Michael Hauge’s Workshop: An Antidote to “Love at First Sight”

by Jami Gold on August 9, 2012

in Writing Stuff

Close up of eye and text

By far, the best workshop I attended at the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Annual Conference was Michael Hauge‘s presentation, “Using Inner Conflict to Create Powerful Love Stories.” Unlike every other workshop, Michael gave his presentation twice. I attended on the second day and the room was standing-room-only packed. The first day was likely the same.

Yeah… It was popular. And for good reason.

I’m now at the point in my learning curve of craft knowledge where most workshops aren’t telling me anything new. That’s probably a good sign for my skills, but I love pushing myself to learn new things, so the lack of insightful workshops can also be a bit disappointing for me.

That’s why Michael’s workshop rocked. Many ideas he shared were things I “knew” instinctively, but the way he presented the concepts created new connections in my brain about how to apply the information.

Whether you write strictly romance or not, if your stories include a love interest, Michael’s teachings from this workshop can help bring your characters to the next level. I’m going to use the term “romance” here, but just translate that in your head to “love interest” and you’ll be able to pick up useful tidbits from what I learned at Michael’s workshop too.

The #1 Issue Plaguing Romance Novel Characters

The biggest weakness of romances is that there’s no logical reason for the couple to be together. Logic? Ha! Who needs logic. Love transcends logic, right?

Wrong. All characters—in all types of stories—need motivation for their actions. Love plots/subplots aren’t exempt.

Characters without motivation are puppets. That’s true whether the characters are stupidly going into the basement even though the lights are out because the plot needs them to or whether they’re falling in love with someone who seems wrong for them because the plot needs them to. No matter how the “no motivation” problem manifests, it’s not good for the story.

“Because they’re the hero and heroine and I need them to fall in love” is not a good reason. Author motivation doesn’t equal character motivation. Relationships in a story without a motivation feel forced. And that’s not quite the happily ever after that romance authors aim for or that romance readers expect.

What Makes Love Seem Logical?

So what does logic look like when paired with love? A character should fall in love not because the plot needs them to, but because the other character sees behind the mask they present to the world and accepts them/loves them back for who they really are.

This goes in the other direction too. A character will fall in love with the potential they see in the other character. They see who the other character can become and will fall for that person, even if the character isn’t quite there yet.

In other words, characters will seem right for each other, even destined for each other, if they connect on the level of their inner “essence.” That deep connection gives them motivation to pursue the relationship.

Readers will see how they’re perfect for each other—how they know and accept each other better than any other alternative on the planet—and they’ll think, “Of course these two should be together. It’d be illogical for it to happen any other way.” Connecting on a deep level gives the characters motivation, which makes the relationship feel unforced and logical to readers.

The Trick for Making Love Triangles Seem Logical

A fascinating tidbit Michael shared was about how to make love triangles work. I’ve never been a huge fan of love triangles, as the (usually) heroine can seem flighty for not being able to make up her mind and/or stupid for being attracted to the “wrong” guy.

Michael pointed out that one member of the triangle could be a perfect match for the heroine’s mask and the other member of the triangle could be a perfect match for the heroine’s essence. Both heroes would be perfect for her in some way (thus avoiding the stupid factor), but only one would see the real her. Bingo. There’s the guy she should end up with if she completes her inner journey.

Ooo, inner journey. We’ll talk about that more next week, along with these masks, essences, and connections. *smile* And after that, we’ll talk about how to combine the inner journey with the external plot.

Have you read stories with a shallow-feeling relationship before? What made it feel superficial? Would this tip have helped fix the problem? Have you seen love triangles with this mask-vs.-real approach? Did it work for you? Have other triangles that didn’t follow this approach work for you? What made them work?

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46 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Tami August 9, 2012 at 5:43 am

Great post! Wow, that workshop must’ve been amazing!

Most of the “love triangles” I see are flawed in the ways you mentioned. The heroine is interested in the obviously wrong guy.

I actually read a great love triangle that suffered from the opposite — both heroes genuinely loved the heroine for herself, and she genuinely loved them both back.

