The Essence of Mr. Darcy

This weekend I attended a Michael Hauge Workshop. Michael Hauge is the story and script consultant who wrote the acclaimed Writing Screenplays That Sell (now on sale at Amazon), but his ideas about plot and character are equally applicable to writing Romance, which is why he’s become a sought-after speaker to romance writers.

Hauge conceptualizes Story as encompassing a transformation in the main character. I’m greatly simplifying this, but the hero (or heroine/or protagonist/or main character) of the story has suffered some kind of wound in his early life and has developed a defense to protect him from ever experiencing the pain of that wound again. This defense against pain works well, but it does keep the hero from satisfying some important need and becoming the person he really is inside. Hauge uses the term identity to define the hero’s defended self and essence to define the hero’s true self. A story is typically (not always) a character’s journey from identity (living in fear) to essence (living authentically). Plot comprises the steps the hero takes on that journey.

Are you following me?

Take a look at Mr. Darcy’s transformation in Pride and Prejudice, the Colin Firth version, specifically. I would argue that Elizabeth is really the protagonist of P&P, but it is more fun to look at Darcy.

Darcy emotionally guards himself against people who merely curry his favor because of his money and status. It makes sense that he would fear this sort of exploitation. His sister just suffered Wickham’s attempt to marry her for her money, and Darcy thinks Jane Bennett wants to do the same to Bingley. No one is going to fool Darcy, however. Trouble is, he is so guarded that all anyone sees of him is an arrogant, aloof, judgmental man.

This is the Darcy Lizzie sees at the beginning of the story. This is his identity, to stay aloof from people lest they exploit him. Darcy is fully in identity when he tells Bingley that Lizzie doesn’t tempt him.

Through the first half of the story, Lizzie and Darcy are thrown into each other’s company. Just as Hauge suggests, in this first half, Darcy begins to show Lizzie glimpses of his true self – when Lizzie is staying at Netherfield, for example. Or at Rosings when he confides to Lizzie that he doesn’t find conversation easy, like she does.

Hauge calls the midpoint of a story The Point of No Return. For Darcy this is his marriage proposal to Lizzie. He is making himself vulnerable to her, but, at the same time, he is retaining his identity and the proposal does not go well at all. He can never go back to being indifferent to her, though. He’s expressed his regard for her. (I was going to say he exposed himself to her, but then I realized Janet would have a field day with that one!)

When Lizzie meets Darcy again, her words to him have obviously had an effect. He increasingly gives up his identity and shows more of his essence when with her – being gentlemanly at Pemberley, inviting her and her aunt and uncle to dinner, rescuing Lydia from her scandalous liaison with Wickham (by forcing a marriage), and restoring Bingley to Jane. But it is only when Lizzie refuses to promise Lady Catherine that she will never marry Darcy that he takes the chance to propose again. But this time he is fully in essence, telling her that all he did for Lydia was done for her.

Then, VOILA! Happy ending!

I love that I can apply Hauge’s concepts to specific stories. Now the challenge for me will be to use these same concepts to assist me as I begin my next book.

Do Hauge’s concepts make sense to you?

If you are writing, do you have a favorite plot or character format that you use? If reading, do you think of any of these elements when you read?

Isn’t that the most memorable marriage proposal of all fiction? Can you think of a better one?

About diane

Diane Gaston is the RITA award-winning author of Historical Romance for Harlequin Historical and Mills and Boon, with books that feature the darker side of the Regency. Formerly a mental health social worker, she is happiest now when deep in the psyches of soldiers, rakes and women who don’t always act like ladies.
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10 years ago

I love Pride & Prejudice, and Mr Darcy. I love to spin-off books they are doing. I love that it adds a new side to the story.
My favorite marriage proposals have been:
Edward & Bella from Twilight, I loved Lauren Dane’s book Giving Chase with Kyle & Maggie. He proposed on Christmas Day in front of his whole family, and almost all of the Bridgerton books proposal especially Daphne & Simon from The Duke & I.

Jane Sevier
10 years ago

Love the insights, Diane! And, no, I can’t think of a more memorable proposal than my beloved Darcy’s.

10 years ago

What a perfect clip to show Darcy vacillating between his identity and essence — Hauge could have (and perhaps should have) chosen that one himself.
It is a trick to show this transition, and a much more difficult one to write it yourself! Good luck with yours Diane!

J.T. Bock
10 years ago

That is brilliant! Well done! I haven’t used Hague’s technique to dissect one of my favorite stories (Pride and Prejudice) and it’s amazing how well it worked and how perfectly it is executed. It just shows us that when these techniques are applied correctly, we are indeed affected emotionally and the story resounds with us. I will be using this litmus test for all my writing, especially when I feel as if something is off.

