GMC Redux: Intent vs Impact

In stories, as in real life, the Goal/Intent and Conflict/Actual Impact are almost never fully aligned. The greater the disparity, the deeper the character arc. Let’s look at how this manifests in the story.

CHARACTER ARC=recognizing how your actions contribute to the problems you want to avoid/resolve

BLACK MOMENT=you refuse to change, and that costs you everything

DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL=you accept how your actions contributed to your worst fears coming true

That doesn’t mean it’s all your protagonist’s fault. In a romance, for example, it takes two to tango. We're looking at what they contribute to the problem, not assigning blame. Take Dorothy from the movie JERRY MAGUIRE.


GOAL (intent): a full family

CONFLICT (actual impact): Jerry is offering loyalty, not love, leaving her lonelier than ever

MOTIVATION (how she rationalizes an unhealthy compromise): a partner and a father of any sort is better than none at all

Look also at THE LAST JEDI, which I went into more detail previously here. Rose and Finn have terrific character arcs.

Of course, it’s possible to tell a compelling story where none of these things are true. In such stories, rather than resolving character arcs, the story instead pits static characters against overwhelming external obstacles.

Like in HOUSE.


House *always* returned to his status quo. He wasn’t allowed real growth until the series ended. Even then...did he really change?

Or DEXTER (uh-oh), who never actually changed.


Dexter started off emotionally isolated, and he ended the show emotionally isolated. It was like telling the audience that every fit and start of growth over eight years was a waste of time.

If you found this helpful, here's a handy chart summarizing everything.

GMC chart.png

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