It was in one of Mickey Zucker Reichert’s series and I think the author must have realized she painted herself into a corner because in the end, the heroine had to choose at random.

The reader can’t fault her for the difficulty of her choice or the method of it … but there will always be this part of my soul that weeps for the unchosen hero. He lost through no fault of his own.

Looking forward to your other posts!


Jami Gold August 9, 2012 at 8:42 am

Hi Tami,

Oh yes, absolutely amazing! 🙂 Seriously, if this workshop was a 10, the other workshops (and I include my own in this!) were between a 2 and a 6. That’s not a slam on the other workshops at all, but a statement of how awesome Michael’s was. And just to let you know, I wasn’t a Michael Hauge fan before this–I haven’t read his craft books yet–so this isn’t a case of groupie-rose-colored-glasses. 🙂 He really was that good.

Some stories suffer from a lack of a clear inner journey too, so that makes it harder to show the triangle’s perfect-for-point-A vs. the perfect-for-point-B transition. I can think of some bestsellers that fall into that category. 🙂 Too many times the love triangle is there just to add angst, not to provide a clear choice between who she is and who she can become. And that’s a shame because that can be a powerful statement.

Wow. Thanks for sharing that example. That’s a rough corner to get out of. I’ve seen other authors suddenly make one of the heroes act like a jerk (totally out of character for them) to justify the heroine’s choice too. Gah. That’s an ugly approach. 🙂 Thanks for the great comment!


Tami August 10, 2012 at 6:19 am

The more I learn about the craft of writing, the more I laugh at how EASY it all seemed before.

The lack of a clear inner journey is just as disastrous as the lack of a clear OUTER goal, too! I’ve read some well-written books by authors I adore which fall flat because the hero spends half the book wandering aimlessly from coffee shop to clue. It’s not boring (I’ve read boring) but it’s also not engaging.

Then there are the books that start strong, and somehow manage to complete the tangible outer goal about halfway or 3/4 of the way through, leaving the rest of the book for the inner goal only.

Tricksy tricksy, to wrap up all those plot threads at about the same place in the book.

Man oh man, it’s so incredibly worth it when you find the books that pull it off though, isn’t it? <3


Jami Gold August 10, 2012 at 9:31 am

Hi Tami,

“The more I learn about the craft of writing, the more I laugh at how EASY it all seemed before.”

Ooo, yes, I know that feeling. 🙂 No doubt that some of this stuff can be instinctive, but when things don’t come together as we hope, we need this “behind the scenes” understanding to analyze and fix the problem. And I’ll be talking more about the outer goal/inner journey next week. 🙂

Thanks for the comment and here’s hoping we each can write some of those incredible books that pull it off! 😀


Melinda Collins August 9, 2012 at 10:59 am

Hi Jami!

Great post!! Oh my, you are so amazing with sharing this knowledge. Did your hand almost fall off from writing down all these notes in those classes? This is a LOT of great information you’ve gathered from RWA – and you’re not even done yet! 🙂

I giggled when I first read about “logic.” About 2 weeks ago, my bestie said to me, “Why are Av and Ambrose even together? Other than their ‘shared’ journey throughout the story, what do they have in common to keep them together after the journey’s over?” Well, well…. yeah, she got me there. And this post was PERFECT in its timing. Needless to say, I have definitely added an additional scene or two (and add’l phrases here are there) that help show these two outside the plot and its pressures so the reader can feel that their relationship is genuine and not just because of the plot.

I’m not a fan of love triangles either. There’s always too much going on and even I feel a little dirty when I read the MC going back and forth between one guy and the next – that and I lose my voice from screaming, “Just pick one already!!!” LOL! So I definitely haven’t read one with the mask-vs.-real approach – though I love this tip! My brain’s churning on whether or not I could build a story around it already! Hmmm…… 😉


Jami Gold August 9, 2012 at 11:14 am

Hi Melinda,

Oh, you’ll love the next post (posts?–however long it takes me to share everything). This one is just the teaser to what I learned. It gets even meatier. 🙂 And yes, this was definitely the workshop that I took the most notes in. I scribbled all over every open white space area on the handout.

