Showing posts with label michael Hauge. Show all posts
Showing posts with label michael Hauge. Show all posts

Friday, March 22

The Rules Of Romantic Comedy

The Rules Of Romantic Comedy

Michael Hauge's Analysis Of Romantic Comedies

1. Hero's goal is to win the love of another character

This is the hero's main goal. He can have other goals, but this one needs to be introduced first and this conflict has to be the last one resolved. When it is, that's the end of the story.

2. The hero must have another goal, one besides winning the affections of his/her romantic attentions.

For instance, in Groundhog Day Bill Murray relentlessly pursues a relationship with Andie MacDowell but he also very much wants the day (it repeats Sisyphus-style) to end.

Two goals are better than one because they keep the pace lively. I thought some of the best scenes in Groundhog Day were those where Bill Murray was trying to escape the town. (BTW, rumor has it that Mr. Murray was bitten by the groundhog and had to have rabies shots!)

Another benefit of the hero having two goals is that the writer can make sure, at some point, they become mutually exclusive.

For instance, in The American President the president wants his crime bill passed but it turns out the only way that's going to happen is if he sells out his romantic interest.

3. When the people on the screen are laughing the audience isn't

Michael Hauge writes,
The driving motivations in romantic comedies actually grow out of immense pain and loss. The plots of the most successful romantic comedies of all time involve unemployment, disease, prostitution, physical abuse, physical deformity, humiliation, ridicule, the loss of one's children, attempted assassination, suicide and death.

The humor then arises from the way the heroes OVERREACT to their situations. They devise fantastic plots, pose as women, adopt false identities, juggle two lovers simultaneously, tell enormous lies, fly across the country to meet a voice on a radio, or do everything imaginable to sabotage their best friend's wedding. (Writing Romantic Comedies)

4. Romantic comedies are sexy

At some point your characters are going to have to confront their sexual desires for each other. The important thing is that if they end up going to bed, "we must see the events that lead to that decision, at least until the moment the two lovers embrace and the camera dissolves away".

5. There must be a happy ending

This doesn't mean that the hero always has to win over the heart of his object of desire and walk off with her/him into the sunset. It does mean that the audience must be left feeling satisfied with the resolution. You want them to feel that the ending was the best and most appropriate one.

6. Romantic comedies always involved deception

Most romantic comedies involve deception. One of the two people involved in the relationship, usually the hero, is lying to, or withholding information from, someone--usually the person the hero is falling for.

This lie will, of course, be found out but this usually happens after the midpoint. Michael Hauge writes:
When the secret is finally revealed or the lie exposed, it will split the lovers apart. In You’ve Got Mail Joe Fox doesn’t tell Kathleen Kelly that his corporation is the one threatening her independent bookstore. In The American President, Sydney Ellen Wade doesn’t know that President Shepherd is using her to get his gun control bill passed. (The 6 Categories Of Romantic Comedy)

5 Things That Must Be True Of All Romance Characters

I'll just list the major points, I encourage you to read Michael's article.

1. The audience must identify with the hero's desire for the romance character.

2. You must convince the audience that the hero and his/her romantic object are a perfect fit, that they are destined for each other.

3. Insurmountable obstacles must separate the two lovers.

4. The romance character must be intertwined with the hero's other goal. For example, in The American President the president's love interest is a lobbyist.

5. The romance character must interfere not only with the hero's desire for them but also with the hero attaining his/her secondary goal.

For example--again using The American President--the president has two goals: to win the heart of his love interest (Sydney) and to get re-elected. Sydney, though, is a lobbyist. This creates a conflict of interest--or the appearance of one--and, in any case, their relationship is hurting him politically. By the 3/4 mark it looks as though the president has a choice: re-election or Sydney; he can't have both.

Michael Hauge also writes about character archetypes and the structure of a romantic comedy. His article is well worth a read: Writing Romantic Comedies.

I'll leave you with this 2:16 minute video of Michael Hauge talking abut romantic comedies. You can read more about Michael Hauge here: Michael Hauge's Story Mastery.

Other articles you might like:

- 5 Tips For Creating Memorable Character Names
- Different Kinds Of Story Openings: Shock And Seduction
- Story Structure

Photo credit: "adam green:castles and tassels" by visualpanic under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Tuesday, January 1

The Magic Of Stephen King: An Analysis Of The Opening Paragraphs Of The Dead Zone

The Magic Of Stephen King: An Analysis Of The Opening Paragraphs Of The Dead Zone

I loved The Dead Zone by Stephen King. I read the novel, watched the movie and then, much later, the TV series starring Anthony Michael Hall.

