don’t interest me now. Highs and lows. I think highs/excitement suck my energy and the lows naturally follow. It’s ebb and flow, right? Don’t get me wrong; they’re not debilitating lows. It’s just a kind of ambivalence for everything. But it passes. When the lows don’t pass, I know I’m in trouble.

I watch other people when I’m ambivalent. I’m interested in people who are upbeat all the time. These are my favorite people. They fascinate me. They are the perky cheerleader types. They are encouragers. They decide they’re going to have a positive outlook no matter what. But I think all that energy they put into being positive affects their productivity, because they don’t seem to get much done. But I do appreciate the encouragement they spread. Some of us really need it!

And then there are the driven people. I used to be driven. I was determined that I could achieve my goals. I set some high ones. I wanted a college education. Check. Then I wanted a masters degree. Check. I wanted a career. Check. I’ve had several. I wanted to be a published author. People used to ask me, do you really think you can be published? Honestly, it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be published. So add another check. And boy, has this led me down a rabbit hole where I have absolutely no control over many, many aspects of this beast called publishing.

For example, I can write a really great book. And that’s pretty much it. The rest is not up to me. I can’t make a publisher want to publish it. I can’t make them want to market my books. I can’t control whether people will buy the book. I can’t control whether they’ll like the book if they read it. And Oh Mercy, when there is a promotion going on, like this month where two of my titles are 1.99 on Amazon, I can make myself nuts watching the numbers. While I’m so grateful that the publisher is doing a promo for me, it makes me crazy. I can’t NOT look at the numbers and wonder. Why is my book doing just okay while others are doing great? What ramifications will an average promo have for me? Why can’t I just be grateful that people are buying my books? I am grateful people are buying the books, but there’s so much other stuff going on in my head that sometimes the grateful gets crowded out.

So, yeah. I used to be driven until I realized that I’m no longer driving. Nope, I’m just along for the ride, wondering where I’ll wind up. Is there going to be a spectacular crash or is there a sweet little luxury car that will take me into the future? I, of course, am hoping for the latter!

Which brings me back to why people are the way they are. Clearly, I overthink things. And often my thinking is wrong. That, they tell me, is part of depression. So, I try to recognize it. I even do that self-talk thing where I say to myself, “Stop thinking that way. Think another way.” Usually it helps.

Mostly I wonder, why baby why?



Help Feed My Insanity, Buy a Book

A Home for Christmas and What the Heart Wants

Both Still 1.99


Stepping Off Cliffs


Okay, Friends.

I’m on the horns of a dilemma here.

Admittedly, a poor choice of words given the circumstances, but that’s just the way it’s going for me right now.

I’ve written five Angel Ridge Novels. There’s only going to be one more. There. I said it, and I’m putting it out there for the whole Internet to read. As a writer, I’m moving on. As a person, that scares me to death. AR has been good to me. Those books gave me my start in this business. I’d be lying if I said writing something else wasn’t scary. However, if I’ve learned anything about writing, it’s this:


And you don’t know what’s going to happen after you fall. Could be good. Could be unbelievably amazing. Could be disastrous. And yet, you do it: take a blind, terrifying, leap of faith. It’s not for the faint of heart, and little secret about me—I’m not all that brave.

So, here I stand, one foot dangling off the edge. The other foot on safe, solid ground. And it’s like that safe foot is freaking nailed down. My gut is telling me what to do, but I can’t let go. Fear’s got me good.

I wrote something new this weekend. Something Non-Angel Ridge. Actually, I wrote something else a few months ago, but I put it away after taking it to my writers’ group and reading it to a shocked audience. An audience of people who know my Angel Ridge, MFA in Creative Writing ways. And they were Shocked (capital S). And it scared me, because what I had written was risky for me, and I was scared, and I don’t know why I’m tearing up while I write that, but I am. Okay, I know why. I’m still scared. And taking it to the group was a self-defeating action, because I actually knew what would happen, even though it shocked me when it did. So, I put-it-away.

I wrote something else this weekend. The beginning of a new small town southern set series that is supposed to be like my sweet, old-fashioned Angel Ridge romances, except it’s going in the same direction as those three chapters I wrote months ago. And today, I’m feeling freaked out and unsettled about it. As I’m wont to do, I’m writing about it to try and make sense of it.

