August 9, 2012

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

Close up of eye and text "Love at First Sight? Or Lazy Writing?"

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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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!

Jennifer Leslie
Jennifer Leslie

My solution to that love triangle would “Welp, guess they’re poly now!”

Melinda Collins

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…… 😉


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.

Stina Lindenblatt

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.


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!

Adriana Ryan

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.

Renee Schuls-Jacobson

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!


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,…  — Read More »

Angela Quarles

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)


[…] not even logical.’ Seems Jami has the same idea, but unlike me, she has the antidote after attending a workshop by Michael […]


[…] inner and outer conflict, and basically how to build and pace a story. Author Jami Gold did an excellent writeup of it on her blog; go check it out if you’re […]


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!


Christine Ashworth

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!


[…] spoke last week about ensuring the couple connects on an inner level—at their essence. But what does that mean in our stories? How can we construct stories that convince the reader that […]

Laurie Evans

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.


[…] Michael Hauge’s Workshop: An Antidote To Love At First Sight by Jami Gold […]

Julie Musil

“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!


[…] 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 “lov…. Then we talked about how to show that our characters really are the perfect match. Along the […]


[…] Jami Gold. Gold divvied her posts according to Hauge’s areas of emphasis. The first is “An Antidote to Love at First Sight.”  Next up is “Are These Characters the Perfect Match?” The third installment is […]


[…] been there in person but Jami Gold’s posts were a great second to Michael Hauge’s workshop on telling powerful love stories. And she followed up with even more fab deets in this post, this post and this post. It’s an […]


[…] Michael Hauge’s Workshop: An Antidote to Love at First Sight by Jami Gold […]


[…] Ta-da! The Romance Planning Beat Sheet separates out the Romance Arc but follows the same structure as a normal beat sheet. It combines some of the beats from Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat and Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering and mixes in all the internal character arc stuff from Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure as well as his teachings about using Identity and Essence for great love stories. […]


[…] insights helped me figure out how to avoid the “love at first sight” cliché and how to make sure romances featured couples that were the perfect match. Most importantly, his […]


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.

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