What's that advice writers are always given? We are urged to read the best, read what works. I shared a quotation of Stephen King's yesterday and one part of it stayed with me. King wrote that
[R]eading offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn't, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. (Stephen King, On Writing)
As I mentioned the other day in my post (The Magic Of Stephen King: How To Write Compelling Characters & Great Openings) the hallmark of Stephen King's writing (for myself) was its ability to (metaphorically) grab me by the throat in the first few paragraphs and drag me, at times kicking and screaming, through the novel.

I say 'kicking and screaming' (this is along the lines of the confession of a deep, dark, secret) because I don't like horror! Well, no, that's not true. What I don't like is a certain kind of horror, the nails on a chalk-board kind of psychological horror that Stephen King so masterfully produced in, for example, Misery.

I loved Misery. I read it cover to cover in a couple of days and then never read another King book for years. I was too scared!

Think about that. Stephen King got me to identify with John Smith so strongly I spent upwards of 8 hours of my life reading something that genuinely horrified me, and not in a good way. That, ladies and gentleman, is character identification on steroids. (Stephen King is also a master at generating narrative drive. See: Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 8: The Rough Draft & Narrative Drive)

So now to the question: How does Stephen King do it?

An Analysis Of Stephen King's The Dead Zone

I know I've been talking about Misery, and I will get to that analysis one day soon, but today I'm going to discuss The Dead Zone.

The question: How does Stephen King do it? How does he create that kind of Krazy Glue-like attraction, that bond, between the reader and his creations? His characters?

A few days ago I analyzed King's book, It, and, in that post, mentioned Michael Hauge's 5 ways to create character identification and attempted to use Michael's categories to analyze how King was able to weave his magic. If you're unfamiliar with Michael's 5 ways or what I mean by character identification, you might want to take another peek at it: How To Get Your Readers To Identify With Your Main Character.

The text: the first three paragraphs of The Dead Zone

By the time he graduated from college, John Smith had forgotten all about the bad fall he took on the ice that January day in 1953. In fact, he would have been hard put to remember it by the time he graduated from grammar school. And his mother and father never knew about the fall at all.

They were skating on a cleared patch of Runaround Pond in Durham. The bigger boys were playing hockey with old taped sticks and using a couple of potato baskets for goals. The little kids were just farting around the way little kids have done since time immemorial--their ankles bowing comically in and out, their breath puffing in the frosty twenty-degree air. At one corner of the cleared ice two rubber tires burned sootily, and a few parents sat nearby, watching their children. The age of the snowmobile was still distant and winter fun still consisted of exercising your body rather than a gasoline engine.

Johnny had walked down from his house, just over the Pownal line, with his skates hung over his shoulder. At six, he was a pretty fair skater. Not good enough to join in the big kids' hockey games yet, but able to skate rings around most of the other first graders, who were always pinwheeling their arms for balance or sprawling on their butts.
I usually don't use extensive quotations but since we're examining Stephen King's writing it helps to have the text before us.

First paragraph

In the first paragraph Stephen King starts introducing what I'm going to call "The Threat". I'll talk more about this in another post, but I'm fairly sure that some version of The Threat appears in most of his stories. In The Dead Zone we learn of a 'bad fall'. That we're hearing about this in the first paragraph and that King spends the entire paragraph on it tells us this is something important.

So what is paragraph two about? That's right! The fall.

Stephen King doesn't tell us in the first paragraph that the fall is a terrible thing but, well, it's a bad fall and, besides, when are falls ever a good thing? King does a lot of work in this first paragraph. We hear about The Threat right away, first thing, and we know who The Threat endangers: John Smith.

Second paragraph

Another thing I've found in most of Stephen King's stories is vulnerability. There is a threat and he introduces us to characters who are vulnerable. In It the paper boat was vulnerable to the water it sailed on just as the little child was vulnerable to the conditions the storm left in its wake.

In the second paragraph of TDZ King starts to build up our picture of the child John Smith once was by telling us about his world. Look at his language:

- bigger boys
- little kids
- old taped sticks
- potato baskets for goals
- their [the little kids] ankles bowing comically in and out

The language is nostalgic. "Remember when we were kids?" he is saying. Even myself--I never skated on pond ice and rarely skated in a rink and never, ever, took part in a game of hockey--I can picture this. I wish I had been there.