Last week, I was talking to my best friend. And she brought up the chapters I had written several months ago, of course she did, because that’s the way the universe works. Once you start spinning, it grabs you and won’t let you go. You see, I’d sent her those chapters right after I wrote them. Bless her, she reads everything I write. She thought I’d already submitted the thing because that had been the plan. Write three chapters and a synopsis, then submit. When I told her I hadn’t done anything with it, she (as we say in the South) Got All Over Me about it. It started out with something like, “What’s wrong with you? Get that out this week,” as I stuttered excuses, and then she progressed to, “Send that out while we’re talking.” Me? I’m still stammering the excuses out. And I didn’t. Send it out. I did, however, revise it this weekend before I wrote the first chapter of the new series. And you know what? I made hardly no changes.

What the crap?

Back to the horns of the dilemma. Here it is. What’s coming out is steamy romance. History lesson. When I first began writing a hundred years ago, I wrote steamy romances. Couldn’t sell them to save my life. I believe it was because I was learning and my writing was not that great. It had potential, but I didn’t have story structure down. Plus, the publisher I was writing for was very prescriptive about how the stories they publish are written, and I always, always strayed from the formula. Of course, when I told my husband what I was writing now, he gives me the old, “You know, you used to write steamy and it didn’t work out. Maybe you should pay attention to that.” Like it was a sign or something. And I so believe in signs. Okay, and I have good girl, Baptist, Preacher’s Daughter, guilt. Sigh…

But when I sit down to write, that’s what’s coming. (Sorry. Another poor word choice.) And all those years ago when I couldn’t sell what I was writing, I was trying to write something that, at the time, didn’t feel right to me. So I turned completely away from it and wrote something sweet and old-fashioned and just for fun, to have a break from all the rejection, and Angel Ridge was born. Yeah. I was writing small town, sweet romances before Debbie Macomber, but no one in New York would roll the dice on it. Long story short, I went small press. It wound up with Bell Bridge Books, and it’s done great. And who knew? Small town romance is all the rage! And I’m thankful, but I can’t write Angel Ridge for the rest of my life. I have to move on. Intellectually, I know books like Angel Ridge are what I ought to keep writing because that’s what my readers expect, but it’s not coming. (Sorry—word choice again.)

So, here I stand. One foot dangling off the cliff. On foot on safe ground. What happens next is anyone’s guess.


P.S. What the Heart Wants is still 1.99 on Amazon Kindle. Please go buy one so I can keep being a working writer. If you already have it, there’s a handy button there that says “Give as Gift.” Ever thankful for your support. Buy Now


I start the day with such great hopes of getting tons accomplished. And then it doesn’t happen. Is it just me? I have to be the worst “starter” of all time! I just can’t understand why it is so hard for me to get going.

Here are my excuses. (You knew I had some, didn’t you?)

I’m not a morning person. I don’t get up early. If I see the sunrise, it’s probably because I have to get to the airport at an ungodly hour, I’m sick, or I have a super early appointment. Thanks to working for home, I set my own hours, which means, I don’t go to be early and I don’t rise early. Afternoon is when I hit the computer.


I have a few simple things to do that are never as simple as they should be. Today, I needed to edit one internet banner and create another. The program I use to do this, which worked fine the last time I used it, no longer works. At all. I looked around on the web trying to see if there’s an update I’m missing. There’s not. And the thing it says I’m missing, yeah, I downloaded it, but it just made a folder on my computer, which isn’t apparently talking to the program that’s missing it.

So, then I start looking at websites where you can make free internet banners. Yep. None of them did what I wanted. So, then I thought, screw it. I’ll buy a program and download it. Took too long to get the trial version downloaded. (I live in the middle of nowhere and the internet options stink and what I have is so slow.)

Next, I decided to search the App Store to see if there’s a free banner maker. Score! There’s a free one. I just got it downloaded and it’s time for hubby and son to be home for supper.

And so now, I’m hurriedly writing this blog post I should have had up hours ago. Where did the day go? And I haven’t done any writing. Argh!

Do you feel my pain? I had such hopes to get so much accomplished today. Maybe I can get some actual writing done after supper. My goal this week is to begin work on two, hello, that’s right, I said TWO new books. I have never written two books at once. Never. But I’m going to give it a try. I know National Write a Novel in Month is coming up in November, but that’s for beginners. I’m a seasoned professional. I’m going to write two books! Ha!

If I could just get those pesky interent banners out of the way…


My Crazy Day

Pieces of Me–With Excerpts from Unforgettable, The Next Angel Ridge Novel


Patrick sighed. Blame it on the alcohol. “Have you never done anything that you regretted, Frannie?” he asked. “Something for which you didn’t deserve forgiveness, but wished for it anyway? Not to ease the guilt you feel, because trust me, the guilt is a demon that won’t leave me alone. The forgiveness is so you know that the person giving it has gotten past what you did.”

