Jami Gold, Paranormal Author

Michael Hauge’s Workshop: Combining Emotional Journeys and External Plots

by Jami Gold on August 21, 2012

in Writing Stuff

Hands knitting a multi-colored scarf with text: Knitting Internal Journey & External Plot

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.

Act One:

  • 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.

Act Two:

  • 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.

Act Three:

  • 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.

(Click through to view a larger image)

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?

P.S. Are you new to beat sheets? Check out my Beat Sheets 101 post, and check out all my worksheets for writers here.

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58 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Tami August 21, 2012 at 6:03 am

You realize we’re not going to let you sleep until you create the grandpappy of all Frankenstein worksheets, right?

*eyes sparkle*


Fantastic analysis, and I love the spreadsheet! (Everyone I’ve ever loved just groaned aloud at the same time, did you hear it?)

I am surprised to hear you call yourself a pantser when you obviously love plot-points this much! Then again, I think every writer builds their invisible “Pantser/Plotter” fence in different places.

The Save the Cat “beats” were close to what I use … but still not quite right. This stuff here? This is MUCH closer to my heart.


Jami Gold August 21, 2012 at 9:08 am

Hi Tami,

LOL! That would take the Frankenstein spreadsheet to multiple pages, and I’m not sure I want to do that. (Not that I haven’t thought about it, mind you. 🙂 )

And you’re right about how I fall somewhere in the middle of pantsing and plotting. My goal is to be able to fast draft, and that requires having a vague idea of where you’re going in the big picture. But I love the huge discoveries that pop up when pantsing. So I’m working on a mimimalist’s approach to plotting that will get me to the fast drafting level and still let me pants as much as possible. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Tami August 21, 2012 at 10:02 am

That sounds like the way I write. Love those random surprises, but I need a good skeleton to build all those lovely fluffy bits on.

No worries on the Frankenstein — I’m actually working on taking your two spreadsheets and combining it with my own flagging process to create my own homebrew. ^_^


Jami Gold August 21, 2012 at 10:11 am

Hi Tami,

Oh cool! If you come up with something that works for you, let me know. 🙂


Carradee August 21, 2012 at 6:52 am

You had to make another spreadsheet! You know I’ll have to convert it to Numbers and add it to my workbook template with those other worksheets I’ve put together, right? :p

The nice thing about this is, in reading the points and percentages, the plans for my paranormal romance novella fit this mould! 😀 And since it’s more character-oriented than plot-oriented, it makes more sense to me than Save the Cat! does.



Jami Gold August 21, 2012 at 9:11 am

Hi Carradee,

LOL! Um, sorry?

And yes, like you, I can see how my completed story fits this exactly. With many of the other plotting structures, I kind of hem and haw over “would this be the x turning point or would that be the x turning point?” With this spreadsheet, it’s completely obvious what actions signal the different turning points. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Susan Sipal August 21, 2012 at 9:25 am

You know what, Jami? I think you should develop The Writer’s Guide to Spreadsheets! Fill it with every kind of spreadsheet imaginable that a writer can use for character development, plot structure, etc.

You can do it! 🙂


Jami Gold August 21, 2012 at 9:42 am

Hi Susan,

LOL! You’re trying to kill me. 🙂

Uh…thanks for the comment? 😉


Julie Glover August 22, 2012 at 7:45 am

I find all of these story structures intriguing. I am now reading THE WRITER’S JOURNEY by Christopher Vogler and seeing that progression. Comparing the different structures, there are definitely similar threads throughout. Thanks for adding another one to my collection, especially with a great spreadsheet.


Jami Gold August 22, 2012 at 10:01 am

Hi Julie,

Ooo, I haven’t checked the Vogler one yet. *adds to list* 🙂

Yes, there are many commonalities, which is one reason I liked doing the Frankenstein spreadsheet of Snyder and Brook’s structure–it was like looking for the Unifying Theory of Everything for storytelling or something. LOL! Thanks for the comment!


Lynn August 24, 2012 at 11:19 am

I found my way to your website after a friend mentioned how incredible Michael Hauge’s workshop was at RWA. I downloaded an audible version of his lecture and loved it. THANK YOU you for this amazing and helpful spreadsheet to refer to. I’m also a pantser, but there’s something about the simplicity of this that makes plotting so much easier in your head and on paper. Thanks for taking the time to share your notes!