And wow, that issue your friend brought up is exactly what I’m talking about here. He might have mentioned something about romantic suspense stories often having trouble with that “shared journey” does not equal potential for a long-term relationship issue. (I don’t think your story is romantic suspense, but it’s the same “shared journey” idea.)

Yes, most heroines in love triangles just strike me as flakes. 🙂 Triangles are very common in YA, and I think this approach could really help with those. YA stories often have a heroine trying to decide what kind of person she wants to be, and each hero could appeal to the different sides of her personality she’s trying to choose between. Interesting thought. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Carradee August 9, 2012 at 11:06 am

I agree with your post. To be honest, I’ve known this for a while. 🙂

It seems like most stories I try to read, particularly those with love triangles, suffer from one of those problems. There are even some where I see what the FMC likes about the guys, but I don’t get what they like about her.

In my own writing, I don’t really focus on the relationships—at least, not intentionally. The relationship builds organically. In one I’m finishing now, the romantic pair don’t even like each other. (It’s complicated.) Nonetheless, feedback so far has commented on how perfect they are as a couple.


Jami Gold August 9, 2012 at 11:25 am

Hi Carradee,

Oh yes! Those stories where I can’t see any reason for the heroes to like the heroine are annoying. They strike me as Mary Sue characters–pure wish fulfillment for the author (“She’s so awesome she gets guys fighting over her!”).

I like letting the relationship develop organically too, but one of Michael’s other tips (that I’ll go into in a future post) gives insight into how/why that works. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Carradee August 11, 2012 at 4:42 am

I think it works because relationships don’t exist in a vacuum. If you focus on the relationship itself, you might be trying to paint a wall that’s falling apart because the foundation’s missing.


Jami Gold August 11, 2012 at 9:01 am

Hi Carradee,

LOL! Yes, that’s very true!


Stina Lindenblatt August 9, 2012 at 11:42 am

He spoke in my city in Spring. I can’t imagine how he condensed a six hour workshop into two.

I highly recommend his workshop. It’s worth it! The timing was perfect for me since my new wip has a love triangle. I wanted to avoid the flighty issue you mentioned, Jami.


Jami Gold August 9, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Hi Stina,

LOL! It was packed solid with great information, that’s for sure. 🙂

Good luck on your triangle! I used to think that it was nearly impossible (or perhaps just random luck) to do them right, but his tips made it seem doable. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Amanda August 9, 2012 at 12:07 pm

You know, I see the shallow connection happen all the time in YA novels, and it’s disappointing. By far the best romantic connection I read in a YA novel recently was in Michelle Sagara’s Silence. The MC’s boyfriend had died in an accident some months before the story opened, and she was still mourning him. THAT was realistic, to love someone so much that you may have gotten to the point where you accept their death and have moved on with the business of living, but still have no interest in making a romantic connection with someone else.


This workshop sounds fabulous, and now I’m going to have to check my local library to see if they’ve got any of his books.

As for love triangles…I’m not a fan. Too often it feels like the author is purposely flipping back and forth to add “drama”, and it’s annoying and unnecessary and extremely bothersome, especially when the heroine is normally an intelligent human being capable of making informed decisions. But one I’m looking forward to reading (it’s on the TBR pile!) is Keri Arthur’s Riley Jenson books. Riley’s half vamp, half werewolf, and from the descriptions of some of the later books in the series, she’s attracted to both a were AND a vampire, which makes a lot of sense. Hopefully Arthur does it well!


Jami Gold August 9, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Hi Amanda,

Yes, I’ve definitely seen shallow connections in YA and romance, but I added the note about love interests because I’ve seen it in non-YA or romance books too. In other words, I think it’s a common problem. LOL!

Yes, triangles often seem nothing more than a ploy to add drama and angst. And great point about how they can hurt the heroine’s characterization if they reduce her from a smart, capable woman to someone who can’t make up her mind. I’d love to see one done right, however (hint, hint, Stina!), to see if that changes my attitude toward them. Arthur’s books sound interesting–let me know how they are. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Adriana Ryan August 9, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Ooh, very nice! I like the thought of applying this to my character’s romantic interests, even if I don’t write romances. Thanks for sharing–the workshop sounds awesome.