Frannie focused on the intensity in his eyes, giving what he’d said some thought. She almost wished she could say she had done something that needed forgiving. The sad truth was that because she’d been gravely ill and survived, she’d taken care to stay safe and do what was expected of her. Any time she’d ventured to do anything out of character or something that involved taking risks, she’d regretted it, including the one time she’d kissed a stranger in a bar. That was something she regretted—that and the fact she’d wasted the years since her illness playing it safe. In both instances, the only person she had to blame was herself. She didn’t want to be afraid to live her life, but fear had been her constant companion for many, many years.

As an author, I’m often asked what inspires my writing. That’s such a hard question to answer. So many things inspire my writing. I guess the better question might be what influences my writing. I always want to create characters who have big issues in their lives that they need to overcome so that they can live a full live. I think someone once said something like, “Life is messy and no one gets out alive.” I think that’s so true. Stuff happens. The question is, how are you going to deal with it?

In the passage above, the two main characters of my latest novel, Unforgettable, are having it out over a kiss they shared years before. The situation? Both were in a bar, getting drunk; Frannie because her sister had just died, and Patrick because he was dealing with his wife’s terminal illness. Two things influenced this scene.

First, with Patrick, I wanted to show that people make mistakes. Terrible mistakes. In this book, Patrick is making every attempt to put the past behind him, going forward as a sober father, friend, and professional. I wanted to show that people are not the sum of their past deeds. With hard work and determination, I believe that people can make real, meaningful change in their lives. It helps if they have the support of people around them who are willing to give them a second, third or fourth chance. But even without that support, I think people can still prove everyone wrong and make those changes that will pave the way to a better life for them.

So, getting that message out there is what influenced the creation of Patrick, a character who had a checkered past, but who’s looking for redemption. On the surface, you can look at Patrick and say, there’s nothing redeemable about a drunk who makes poor choices. However, I firmly believe that things are not always as they appear. Look beyond the surface and find the underlying reasons why people make the choices they do. Things are rarely as they seem.

There are reasons why Patrick drank. He denied some core truths about himself, and speaking from experience, denying one’s core truths always leads to trouble. I denied that I was a writer. This led to my falling into a deep depression. To get better, I had to start writing again. For Patrick, he had to find the root causes that led him to drink. By acknowledging these things, he’s able to stop drinking and create a new life for himself, one day at a time. But Frannie comes roaring into to town reminding him of that person he used to be. Will he fall back into people’s old expectations of bad behavior for him or will he prove to Frannie that’s he’s a different man? Read the book and find out!

The second influence for this scene has to do with Frannie, my heroine, who has a past as well. One that might seem a strange choice on my part. As a child, Frannie battled a serious illness. This was based on my own experience. While I didn’t have a terminal illness, I was very sickly as a child. I was born early with lung problems. I had severe asthma and allergies as well as kidney problems. Up until I was seven, I was in and out of the hospital, and I spent a lot of time in doctor’s offices. Hardly a week went by that I didn’t see dear Dr. Kenneth Lynch. What an incredible man. My mother was very careful with me, and that in turn caused me to be cautious and fearful—of everything. I spent a lot of time indoors because I was allergic to most everything outside. As a result, I wasn’t comfortable around people. I didn’t make friends easily. I was super naïve about everything and way too trusting.

She’d taken care to stay safe and do what was expected of her. Any time she’d ventured to do anything out of character or something that involved taking risks, she’d regretted it.”

This passage characterized my life growing up and carried over into adulthood. I became accustomed to being alone because staying inside away from everyone but family kept me safe. Like Frannie, it seemed like anytime I ventured to do anything that involved taking a risk (and trust me, sometimes just venturing out was risky), I wound up regretting it. Of course, I was unhappy being alone so much, but at the same time, being alone was comfortable.

Another thing that growing up sick and cautious did was give me a fatalistic outlook on life. Like Frannie, I didn’t believe I’d live to be old. I never wanted to marry or have children. I wanted education and a career. I used to love pretending I had an office with a desk! But I did get married to an amazing, wonderful man. And I did have one child, who is so much like his father. He, too, is amazing and wonderful. Even though he doesn’t look like me, I like to think he gets his strength and fabulosity from me J

Still, I had a deep feeling that I wouldn’t live to be old, until, like Frannie, something happened to show me that I was wrong. A few years ago, during that time that I wasn’t writing, I got out my laptop and decided to go to the library and try to write. Before I got out of my neighborhood, I was in a horrendous car crash. I pulled out onto a four-lane highway right in front of a car I didn’t see coming. I was hit in the driver’s door of my car. My head broke the window of the driver’s side door. I was knocked unconscious. I should have died. That’s what I thought at the time. I should have died. But I didn’t.

Because I was wrong about not living to be old.