Jami Gold August 24, 2012 at 9:23 pm

Hi Lynn,

Yes, his RWA workshops weren’t recorded (I don’t believe), so I’m happy to help. Like you, I like having a vague direction for my pantsing. 🙂

And if my multiple posts haven’t been enough evidence of how awesome Michael Hauge was, I don’t know what will convince people. In other words, if you ever have the chance to listen to him, take it! 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Laura Brennan August 24, 2012 at 3:08 pm

I *LOVE* Michael Hauge. He’s so smart and clear-headed and generous with his advice. I took a course he offered fifteen years ago, and credit him with getting me to finish my first script. My sixth script brought me out to a career in L.A. – and it wouldn’t have happened without his class.

Read his books, but nothing beats hearing him in person if you get the chance. Thanks for sharing his RWA session!


Jami Gold August 24, 2012 at 9:24 pm

Hi Laura,

Yes, he packed more solid information into that 2-hour workshop as most people would over a whole day. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Jamie Raintree August 26, 2012 at 10:49 pm

You are amazing! Thank you so much for this!! I am printing it out so I can look at it every day.


Jami Gold August 28, 2012 at 6:59 am

Hi Jamie,

Aww, thanks. *blush* I hope it helps. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Lana Williams August 27, 2012 at 10:02 am

As a huge Michael Hague fan, I can’t thank you enough for the spreadsheet! Love it! Great blog post!


Jami Gold August 28, 2012 at 7:06 am

Hi Lana,

You’re welcome! And as a newbie to Michael Hauge’s teachings (I’d heard of him but never read/heard his stuff before this), I completely understand being a huge fan of his. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Anne Eliot August 27, 2012 at 11:20 am

Jami, Thanks so much for this…I too, am a HUGE Michael H. fan.

LOVE talking story structure…emotion all that. Amazing post and you’re so dialed in to it…Yay. Love finding other authors that want to geek out and talk about this, see how they go through it. So if you ever want to talk too much on this topic, (I) @yaromance and the ladies @thrivingwriters who shared this with our RWA group (Lana) love this conversation so much. Can’t wait to read how you’ve applied it to your stories.
Best, and thanks again for making this cool chart! THIS IS AWESOME!
Anne Eliot


Jami Gold August 28, 2012 at 7:11 am

Hi Anne,

LOL! Yes, dialed in and geeking out about talking about story structure and Michael Hauge’s teachings is a fantastic way to word my thoughts. 🙂

And I just checked Twitter. I’m already following you, but I just added you to one of my lists. 🙂 Great to find a like mind! Thanks for the comment!


Nancy S. Thompson August 28, 2012 at 9:42 am

Taking copious notes!! Thanks for breaking all this down for us, Jami. Just what I need as I start plotting book 2. 🙂


Jami Gold August 28, 2012 at 9:47 pm

Hi Nancy,

I know the feeling about taking notes. 🙂 You’re welcome–and thanks for the comment!


Heather Marsten September 5, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Thank you for sharing what you learned from that class. I have so much to learn and am in the midst of editing my MS. What struck me as powerful was the losing of tension. I think that is one weakness I need to work on. Hoping your day is blessed.


Jami Gold September 5, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Hi Heather,

You’re welcome! I hope the tips help you. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Finn Jackson September 7, 2012 at 10:22 am

Hey Jami,
Thank you for the excellent summary of Michael H’s workshop. I have a basic question, in terms of applying this structure to romance: does the journey/arc apply to one character, or both?

I realize for the story to be compelling both characters must change in some way, but I cannot imagine how you would craft something this elaborate for both characters, and then somehow combine them to hit the appropriate beats together. If it doesn’t apply to both equally, is this generally the heroine’s journey?

Thanks again for the great work you do. Distilling complex ideas is an art, one I’d say you’ve mastered.


Jami Gold September 7, 2012 at 11:08 am

Hi Finn,

Fantastic question! As you said, both characters have to change in some way. I’ve seen romance stories all over the map as far as how much change is enough and whether one character has a stronger arc than the other (sometimes hero and sometimes heroine). That said, romance stories are also all over the map as far as how deep or superficial they feel. 🙂

I think for the deepest romance stories–the ones that will leave a real impression on the reader rather than being a cotton candy story–we need to have a substantial arc for both characters. One arc might still be “bigger” than the other, but they both should be way beyond superficial. Often, that translates into one character being more tied to the external plot and the catalyst for the overall story, but they’re both equally affected by the climax and resolution of that external plot.

