Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been sharing tips from Michael Hauge’s presentation at the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Conference. First we looked at how to make sure our love (or romantic interest) stories didn’t fall prey to a lame “love at first sight” relationship. Then we talked about how to show that our characters really are the perfect match. Along the way, we discussed the elements that make up a character’s inner conflict.
Janice Hardy attended Michael Hauge‘s workshop, “Using Inner Conflict to Create Powerful Love Stories,” with me, and she wrote up a fabulous post yesterday, going into those elements (longing/need, wound, belief, fear, identity, and essence) in detail (and giving great advice about how to apply Michael’s tips to non-romance stories). I recommend checking out her post because I’m going to pick up where she left off, with more insights into how to apply a character’s emotional journey to a standard three act story structure.
Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure
Michael’s Six Stage Plot Structure describes a character’s inner journey—from living their identity (behind their mask) to living their essence—in relation to external plot events. Over the course of six stages and five turning points, a character will stop living in fear and instead live courageously.
- Stage One: Setup
The character is living fully in their identity. Their wound, false belief, and fears are holding them back. The purpose of this stage is to introduce the protagonist(s) and create empathy for them (victim, in jeopardy, likable, funny, highly skilled, etc.). Readers should see the character “stuck” in their life and/or identity.
In a romance, the hero and the heroine are often equal protagonists and might be introduced separately. Sometimes this stage will be cut short or doled out in backstory snippets to instead open with Turning Point One in order to have the hero and heroine meet earlier.
- Turning Point One: Opportunity (at the 10% mark)
An event occurs that creates desire in the character. This can be a glimpse of their longing or need. As Janice pointed out in her post, this is their first opportunity to face their fear and they run from it instead.
In a romance, this is typically when the hero and heroine first meet.
- Stage Two: New Situation
The character attempts to adjust to their new situation.
In a romance, the hero and heroine react to their meeting.
- Turning Point Two: Change of Plans (the the 25% mark)
An event occurs that creates a new desire with a specific (visible) goal and end point. A character’s external pursuit of the goal begins. The goal has to be something the character can’t fully achieve while living in their identity.
In a romance, the goal can be unrelated to the romance, but it should force the hero and heroine together.
- Stage Three: Progress
As the character pursues their new goal, they get scared and retreat, so they waver between their identity and their essence.
In a romance, the characters will often “dance” around each other at this point. They vaguely know they want to be together, but they haven’t committed to the changes that would be required to make it happen.
- Turning Point Three: Point of No Return (at the 50% mark)
The character must do something to show they’re committed to the goal, and they get a glimpse of what their life would be like if they lived in their essence. Even though the outside world is starting to close in, most of the character’s vacillation ends at this point.
In a romance, this might be the hero and heroine’s first kiss, first sex scene, or first declaration of love. Some visible action has to reveal their desire (goal) to the world.
- Stage Four: Complications & Higher Stakes
The character moves steadily toward living in their essence.
In a romance, the characters are getting along more than they were before.
- Turning Point Four: Major Setback (at the 75% mark)
An “all is lost” event occurs. This event can be result of the character getting scared and retreating, or it can cause the character to retreat. The character attempts to hide behind their mask again. Often a sidekick character will point out how they’re stuck.
In a romance, something happens to make it appear as though the characters can’t be together.
- Stage Five: Final Push
The character returns to their essence, which lets them “earn” their success.
In a romance, the characters try to figure out a way to make things work between them. They’ve accepted that they don’t want to live without this person anymore.
- Turning Point Five: Climax (around the 90-99% mark)
The character must face their fear one final time. The character’s wound, false belief, and/or fear should make another appearance here.
In a romance, the fear should threaten the relationship.
- Stage Six: Aftermath
The character is now transformed and the reader gets a glimpse of their new post-journey life.
In a romance, the characters are together and happy for the foreseeable future. This is the “Happily Ever After” (or at least a “Happily For Now”) ending.
Spreadsheets to the Rescue!
Whew, that’s a lot of information. But after the “fun” I had creating the Story Engineering spreadsheet based off Larry Brooks’s work, I decided to create another spreadsheet to go with Michael Hauge’s teachings. (Yes, I’m apparently a glutton for punishment. *smile*)
This spreadsheet takes the percentages Michael recommended for each of those stages and turning points and converts them to page numbers and word count.
Six Stage Plot Structure – Adapted from Michael Hauge (Excel ’07 Version .xlsx) by Jami Gold. (Click through to download .xlsx version.)
Six Stage Plot Structure – Adapted from Michael Hauge (Excel Earlier Version .xls) by Jami Gold. (Click through to download .xls version.)
Together with the understanding we discussed about how to show that flip-flopping from identity to essence, we can ensure the relationships in our stories are escalating and hitting the right turning points at the right time.
Already I can see that my most recently completed and revised (and written by the seat of my pants) novel follows this structure. Yay! But my new work in progress that I’ve started drafting needs some work in this regard. *sigh* (Actually, since I knew the character arcs of that story had issues, I’m excited to dig into this and see if I can solve the problem—before getting too far into the story.)
Even though I’m mostly a pantser, I still love understanding the structure behind the scenes. However, most story structure methods focus more on the external plot events and a character’s outer motivation. This is a great way to gain insight into our character’s inner journey.
P.S. Obviously, after three posts about this workshop, I think Michael Hauge is amazing, and I’d even go to this same workshop again. Other than the names of the inner journey elements, stages/turning points, and the percentage marks, the information in these posts came from my notes of what I picked up from his teachings and/or my own insights triggered by his words. I’m sure if I attended again, I’d write another four pages of notes. *smile* I hope everyone gets a chance to attend a workshop of his at some point.
What do you think of how Michael combines the inner journey and the outer plot events? Do you have stories that fit this structure? Do you have stories that don’t? Will this be helpful to you in fixing inner journeys gone wrong? Do you have any questions about how to apply this information?Pin It