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?