Last time I shared tips from Michael Hauge’s presentation at the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Conference about how to make romance (or love interest) relationships feel deep and not superficial. Most of us have probably read books where, at the end of the story, we didn’t trust the couple to make it past their next argument or setback, much less make it to a happily ever after. We don’t want our stories to fall into that category.
We 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 these two crazy kids (or adults) will make it?
Michael Hauge‘s workshop, “Using Inner Conflict to Create Powerful Love Stories,” went further in depth about how we can show our characters’ essences and how that affects their relationships with others. Creating those deep connections between characters requires us to identify their inner journey.
Outer Journey vs. Inner Journey
First, let’s make sure we’re all clear on what these terms mean in context of Michael Hauge’s teachings. A character’s outer journey is what they will accomplish by the end of the story. This accomplishment has a visible goal. “To win,” “to escape,” and “to stop” are common outer journeys, and the visible goal might be winning the courtroom case, escaping the kidnapper, or stopping the terrorist.
Many romances are set up so the hero and heroine want “to win,” and the visible goal would be winning the girl or guy. One thing Michael didn’t go into—because he’s not a romance guy (Yet. If we invite him to enough RWA meetings, maybe we’ll convert him. Heh.)—is that many of the romance subgenres have an additional outer goal based on the non-romance external conflict. Romantic suspense stories might have an “escape the bad guy” element, and paranormal romance stories often have a “stop the bad guy” aspect.
In contrast, a character’s inner journey is how they will transform by the end of the story. Typically, a character will start out by living in fear in some way, and if they succeed, they’ll end by living courageously. The invisible finish line to this journey would be that they’d meet a deep longing or need (that they might not even be consciously aware of).
All Characters Fear Something
Wait… Our strong heroes and heroines start off living in fear? Yep. Maybe they fear their secret getting out, maybe they fear losing control (often to their emotions), maybe they fear rejection. We all fear something and so do our characters.
Michael talked about characters’ wounds, an unhealed source of pain from their past. That wound causes them to have an untrue—but logical—belief about how the world works. The character then fears experiencing the pain of that wound again.
On a simplistic level, this insight into characters would look like: Character wants to be loved (Deep Longing or Need), but the last girlfriend they had cheated on them (Wound). Now, it’s easier to think all women cheat (Belief) than to risk being hurt like that again (Fear).
Characters Hide Their Essence Behind a Mask
Those four elements—longing/need, wound, belief, and fear—add up to the character’s mask they present to the world, their identity. (ETA: One of my RWA buddies, Janice Hardy, wrote up a post about this workshop that goes more into these terms.) This is their emotional armor they wear to prevent others from seeing what’s real.
A character’s essence is what lies behind that armor, and it’s who they have the potential to become. The problem for them comes in that they think the mask is who they really are. They don’t think they need to change, especially because they’ve rationalized the belief they hold to be perfectly logical. Most of their struggle might even happen on a subconscious level.
But in a good romance (or story with a love interest), the perfect match for a character will be able to see behind that emotional armor. This creates conflict between who characters think they are and who they can be. Who they must become if they’re to find the courage to meet their longing or need.
Their internal conflict is choosing to move from safe-but-unfulfilled to terrified-but-fulfilled. Only then can they be with the other character who will meet their needs.
The Trick to Showing that Characters Are the Perfect Match
In one of the comments from last time, Carradee mentioned that she likes to let relationships develop organically. I often write by the seat of my pants, so I fully understand that approach. *smile* But one of Michael’s other tips can help both plotters and pantsers write relationships that grow organically and show how the characters are the perfect match.
Our writing should give readers clues about a character’s essence. Maybe internalization or actions that don’t quite match their armor will clue readers into what a character longs for or needs. Readers should also have hints about the character’s wound to understand why they’re putting up this mask instead of going after what they want. Once we have character’s masks and essences introduced in the story, we can start the fun relationship stuff.
As I’ve mentioned, much of a character’s struggle might happen on the subconscious level. So how the heck do we show this essence-to-essence connection between the couple? Easy.
- The characters should become closer (intimacy/love scene/etc.) after they’ve taken an emotional risk—unwittingly showing their essence.
- The characters should have more conflicts and fights after they’ve retreated behind their armor.
That Seems Too Easy! Does It Really Work?
Intimacy with essence. Conflict with mask. Bingo. We’ve shown how they need to find the courage to finish their inner journey in order to meet their longing or need. We’ve shown the relationship potential of their essences. And we’ve shown how they’re the perfect match by connecting on that deeper level.
I love this advice because, as a pantser, I can use this trick to make sure each scene with the hero and heroine has the right approach. If they’re connecting, I can ensure they revealed a glimpse of the “real” them first. And if they’re fighting, I can make sure their internalization or actions show a retreat to their emotional shell beforehand.
Michael went further in his workshop to explain what a character’s inner journey would look like on a standard plot outline of acts and turning points, but this is enough for one blog post. *smile* I’ll be switching gears on Thursday, but I could probably write a dozen posts based off what I picked up from his workshop, so let me know if you have questions you want me to cover in the future.
What do you think of Michael’s tip? Can you apply this to your writing? Can you think of examples where this approach would work (or wouldn’t work)? Are there pieces of his advice you’d like me to go into more?Pin It