Michael Hauge's Concepts of Identity and EssenceLast Fall I had the good fortune to attend an all day Washington Romance Writers workshop featuring Michael Hauge, screenplay consultant, lecturer, and author of the acclaimed book, Writing Screenplays that Sell. From his years in Hollywood, Hauge has developed an understanding of the kind of story structure that results in successful screenplays. The good news is, his ideas are very helpful in writing romance.
(Note: I'll be using ‘hero’ in a generic sense, not a romance writing sense and I'll adopt the old convention of using ‘he' instead of the cumbersome 'he/she')
Hauge’s concepts about Character are very integrated into his ideas about Plot. No matter what the external plot, the hero must have an inner journey of transformation, one which Hauge conceptualizes as a journey from Identity to Essence.
For this journey the hero must have not only a visible goal, but also a deeply held desire, an unfulfilled longing that he is too frightened to pursue.
What prevents the hero from fulfilling this deeply held desire is a wound from the past, an unhealed source of internal pain, a pain so strong he fears its reoccurance. From his wound, and his fears of repeating it, the hero develops a belief about himself. This belief about himself is what Hauge calls the hero's Identity.
Identity is “the persona the hero develops to protect himself from the pain of re-experiencing his wound.” It is his “emotional armor,” what keeps him from again facing that early pain. It becomes, as Hauge says, who the hero thinks he is.
Hauge gives a great fill-in-the-blank sentence to help us figure out our hero’s Identity.
How would your character respond to this question?
“I would do whatever it takes to achieve my goal. Just don’t ask me to _____, because that is just not me.”
Whatever belongs in that blank is, of course, what your character must do in the story.
In order to reach his inner goal, the hero must give up living in his identity, face his pain, and become the person he has the potential to be. Hauge calls the person-he-has-the-potential-to-be the hero’s Essence.
Essence is who the hero really is on the inside, who he has the potential to be if he gives up his identity.
Inner conflict, Hauge says, is the “tug of war between Identity and Essence.”
So this is the battle we want to convey in our stories, showing glimpses of the hero’s essence, his fears, his wound, and his deeply held desire.
The only way the hero can achieve his deeply held desire is to “move out of his identity and into his essence” This is the hero’s transformation, his journey.
Try figuring out your characters using Hauge’s concepts. What is your character’s deeply held desire? What is his Wound? His Identity (use the fill-in the blank question)? His Essence?
Can you see his Inner Conflict? Do you get ideas about Plot?
This is only a tidbit of what Michael Hauge has to offer. I very enthusiastically recommend you attend one of Michael Hauge’s workshops, purchase one of his DVDs, or buy his book, Writing Screenplays That Sell, all of which can be found on his website or at amazon.com.
Stay tuned this week for Colleen Gleason's Differentiating Heroes While Keeping Them Heroic (Tues), Jill Monroe's Alpha Heroes (Weds), Janet Mullany's Historical Characters and Their Problems (Thurs) and Q and A Day (Fri). Feel free to email me your questions for Q and A Day ahead of time firstname.lastname@example.org