A wonderful therapist helped me to see that. And Paul Selig, Director of the Creative Writing Program at Goddard College, channeler, and friend confirmed this in one of his famous workshops by telling me, “You’re here. I see you. I see you.” And now, I see the truth myself and have no doubts. I have a full, wonderful life with a husband, a child, family, friends, puppies and a career that I love.

I did get that education and enjoyed a number of offices with desks. But the desk I use now, as I write this post, sits in an office I’ve made inside my home. It has faded pink wallpaper that was installed sometime around the turn of the century—the 20th Century. There’s a bay window in front of me with 150-year-old wavy glass. Outside stands a strong, old magnolia tree and a view of the mountains just beyond. I’m blessed with the here and now. I do myself, and everyone around me, a disservice if I don’t live every blessed day to the fullest. I can promise you, that’s what I intend to do. If someone reading my books is encouraged to do the same? Well, that just means I must be living right.

Goal Motivation Conflict & Tension


A warm welcome to visiting blogger and fellow Sweeter Than Tea Author, Martina A. Boone. Check back here soon to hear from other contributors to the collection.



One of the most important lessons a creative writer should learn is summed up by Deb Dixon in her brilliant book: GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction. This book is quite literally a writer’s bible. It has helped me as a writer more than I can express, and as a consequence, I am especially thrilled to be published in the SWEETER THAN TEA anthology from Belle Books, the publishing company that Deb Dixon founded. It’s like being published by one of your heroes. Now add in the privilege of working with Deb Smith as an editor and appearing in the book alongside a phenomenal array of talented writers, and I have to keep pinching myself. In honor of the book’s release and Deborah Grace Staley’s invitation, I thought I’d share some thoughts about GMC and hope that they will help other writers as much as they helped me.

Use Goal, Motivation, and Conflict to Create Fascinating Dynamics between Characters.

The concept behind GMC makes it possible to create a story that is so compelling it’s impossible to put down, a story in which the relationships between the characters leap off the page and stick with you. GMC is at the core of every memorable work of fiction. In good stories, not only does each major character have their own GMC, but ideally, each relates to the major theme and they all come together to govern the characters’ actions in the climax. The goal and motivation will change as the story evolves, and the conflict will escalate and deepen.

  • · (G)oal. What the character wants and strives for to move the story forward. Such wants or needs are divided into long-term and short-term goals. They must be difficult to achieve and come with their own inherent challenges and obstacles, and each choice and character change throughout the novel must make it harder or easier to attain that goal.
  • · (M)otivation. The logical, believable reason or reasons the character wants that goal more than anything else in the world and is willing to work toward it instead of giving up when the going gets tough.
  • · (C)onflict. The seemingly impossible obstacle or obstacles that will keep the character from attaining the goal until she has proven herself worthy through struggle and hard choices–and the way you keep your readers turning pages.

At its best, GMC is both internal (emotional) and external (physical) for every character, which provides them with depth and believability. More ideally, the internal and external GMCs will oppose each other. If the GMCs for your critical characters are also in opposition, you can more easily ensure that your novel not only contains conflict, but natural tension on every page

Tension, according to literary agent and author Donald Maass, is what makes a novel breakout, what makes it sell. He explains it like this:

In dialogue, [tension] means disagreement. In action, it means not physical business but the inner anxiety of the point-of-view character. In exposition, it means ideas in conflict and emotions at war.

All of this comes down to opposition of one type or another:

  • · The character’s external goal conflicts with her internal goal.
  • · Circumstances put two of her external goals in conflict with each other so she must choose between them.
  • · Another character she loves wants something that conflicts with her own goal.
  • · Attaining one suddenly changes circumstances and makes achieving the other impossible.
  • · Achieving one would have an impact on others her conscience would not allow.

The options for creating opposition are nearly infinite, but they must arise naturally from the GMC to be believable and truly compelling, and there must be an equally compelling reason why those circumstances occur. Similarly, the reader must understand and believe the reason why opposing characters are thrown together and kept together in a situation of conflict. Externally, their characteristics and goals must be interwoven into the novel’s plot so they physically can’t evade the conflict that is thrown at them. Internally, their motivation must make it impossible to give up.

To set up this kind of situation, as with anything in your manuscript, it helps to start with a macro view. Debra Dixon provided a simple chart structure. I’ve filled it in with a twist on Cinderella, the archetype at the root of so much romantic fiction in every possible genre.