Avery Flynn
10 years ago

Now I am even more sad to have missed MH’s workshop. I love what you did here though and do think it could apply to many different romances. Question, how would you do this for Scarlett and Rhett since they don’t end up with the HEA?

10 years ago

Well done, Diane. Now that you’ve pointed it out, it seems so obvious. I hope I’m more conscious of it in my own writing from now on.

Janet Mullany
10 years ago

I find this really interesting because in the book we don’t know what Darcy said. We’re in Elizabeth’s pov and we get her interpretation–a big problem for screenwriters who have to reconstruct the scene and I think therefore choose to both simplify it and also make it Darcy’s pivotal moment.

So doesn’t that beg the question of whether Elizabeth is really a reliable narrator of the scene? She hears what she wants to hear. She’s the one who picks out what to her are the salient points of the proposal when she makes her reply to him.

To me the true Darcy reveal is when he writes Elizabeth the letter that tells of his family’s shame (Wickham et al). Or at least that’s what Austen chooses to reveal at that particular point. Go back to the text and I think this proposal isn’t so clear cut.

Check out this version of the proposal:

Diane Gaston
10 years ago

Janet, that’s why I gave the caveat that I was taking this from the miniseries. I didn’t take the time to reread the proposal. But since Hauge is a scriptwriting consultant, it worked for the mini-series version.

Jane and Merry, thanks for commenting!!

Chrisbails, you might love Janet’s Jane and the Damned and Blood Persuasion. Not exactly spin-offs but something Austen and different!

J.T., I’m not sure it was brilliant. Actually, it was so easy, it surprised me!

Avery, it is too bad you could not attend the workshop, but Hauge’s book is on sale on Amazon.

Judy, I found it easy to analyze Mr, Darcy. It isn’t quite as easy with my own stuff!!!

10 years ago

Wow, very well done, Diane! The next time I watch P&P I’ll be thinking of you. 🙂 I’ve read the book of course but have seen the miniseries countless times, and I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t remember that the actual proposal didn’t occur in the book. I need to go back and re-read! Thank you for sharing!

I agree with Jane–hard to pick a more memorable proposal.

Diane, I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to chat on Saturday!

-Kathy Altman 🙂

10 years ago

Nicely illustrated, Diane. I sometimes have trouble applying Hauge’s concepts to stories where the changes in the characters are subtle–thanks for sharing your insights.

Grace Burrowes
10 years ago

Diane, Yes! I like that Darcy really had very little external impetus for his transformation. He took Lizzie’s rejection and worked on it and worked on it, changing for love alone. The quiet ones always bear watching…

Jill McCullough
Jill McCullough
10 years ago

Loved this post. I’m more familiar with the 2005 version, but that line where Darcy says Elizabeth doesn’t tempt him always bugs me — every time I see it (which is, ahem, quite frequently). Now, with yours and MH’s analysis, I get it! Ha! I adored the 2005 P&P proposal scene, but I also loved the beneath-the-tress proposal scene from 2011 Jane Eyre.

Michael’s concepts very much make sense to me. The only question I had (I was too busy listening to everyone else’s comments to ask) was one concerning his character categories/roles. He says characters shouldn’t double up on their roles, right? So the love interest wouldn’t necessarily be a reflection character for the hero. I wonder if he thinks that’s just a rule to be applied to romances, or to all stories. In my WIP the love interest sometimes takes a mentor/reflection role, but only with respect to teaching the heroine skills, NOT about teaching her about love.

In any case, it’s all WONDERFUL because it makes us think! Hopefully I’ll see you for WRW’s Jane Austin Emma discussion. Sorry for the long post!

Diane Gaston
10 years ago

Jill, don’t apologize for a long post! I love long posts. One thing I love about the 2005 proposal is that the sexual tension between Lizzie and Darcy is so clear!!! It just adds more sizzle to the scene, because we see what lies beneath all that identity stuff they have going on.

I wouldn’t worry about mixing roles. If it works, it is ok!

Grace! So nice to see you here at Risky Regencies! That’s a great point about Darcy’s transformation taking place for love!

Emily, I have trouble with applying ANY concepts. Especially with my own writing.

Kathy, I’m sorry we didn’t get to speak either. I love your good news!!! Now we’ll see Hauge’s concepts applied to a Superromance!!!!

Evie Owens
10 years ago

GREAT post Diane! I have such trouble identifying structure (as you well know, having tried the whole Die Hard thing ha ha) but when someone else points it out to me, it’s so clear! 🙂

Jill — I think he said secondary characters shouldn’t play more than one role, but that the hero and heroine often do play more than one.

Or maybe I’m remembering it that way because that’s what makes sense to me. LOL.