King's language is vivid. Evocative. I've seen the scene he's painting/creating. It's true that I never did any of those things but I'd seen kids out on the ice, even wished I was one of them. So I guess one reason it's easy for me to identify with this nostalgic vision of yesteryear is that I'd like this to be true/real. I'd have liked my childhood to have been like this.

Third paragraph

Now we're tying things together. The first thing I'd like you to notice is the first word of this sentence. Stephen King is no longer talking/writing about "John Smith" he's writing about "Johnny".

Also notice there has been a considerable amount of movement. The first paragraph--the feeling, the mood--was detached. Almost distant. Then we got all sticky and nostalgic about 'the way it was' and now SK is showing us the protagonist again, but we're not seeing John Smith, we're seeing Johnny. We're seeing the protagonist when he was an innocent child before anything bad happened to him, the child living in this lovely nostalgic world.

The second and third paragraphs show the child, and the child's world, before The Fall. (Now that I've written the words, I realize again how powerful imagery can be.)

- Johnny is a "pretty fair skater". He's "able to skate rings around most of the other first graders."

Recall that one of Michael Hauge's 5 points was to make your character good at something. And not just anything, something--a skill--that is valued in the character's world. If your character is a football player and he's great at chess it's not going to help!

Also, notice that Stephen King maintains--perhaps even steps up--building his evocative, nostalgic, image of childhood. King writes that the other first graders "were always pinwheeling their arms for balance or sprawling on their butts". Now THAT I remember! I remember ice rinks and being bundled up in layers of winter clothes until I looked like the original Michelin Man--and I had about the same mobility! At least the falls didn't hurt as much.

What Does This All Mean?

I'd like to stress that what I've done here, the analysis I've made of Stephen King's work, isn't meant to be in any way authoritative. If you agree with something I've said and you think it may make your writing stronger then that's wonderful! Use it. But if you don't, or if you see something completely different, then go with that.

I do think reading great writing, writing that moves you, and then attempting to analyze what it was about the writing that created that effect in yourself, can help a writer become better at her craft. Perhaps in the final analysis it's the only thing that can.

But everyone, every single person, is different. What I find emotionally compelling might not seem so to you, what turns me into the proverbial puddle of tears may leave you cold.

That's why it's important for each of us to read what works for us, as well as what doesn't, and then examine each story to see why the one gripped us emotionally and the other didn't.

#   #   #

Who is your favorite writer? What is it about their prose that hooks you? That produces that can't-put-it-down quality which drags you, willing or not, through the book?

Other articles you might like:

- The Magic Of Stephen King: How To Write Compelling Characters & Great Openings
- How To Sell Books Without Using Amazon KDP Select
- Edward Robinson And How To Sell Books Using Amazon KDP Select

Photo credit: "Stephen King" by robbophotos under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, November 5

How To Get Your Readers To Identify With Your Main Character

How To Get Your Readers To Identify With Your Main Character

Some of the best characters aren't likable. For instance Sherlock Holmes, especially as brilliantly depicted by Benedict Cumberbatch. But that's okay. The trick is to get your readers to IDENTIFY with your protagonist. Making him or her likable is only one way to do that.

I hope to convince you of this before I'm through but, first, let's take a step back and ask what the goal of writing/storytelling is.

The Goal Of Every Story: Elicit Emotion In Your Readers

By the way, I'm taking this material from a course Michael Hauge taught with Chistopher Vogler (author of The Writer's Journey) called The Hero's 2 Journeys. Michael believes that the goal of every story is to elicit emotion from our readers. If we've done that then we've written a great story.

So, how do we elicit emotion from our readers? Simple! (Well, that's what Michael says.) Stories only have three main ingredients:

1. A great CHARACTER
2. A passionate DESIRE/A GOAL
3. CONFLICT/ Something that's keeping our character from fulling their desire/obtaining their goal.

So, every story is about:
An emotionally involving CHARACTER who strives to reach a GOAL (/fulfill a desire) against seemingly insurmountable OBSTACLES.
What we're going to talk about now has to do with the first of these three pillars: creating an emotionally involving character.

