Last month, I mentioned how a screenwriting workshop had affected my writing, particularly with respect to sorting out muddled middles. In comments, several people asked me to elaborate on the workshop. I’m going to do that this month, with the HUGE, OBVIOUS DISCLAIMER that I’m an absolute novice at screenwriting, having taken exactly one eight-hour course from one person who had one system to promote.
The session that I took was taught by Michael Hauge, a screenwriter who has worked with Will Smith (and several other producers) on a number of projects. Hauge has been in the business for decades, and he has a near-encyclopedic knowledge of movies. Prior to the class, he asked us to read a specific romance novel (this session was offered through my local chapter of Romance Writers of America), then to watch several films: L.A. Confidential, The King’s Speech, Shrek, Titanic, Hitch, and Good Will Hunting.
After (re-)watching the movies, I was at a loss as to why they were on the viewing list. Hauge’s reasoning, though, soon became clear. Each of those movies follows the structure that he advocates.
Hauge emphasizes the parallel journeys of the hero — an external course (the plot of the film) and an internal course (the character of the hero). In his system, both external and internal journeys hit transition points at the same time, making for a coherent and emotionally-satisfying story.
Hauge’s turning points are similar to those presented by other “plot workshop” leaders. They are the “beats” that we’re told to count, or the “turning points” that we’re told to master. The strength of Hauge’s presentation is the vast number of examples that he brings to bear, and the specific way that he links the internal and external journeys.
For me, the eye-opening concepts that Hauge introduced were:
- At the one-quarter point of the story, the plot changes, broadening from the initial, simple problem to be solved into one much more complex. At the same time, the hero glimpses the being that he can truly become. (e.g., Frodo, having delivered the ring to Rivendell, commits to joining the Fellowship)
- At the half-way point of the story, the plot reaches a point of no return with absolute commitment of the characters. At the same time, the hero commits to becoming his essential self (e.g., Frodo is taking the ring into Mordor, no matter what)
- At the three-quarter point, there is a major setback. At the same time, the hero temporarily retreats into his old, unevolved self, before returning to his new self (e.g., Frodo is taken by orcs)
(Those LotR references are mine, not Hauge’s, and they don’t line up exactly with the time division, but you get the idea… Also, the last example isn’t as strong, on the character development side, as Frodo does not retreat to his Shire-self before Shelob attacks him.)
Prior to the workshop, I had always focused on introducing my story, marching my characters through a set of complications, reaching a climax, and working through the denouement. Hauge’s theory gave me three more points to pin my story to, to gear up for specific action and reaction. He added a skeleton to support the muscles of the stories I’d been telling.
Incidentally, Hauge’s model works particularly well with romance novels, because of the genre’s trope of a Black Moment, the three-quarter point when the hero and heroine have a falling out that is seemingly insurmountable, until they discover their true love for each other.
So. That’s the model, in brief. I’ve found that it truly helps to “trim and tone” the mid-section of my novels. (Yes, I am wrestling with my weight loss goals. Why do you ask?)
Does the system make sense to you? Have you used similar systems in your own work, or identified them in works that you’ve read? Do you see a usefulness in this type of structure?