For example, in one of my stories, the external plot and all catalysts related to that are connected to the heroine. But by the end, the hero and heroine are dealing with it together and they’re both equally gobsmacked, terrified, resolved, etc. The climax hits each of their longing, wound, belief, and fear aspects equally. So while the beginning of the story feels more like her journey, the reader is left with a strong impression for both of them at the end.

Does that make sense? 🙂 Thanks for the comment and let me know if you still have questions!


Stacey Zink October 7, 2013 at 1:22 pm

I am in AWE!! Wow. I love your spreadsheet. Thank you for sharing. I have never been to a workshop lead by Michael Hauge, but it is at the top of my list now. 🙂

I am in the process of plotting out my second novel. I am prepping for Nano in Nov. This worksheet is just what I needed to help me keep on point. Thanks!


Jami Gold October 7, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Hi Stacey,

Yay! I’m happy to help. 🙂 Let me know if you have any questions.

And yes, Michael Hauge is fabulous. I hope to go to another workshop of his some time. Thanks for the comment!


Quinn Fforde November 15, 2014 at 7:24 pm

Thanks! You just saved my first NaNo!


Jami Gold November 15, 2014 at 8:17 pm

Hi Quinn,

Yay! I’m happy to help. 🙂 And good luck with NaNo!


Iago December 30, 2015 at 1:36 pm

Hi !

Please forgive me for my English is not always grammatically correct… (I’m a French English lover though ;-P)

I must say that I have a problem with the “Stage Five”. If “the character returns to their essence”, it means that he has confronted his false belief and his wound, right ?
But how could he fulfill his goal in your Climax section if he has already confronted his false belief and wound in the section before ? I mean the Climax is the stage where the character must confront his wound and make a final choice, so in the “Stage Five” it would mean that he doesn’t really live totally in his essence, right ?


Jami Gold December 30, 2015 at 5:46 pm

Hi Iago,

Great question! When I describe this stage in general beat sheet terms, I usually describe it as the point where the character rallies. They give up “being given up” from the Black Moment of the Major Setback. It doesn’t mean everything is solved yet, but they’re no longer curled up in a ball of Identity either. 🙂

In other words, they acknowledge the need to be in their Essence, but the confrontation with the false belief and the wound hasn’t completed yet. So as you surmised, they’re not living in their Essence in Stage Five yet.

Let me know if that’s still not clear. 🙂 Thanks for the great question!


Katrina Ariel January 22, 2016 at 10:47 pm

Great summary! Thanks so much for sharing this. I like the breakdown of plot and your personal notes at the end. It’s great to get a glimpse at your enthusiasm for the workshop – exciting to find something that is both logically helpful and inspiring at the same time. 🙂


Jami Gold January 22, 2016 at 11:08 pm

Hi Katrina,

I hope it helps! And yes, this workshop helped so many things “click” for me. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Joanna February 6, 2017 at 5:35 pm

I’ve just discovered your website and I’ve found it incredibly helpful! So much information, and spreadsheets! 🙂

I’ve been studying Michael’s work on structure and character arc, internal and outer journeys and it’s opened up much needed clarity on how a story flows. I’m wondering though how this works in a trilogy that focuses on the Hero/Heroine’s journey? At which point does the first book get cut off? Will the character/s heal the wound in the first book, then heal another wound in the second? I’ve noticed many romance books cutoff the first book right at the Black Moment. What are your thoughts?


Jami Gold February 7, 2017 at 11:18 am

Hi Joanna,

Thanks for the kind words! I’m happy to help. 🙂

As for your great question, I’ve seen romance series handle this differently, so I’m not sure there’s one “always right” answer. I’ll do a post on this topic in a week or so–thanks for the idea!

In the meantime, let me mention the most common structures I’ve seen:

  • Some series don’t use cliffhangers (or very mild ones), so each book is a full three-act structure with threads left for future books. Maybe the couple gets together in one book and decide to get serious in another and get married in the last one.
  • As you noted, other series use Black-Moment-type cliffhangers at the end of each non-final book. Book one and two might each cover the structure of acts one and two, while book three might have a complete structure (or just act three). There are a lot of potential issues with this approach, which I’ll try to dig into in my upcoming post.
  • Another common structure of trilogies is for each story to function as one of the acts. Even though it’s not a romance series, think of the original Star Wars for an example of this book one/act one, book two/act two, and book three/act three structure.

Again, thanks for the idea, and I’ll work on that post for a fuller explanation! (ETA: Here it is!):)


What do you think?

58 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

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