5 Ways To Create A Character Your Readers Will Identify With

Here's what we want to have happen: We want our readers to empathize with our main character. We want our readers to identify with our protagonist's situation, his feelings and his motives.

Michael Hauge puts it this way:
You want the reader to become a participant in the story through their emotions. (My paraphrase)
Here's how you do that:

1. Make your character sympathetic

In general, people in love are sympathetic. When I see two people walking down the sidewalk with silly grins on their faces holding hands while sneaking furtive love-sick peeks at each other, I can't help but smile.

This doesn't mean either character is likeable taken individually, but the fact that they have someone, that they are in love, helps (most readers) identify with them.

Or you could make your character the victim of an undeserved misfortune. That would also evoke sympathy in most readers.

Also, if a powerful antagonist deprived your character of something they loved--perhaps their spouse or child--this would be a good way to make your character sympathetic and introduce the Big Bad of your story.

Example: Andy (played by Tim Robbins) in The Shawshank Redemption

2. Make your character funny

We like to hang out with people who make us laugh. Why is this? I don't know. Maybe it's because they can say funny things we don't have the courage to.

Example: Beverly Hills Cop

3. Make your character likable

Make your character a kind, good hearted, person. Show that they are liked by the other characters in your story.

This is probably the most common way writers attempt to get their readers to identify with their main character(s) and it works!

Example: Tom Hanks in practically every movie he's been in.

4. Put your character in jeopardy

We identify with people we worry about. Put your character in danger of losing something of vital importance to them.

Example: Pulp Fiction. Butch Coolidge (played by Bruce Willis) and his father's watch.

5. Make your character powerful

Make your character very good at what they do. For instance, make them a superhero or an Indiana Jones type character

Example: Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill) in Moneyball.

Getting Your Readers To Identify With Your Character: The Secret

Here's the secret to creating a character your readers can identify with:
Employ AT LEAST TWO of the above five elements when you introduce your main character.
For instance in The Firm, when Mitch McDeere (played by Tom Cruise) is first introduced, we learn that he is getting top marks in university despite working as a waiter (sympathetic). We also find out that he and his wife are passionately in love (sympathetic & likable).

#  #  # 

What do you think? Do readers truly need to identify with the main character of a story in order to become emotionally involved?

I'd like to thank John Ward for his post on how to make characters likable.

Other articles you might like:

- More Writing Advice From Jim Butcher
- Amazon Reviews Are Disappearing
- How To Write 10,000 Words A Day

Photo credit: "Victorian Robo Detective and Dr WATTson" by V&A Steamworks under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, March 14

Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 1


We've all developed our own writing methods. If there's a million writers in the world then there's AT LEAST a million methods. No one method is better than another, just different. This method might suit you and it might not. My hope is that you'll find something in it you find useful.

A few months ago I sat down at my writing desk after a particularly grueling shift at my day job and tried to write but the words wouldn't come. I asked myself, "How do I write a story?" How do I approach the initial idea and transform that into a story? That's when I began putting this method together. If you like it, try it out!


There are about 10 steps to this method so, to keep the size of my posts manageable, I'll roll it out over the next several days. Today, we'll take a look at the first step.

1. Formulate a one sentence description of your story

This comes from two screenwriters, Blake Snyder author of Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need, an iconic book on screenwriting, and Michael Hauge, author of The Hero's 2 Journeys. One thing these men have in common is the advice that, before you do anything else, formulate a log-line or a one-line; a sentence that summarizes your story.

Why do this? Why start from a one-sentence summary of your story? For one thing, it will help prevent you from straying from your initial idea and drifting off point. That said, if you intentionally decide to change your story's focus because you discover the idea isn't working for you, that's fine.

Also, and this is from Save The Cat, you need to make sure that your idea for a story creates a "compelling mental picture". In order to do this it needs to have all the elements of the story in it, only compressed.

Now, I'm not sure that Blake Snyder meant exactly this, but one of Nathan Bransford's posts was enormously helpful to me in understanding this technique, specifically his excellent post Query Letter Mad Lib. Here is Mr. Bransford's formula for how to compose your one sentence description:
[protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting]. But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist's quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist's goal].
For instance:
Hexanon Pennystripe, a man who describes himself as the greatest detective on earth, has just accepted a case no one believes he can solve -- including himself. But when an ancient curse takes another man's life, Hexanon knows he must put his vanity aside and capture the killer in order to restore order to the world.
The death of a wealthy English archeologist sparks talk of a curse when three other people involved with the expedition die from seemingly unrelated causes.
Now, I'm sure you can do much better than either of those examples, but you get the idea.