Jami Gold August 9, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Hi Adriana,

Yay! I’m glad that not just romance writers can find good stuff here. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Renee Schuls-Jacobson August 9, 2012 at 1:46 pm

This has applications outside of the romance genre. I’ve been trying to SHOW why my protagonist loves her husband, but also where they bump into each other. They are figuring each other out as they deal with conflicts throughout the book. This is helpful advice. I probably need to think more about my protag’s connection with her husband in certain scenes. (Or their disconnection.) Sometimes it’s so hard to juggle all those relationships and my big, bad trouble maker, too!


Jami Gold August 9, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Hi Renee,

I understand. 🙂 And I’ll try to go more in depth in future posts on this issue too. Thanks for the comment!


Serena August 10, 2012 at 8:07 am

Ooh I like this topic!

The logic behind why you chose that special person:

Hmm, this actually reminds me of different compatibility theories. The couple (in theory) will work if they (here is a list of possible qualities):

—are childhood best friends/ good friends/ close friends/ have known each other for a long time

—are simply kind to each other (“I just want a ‘nice’ guy/ girl”)

—have similar interests/ share the same passion (e.g. both are crazy about philosophy)

—have the same religious background

—have compatible personalities: This can mean having the same/ similar personality –> so you understand each other
or “complementary” personalities e.g. the extrovert and the introvert (this seems to occur in real life) –> so you compensate for one another’s weaknesses

—admire each other for certain qualities (e.g. She’s so smart and hardworking! He’s so altruistic and compassionate!)

—-for the simple reason that they love each other

—for the equally simple reason that they feel happy when they’re in the other’s presence

Love compatibility theories generally pick one or a combination (or all!) of the above qualities. There are of course, many that I’ve missed.

Just another note: When stories talk about the one who “understands you”, they mean:

—you have a similar/ same personality (so you understand what needs they have)

And/ or

—-you have similar interests/ the same passion or life goal: also about
understanding the other person’s deepest needs and desires.

And/ or

—-you have a similar background: age, culture, race, religion, etc

(The similar personality and same passion/ interests theories seem more popular than the similar background though.)

About personality compatibility, there are also theories using the Myers-Briggs personality tests about what types are suited to what. The Enneagrams tests do a similar thing with this type matching.

Gee, after doing this summary on different love theories, I think I understand the romance genre more now, and hopefully about romantic love in general. (I love summarizing things =) )


Jami Gold August 10, 2012 at 9:51 am

Hi Serena,

Ooo, thanks for sharing those compatibility theories! The interesting thing is that fiction is not like real life in this regard. 🙂

We need to be able to show their compatibility (so it can’t be “just because”) and the reader has to believe it or else the ending won’t work. And of course, great romances are about relationships that will survive the test of time, so we need to see depth beyond simply being nice to each other. In other words, real life can use gut instinct for pursuing a relationship, but fiction has to prove it to the reader. So the bar is set higher and some of those qualities would be enough to convince the reader, but others wouldn’t be. Fascinating! 🙂

My mind is going all over this concept and I think you might have inspired a blog post. 🙂 Thanks for the great comment!


Serena August 12, 2012 at 2:16 am

Lol you’re welcome.

Real life vs fiction expectations:
Yeah I didn’t think of it in that way but you’re right. In real life, people around me don’t seem to think that much about how compatible they are with each other. What I hear is simply “oh I just want a NICE guy/ girl”, whatever their definition of “nice” is, lol. Or they want to be together simply because they love each other or feel really happy when they’re with each other. So much more “emotional/ visceral” rather than “rational” reasons.

I also much prefer romances that are much deeper than “oh because he’s so nice to me”. My favorites are the ones with both 1) similar/ complementary personalities; and 2) similar passions in life.

Actually, I’ve just realized that often people with the same kind of personality/ temperament (or “personality type”) tend to have the same/ similar kind of interests. So that’s really compatibility for you.

