August 21, 2012

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

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.

Pin It

Comments — What do you think?

Click to grab Pure Sacrifice now!
  Subscribe to emails for Comments/Replies on this post  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of

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.


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.



[…] 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. […]

Susan Sipal

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! 🙂


[…] went further in his workshop to explain what a character’s inner journey would look like on a standard plot outline of acts and turnin…, but this is enough for one blog post. *smile* I’ll be switching gears on Thursday, but I […]

Julie Glover

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.


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!

Laura Brennan

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!

Jamie Raintree

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


[…] Laura Drake also cites the Michael Hauge workshop as a conference highlight and points non-attendees to blog posts about it by paranormal writer 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 “Combining Emotional Journey and External Plots.” […]

Lana Williams

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

Anne Eliot

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

Nancy S. Thompson

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


[…] Over my past couple of blog posts about this workshop, we’ve talked about how our characters have a deep longing or need (that they might not consciously be aware of), and that t…. […]

Heather Marsten

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.

Finn Jackson
Finn Jackson

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.


[…] Michael Hauge’s Workshop: Making Emotional Journeys and External Plots Play Together by Jami Gold […]


[…] for the character arc and want to combine that internal journey with the external plot, check out the Six Stage Plot Structure beat sheet. Pin ItCheck out these related […]


[…] 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 […]


[…] done a lot of analysis on Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering, and Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure. This class will pull all that information—and more—into a pantser-compliant brainstorming […]


[…] tangents in a synopsis. (For more about beat sheets, check my posts about them here, here, here, and […]


[…] Making Emotional Journeys and External Plots Play Together by Jami Gold […]


[…] Michael Hauge’s Workshop: Combining Emotional Journeys and External Plots by Jami Gold […]


[…] Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure can help us tie this information into the plot. Michael Hauge focuses on understanding a character’s longing/need, wound, belief, fear, the identity they hide behind due to their fear, and the essence of who they can become. All of these elements are touched on in the details of each personality type. […]


[…] Making Emotional Journeys and External Plots Play Together by Jami Gold […]

Click to grab Ironclad Devotion now!