Next time we'll talk about the next step: expanding your sentence into five sentences that, taken together, mirror the 3-act structure of a play.

Thanks for reading!

The Starburst Method, Part 1: Creating a one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 2: Developing our one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 3: Creating a five paragraph summary
The Starburst Method, Part 4: Developing characters
The Starburst Method, Part 5: Creating a five page summary
The Starburst Method, Part 6: Developing scenes
The Starburst Method, Part 7: The character grid
The Starburst Method, Part 8: The rough draft and narrative drive

Monday, November 14

Story structure: What is it and why should I care?

I started this post intending to write about Kristen Lamb's article Structure Part 7–Genre Matters. Kristen's posts are always marvelous, but it got me thinking about the importance of story structure and I decided to talk about that instead.

In my opinion, one of the best books on story structure is The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler. Vogler tells a story about about how, when he worked for Disney, he wrote a memo that became wildly popular. He had no idea his memo had been attracting a lot of attention until people from other studios called him up to request a copy! This memo eventually became The Writer's Journey.

Why was Vogler's memo so popular? He says he was able to identify "a set of principles that govern the conduct of life and the world of storytelling like physics and chemistry govern the physical world. (The Writer's Journey, ix)" Be that as it may, it clearly worked for many people, and it's something that I try to use in my own writing. I find it especially helpful when I'm stuck, or I feel that my story has gone off the rails.

What is Vogler's formula? He insists that it's a form not a formula, but, that said, here are the basics:

Vogler divides all stories into three acts: Act 1, Act 2 part one, Act 2 part two, Act three. Act one involves the hero's (when I say "hero" I mean someone either male or female; the hero is basically the protagonist of the story) ordinary world, their call to adventure, and their accepting that call. Act two shows the hero in a new world, one where he is tested, where he meets both allies and enemies. The hero goes through an ordeal and seizes a reward; in fairytales this is often depicted as an elixir. In act three the hero is shown back in the ordinary world, having returned with his reward/the elixir. Commonly, the hero's victory isn't just a personal victory, it is a victory for the tribe as well.

That's the outline. Perhaps I've played fast and loose with Vogler's account and the outline certainly doesn't do justice to the complexity of Vogler's book, but hopefully I've captured the gist.

For my next post in this series, I plan to go into more detail about Vogler's system, and perhaps talk more about other kinds of story structures and how they compare to one another.

The story structures I'm most familiar with are those used by Christopher Vogler, Michael Hauge and Dan Wells. If anyone can add to this list, please let me know in a comment! :-)

Interesting Links:
- Writing and the Archetypes: Are They the Best for Developing Characters?—Part 1
- Story Structure, because even a three ring circus is organized. I think the pdf is from

Monday, May 16

Michael Hauge and Write on Vancouver 2011

I've just come back from a weekend writing conference, Write on Vancouver, sponsored by the Romance Writers of America. This year their guest speaker was Michael Hauge. When I told my writing friends who our speaker was I was expecting their response to be along the lines of 'Oh my gosh, really, you got Michael Hauge!' but instead I received looks of bafflement. "Who is Michael Hauge?" they asked.

I was looking for a topic to blog about and thought, great! I've got my topic, but I'm finding that it isn't as easy to describe who Michael Hauge is as I thought it would be.

Michael Hauge is, among other things, a story coach. I think of him as being like an emergency surgeon for your screenplay or manuscript. He breaks up a story into six stages: Setup, New Situation, Progress, Complications and Higher Stakes, Final Push and Aftermath. Between each stage is a turning point. Stage One and Stage Two comprise Act One, Stages Three and Four comprise Act Two and Stage Five and Six make up Act Three.

Sometimes when I talk about plot structure someone will make the comment that it is formulaic. Eileen Cook mentioned that typically a face has two eyes a nose and a mouth but most of us manage to look different from one another. Just because a manuscript follows a structure doesn't mean it is going to be like every other manuscript that has followed that structure. (I love Eileen, she is witty. I don't know her personally, but if you ever get the chance to hear her speak I would encourage you to; her books are good too!)

Anyone who is interested in Michael Hauge and his ideas on story structure might like to visit his new website,