Anyway, thanks for this blog post for making me think! 😀


Jami Gold August 12, 2012 at 5:16 pm

Hi Serena,

Yes, someone can be nice but we have zero chemistry with them. In real life, we know it’s a tricky balancing act, but writers can forget that sometimes and just go for the easy “because I said so.” LOL! Thanks for the comment!


Angela Quarles August 10, 2012 at 9:09 pm

Late to the party, but thanks for posting this as I missed that workshop! I agree, I get annoyed when reading romances where there’s no reason for the attraction other than they each find the other hot. Sometimes, it’s only the guy’s motivation that seems to be missing and it aggravates me because I want to know WHY HER?

Often it’s coupled with other weak-writing flags, like crotch gazing (where the H/h have extended internal monologues about the 0ther’s hotness and bemoan that they can’t be together, over and over every chapter it seems, as the author’s idea of sexual tension)


Jami Gold August 10, 2012 at 10:31 pm

Hi Angela,

Ooo, yes, the “hot” factor. That’s not very convincing for a happily ever after story because of the whole “will you still love me when I’m 64” question. 🙂 As you said, bemoaning the desire to be in each other’s pants isn’t sexual tension. LOL! Thanks for the comment!


Angela Quarles August 11, 2012 at 6:50 am

And why does this get a pass from editors? These are published books from the Big 6 we’re talking about where I see this happen and it’s so frustrating as someone who is trying to go that route, to see this kind of weak writing get a pass?


Jami Gold August 11, 2012 at 9:03 am

Hi Angela,

Wait… You want me to find logic in the publishing industry? That’s crazy talk. 😉


angelaackerman August 13, 2012 at 10:53 am

Stina and I went to the same workshop here in Calgary–it was fabulous! I am so happy you got to see him at the conference as I can’t believe how much great stuff I came away with (like the whole bit on WOUNDS–total light bulb moment). I absolutely LOVE Michael Hauge!



Jami Gold August 13, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Hi Angela,

Yes, I came away with so much information. I could write 10 blog posts about this one workshop. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Christine Ashworth August 13, 2012 at 11:21 am

Wow, Jami! Great info. I tried to get into that class – both days – but it was just too packed. It was recorded, yes? So I’ll listen in on the recording – but I really enjoyed your post (and took notes from it, lol!).

Thanks hon!


Jami Gold August 13, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Hi Christine,

No, I don’t think it was recorded. 🙁 But if you want more information on anything in the overview here or on tomorrow’s post, let me know and I’ll write more. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Laurie Evans August 14, 2012 at 6:32 pm

Love Michael Hauge! I attended one of his 4.5 hour workshops at the New England RWA meeting…I’m a newbie writer, so it was pretty overwhelming. Have you bought his book on screenwriting?

I’d like to read more. He did touch on this “WHY are they the perfect match?” question, but he didn’t get into any more. I was DYING to hear more about this!! Any other blog posts you might feel like writing about this would be greatly appreciated! Going to read the “perfect match” post now.


Jami Gold August 14, 2012 at 9:48 pm

Hi Laurie,

Oh wow! Yes, his workshop was so dense with good material that my head was spinning after just two hours. I can’t imagine being a newbie writer getting 4 and a 1/2 hours of that. 🙂

I don’t have his screenwriting book yet, but it’s on the list. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Julie Musil August 20, 2012 at 5:40 pm

“Thus avoiding the stupid factor.” I loved that, Jami! It sounds like this was an awesome workshop. I don’t like it when characters fall in love just because they “should.” All of this advice makes perfect sense. Thanks for sharing!


Jami Gold August 20, 2012 at 6:59 pm

Hi Julie,

Heh. Yes, can you tell I’ve read some books that fell into that category. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Sienna April 19, 2016 at 5:57 am

There is a 2013 RWA talk by Hauge that was recorded and can be purchased on the RWA website. I think you have to be a member to get to that page. It is two hours and $6.


Jami Gold April 20, 2016 at 6:28 am

Hi Sienna,

Yes, I don’t think his 2012 talk was recorded (the one I attended), but his 2013 talk might have been (I wasn’t at that National). Thanks for the reminder! 🙂


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