GOAL To escape her drab existence. To go to the ball and have a chance to marry the prince.
  • She’s tired of being her stepmother’s scapegoat.
  • She’s exhausted by all the work she has to perform.
  • She’s worn out by her stepsister’s demands.
Marrying someone is her only option for escape.
  • Her innate goodness and loyalty make her reluctant to go against her stepmother’s wishes.
  • She is conditioned to fear her stepmother’s retribution if she fails to complete her tasks.
  • She knows what she looks like and knows she has no chance of attracting the prince in her rags and cinders.
  • Her stepmother gives her extra work she must perform.
  • She has no dress to wear and no transportation to the ball.
GOAL To keep Cinderella from outshining her own daughters. To prevent Cinderella from going to the ball.
  • She loves her daughters and wants them to prosper.
  • Having once mistreated Cinderella she can’t afford to have anyone. know what she has done.
  • Having stolen Cinderella’s birthright, she needs to keep Cinderella powerless; a husband would have the power to force her to turn over Cinderella’s share of the father’s estate.
She and her daughters are blowing through money so fast she has to help them hook husbands quickly and she wants one of them to land the prince.
  • She knows what she is doing to Cinderella is wrong, but she loves her daughters so much she can’t deny them anything.
  • She doesn’t want to lose her daughters and knows she will if they get married.
  • The invitation to the ball was phrased in such a way that she would break the law by prohibiting Cinderella from attending.

There’s a simple formula to filling out this chart:

Character X wants Goal because Motivation but Conflict.

That’s the overall framework. To turn this into a story though, we need to add a few layers, things like plans and reactions and revised plans, and each plan should create a new opposing factor which will add a new complication. (For a complication worksheet, see here.) This creates a recursive chain:

Character X wants Goal because Motivation but Conflict so

New Micro-goal because New Micro-motivation but New Conflict so

The more interesting the GMC, the more interesting the character and the story. Obviously, the most fascinating GMC should belong to the main character, and based on the above, I’d much rather write about the wicked stepmother than Cinderella because she provides far more opportunities for tension.

To help me find and focus the tension in a story or scene, I like to tack an extra column on the right hand side of Debra Dixon’s chart.

GOAL To keep Cinderella from being reintroduced to the society she should be part of. To prevent Cinderella from going to the ball. This opposes what Cinderella wants both internally and externally.
  • She loves her daughters and wants them to prosper.
  • Having once mistreated Cinderella she can’t afford to have anyone. know what she has done.
  • Having stolen Cinderella’s birthright, she needs to keep Cinderella powerless; a husband would have the power to force her to turn over Cinderella’s share of the father’s estate.
She and her daughters are blowing through money so fast she has to help them hook husbands quickly and she wants one of them to land the prince. There is a ticking clock on her goal, and there are consequences for her success that put constraints on how she will go about achieving the goal. At the same time, there are consequences for failure. This makes it clear she has to walk a knife edge all the way.
  • She knows what she is doing to Cinderella is wrong, but she loves her daughters so much she can’t deny them anything.
  • The more she knows what she is doing is wrong, the angrier she is at Cinderella.
  • She doesn’t want to lose her daughters and knows she will if they get married.
  • The invitation to the ball was phrased in such a way that she would break the law by prohibiting Cinderella from attending.
Attaining her goal will result in her losing what she loves. At the same time, the more overtly she acts against Cinderella, the more guilty she feels and the angrier she becomes, which she justifies so that she can act against Cinderella even more overtly and egregiously. Her behavior in turn empowers her daughters to also act against Cinderella.

This is, of course, just a very quick example, and it is only the first step. But you can see how important it is to create the set-up for tension in the overall GMC so you will build-in the opportunity to put tension into every scene.

I, personally, would find it very difficult to write Cinderella’s story the way I set her up in this example. I would have to give her a much more compelling reason for going to the ball and far greater opposition to keep her from getting there. On the other hand, I could write the stepmother’s story in a heartbeat. Already, I’m wondering what made her the way she is, what makes her love her unworthy daughters so deeply, and whether her conscience will let her find redemption in the end. I feel the need to know, and the outcome isn’t clear to me. There’s room for tension and reader engagement as she encounters situations that driver her to change what she wants, to get what she wants and find it bitter, and to fail and be happy to have done so. I find that fascinating. But then, I’m twisted. I know.

As writers, we all know there are only a few basic plots we can work from. GMC is one of the reasons it seems as if there is a nearly infinite number. The individual stories in SWEETER THAN TEA are a great example of this. We were asked to create stories that showed a panorama of Southern life, both then and now. The resulting stories span the spectrum of fiction from family dramas to comic mishaps, from sentimental remembrances and poignant choices. The settings and the actions in each story are all different because the GMC for each story is different. They all retain that typical Southern flavor though, that quintessential warmth and vibrancy that makes them great comfort reads on a sunny porch or a rainy-day window seat.