October 16, 2008
I’ve decided to post my notes from the Michael Hauge workshop. They are rough, undigested notes on the day, but I thought they might be of interest to the writers out there. Michael is one of the best lecturers I’ve ever heard. If you ever get a chance to see him in action, run don’t walk! My notes include asides about Lakeshore Christmas, my work-in-progress. Doing this always makes the story sound so pedestrian! But it’s a good exercise. It’s lengthy so I’ll post it in parts over the next few days. Here goes:
The hero is the story’s protagonist. It’s a generic term so the gender pronoun doesn’t matter. Briefly, the hero is the one whose goal drives the story. His goal is the finish line the reader wants to see the hero reach.
The ultimate goal of a story (fiction, narrative nonfiction or memoir, film, drama) is to elicit emotion. This is achieved by creating a character who has a powerful desire, facing a conflict that keeps her from fulfilling that desire.
A story’s first audience–agent, editor, first reader, etc.–wants to know how this story is going to sell. Who are we rooting for? The most consistent problem with stories is that they are overcomplicated. The solution? Make it simpler. How? By understanding plot structure.
A story exists on two levels, the outer (visible) journey and the inner (emotional) journey or arc of growth (or deterioration/failure).
In the outer journey, the desire is visible. It’s a journey of achievement or accomplishment. What tangible thing does the hero want? It should be something the reader can see. (In Lakeshore Christmas, Maureen wants to save the library.) There is a visible finish line, and the hero’s outer motivation is also visible.
The conflict must also be visible. (Again in LC, the library lacks the funds to stay open and the facility is going to be sold to a developer.)
There are 4 general types of goal/conflict setups in most commercial stories (including novels, narrative nonfiction and films).
1. To win – a sports contest (Rocky), the love of another character (most romances)
2. To stop something from happening –most thrillers seek to keep a disaster at bay
3. To escape–character must get out of a bad situation (The Count of Monte Cristo, anything with “escape” in the title)
4. To retreat–quest stories in which the character must go and get something and return with it.
Michael calls these the 4 basic Hollywood goals.
This is the outer plot. There is also a second level underneath the visible plot–the inner journey. A journey of fulfillment and/or transformation.
The love story is a great tool for developing a character arc.
Who is your character and what does he desire? What sort of plot will your story follow?
(In Lakeshore Christmas, Maureen Davenport is the town librarian who wants to keep the library solvent. She’s also in charge of the annual Christmas pageant, and she has to work with bad-boy Eddie Haven, who has been court-ordered to help her as community service.)
Michael created a chart showing a 6-stage plot structure in 3 acts. There are 5 key turning points in a story. Tomorrow, I’ll post his general structure for the OUTER journey.