Saturday, July 28, 2007

Writing Tips - The Michael Hauge RWA Talks Pt 2

So here we are again, about to delve deeper into the 'visible' and 'invisible' theories and again I stress that a lot of this is my interpretation on the notes I took from Michael's talks - so if they don't make sense at any point then it's not him it's ME... And I still stand by what I said in the last post about buying his books and DVD's - cos there is soooooo much more in them to get your little grey cells working - TRUST ME!!!

If you haven't already, or even if you have - pop by the last post again just to refresh your memory so you know where I left off and I'll try and see if I can confuse you some more... okay?

Now in order to make sense of what was said about CHARACTER + DESIRE + CONFLICT you have to understand how they all relate so far and then go back a step to what we all know matters MOST... the CHARACTERS...

Remember the CHARACTER is the VEHICLE FOR EXPERIENCING THE EMOTION. So how do we do this and how do we eventually tie the character to the desire and the conflict? Well, the first thing we've got to do is ELICIT THE EMOTION from the reader, right? And in category romance and film this is especially important because we have a very limited time frame in which to ENGAGE THE READER. C'mon - be honest - how many times have you sat down to watch a film and known inside ten minutes that it's either gonna be tough to get into or you're gonna struggle to enjoy it? Or maybe, like me, you're one of those people that reads the first coupla pages in the bookstore before buying the book? Well then you'll get what I'm saying here about having to ENGAGE THE READER from the get-go and you'll understand why Michael asked WHY WILL WE IMMEDIATELY EMPATHIZE WITH YOUR HERO OR HEROINE? What is the EVERYDAY LIFE he or she has been living and how will you reveal that before anything happens to drive the rest of the story forwards?

Now eharlequin is a useful study aid for this one, cos when you go shopping for books on there they'll give you the option to read an excerpt, right? Well those excerpts are taken right from the opening page of the book so you have a chance to study as many different openings from as many different authors and lines as you like! And I GUARANTEE YOU that every single one of them, however briefly, will show you a glimpse of the characters everyday life and thoughts before the plot begins... IT'S LIKELY TO BE BRIEF - no long back-story dump or introspection for page after page and it has common UNIVERSAL TRAITS which Michael tells us are used to get us to EMPATHIZE with the hero or heroine...

So what are these common traits?

The first one is SYMPATHY - If we feel sorry for them in some way we will automatically empathize with them, won't we? So if they're suddenly homeless or about to become homeless due to financial difficulties then we'll understand and feel SYMPATHY for their predicament. If they've lost a loved one or just discovered their job is on the line or they've been stranded in a foreign country and lost their passport - then we'll understand - we'll feel SYMPATHY. Make sense? And all those examples can be illustrated in just a few sentences and we've IMMEDIATELY ELICTED EMOTION because they're UNIVERSAL PROBLEMS the READER CAN UNDERSTAND. And I bet you can think up dozens of other examples for this. Even in a paranormal or a Sci-Fi or a suspense there will be common universal human problems we'll understand, because at the core of every story is HUMAN EMOTION - which the reader understands!

Then we have JEOPARDY - If your character is in danger physically, or even in danger of losing something of vital importance to them then we'll immediately EMPATHIZE with them, won't we? I could quote you the losing a job/home/loved one examples here again yes, but I could also get you to look at the number of stories that have started with an accident of some kind where the heroine is in JEOPARDY and the hero is first introduced to us as he RESCUES HER from that situation - a timeless theme romantically speaking... And we'll UNDERSTAND the heroine's dilemma, we'll EMPATHIZE with her and hence we have ELICITED AN EMOTION IN THE READER...

It may all seem fairly obvious so far - but go back and look at your current WIP as a reader and ask yourself have you given us a glimpse of your hero/heroines everyday life and have you elicited an emotion from page one? And ECONOMICALLY - without those pages and pages of back story to justify their behaviour or a tonne of introspection to explain to the reader why they say and do the things they do with their counterparts, as if your reader is an idiot that won't pick it up otherwise...

So what else can we use to ELICIT EMOTION? To make the reader CARE about these characters?

Well Michael says we can also make them LIKEABLE - And this one can be the cause of much writerly angst worldwide - particularly when it comes to the heroine - trust me on this! PARTICULARLY on the subject of is your heroine LIKEABLE? Because typically a hero, so long as he's stunningly attractive physically, is redeemable at a later point in the story... but, like Lizzie at the start of P & P... when it comes to the heroine, once your readers good opinion is lost... yuh huh. So if she's too guarded or angry or overly emotional then it may put your readers back up right? And the reader has to like her to care about her! So we have to balance out the way the heroine reacts with the reason WHY she does the things she does - in order to keep her LIKEABLE. We can use inner thought, we can hint through dialogue, we can have secondary characters state the reasons aloud because as a friend of the heroine (or even the hero) they will already know what happened to make them react that way, won't they? And again by using these methods to make the characters LIKEABLE we are using COMMON UNIVERSAL TRAITS so that the reader will automatically UNDERSTAND and EMPATHIZE.

We can make them FUNNY too - Because, as Michael states, we all like to spend time round people who can make us laugh! So if from the get-go we can add some humour (cos remember humour doesn't have to be slapstick to be funny!) then as readers we'll form a bond and we'll EMPATHIZE because we've become EMOTIONALLY INVESTED through the common universal love of HUMOUR...

And last of all Michael says we can make them POWERFUL - And by this he means they're successful at what they do. Why does this ELICIT EMOTION? Well, it does because we RESPECT their achievements. We automatically understand what it took for them to get to the top of their game in whatever they do. Because whether its as the CEO of a company or as a mother who has successfully raised a set of terrific kids - we UNDERSTAND the effort it took because it's a UNIVERSAL HUMAN EXPERIENCE and therefore it ELICITS EMOTION.

All makes complete and utter sense, doesn't it? And we've touched on a great many of these things in a lot of the Book With Trish series, haven't we? (please say yes!!!) So when we start to think about a new story and we begin to create our new characters - before they even hit the page - we need to think about these COMMON UNIVERSAL HUMAN THEMES that can ELICIT EMOTION IN OUR READERS. (*cough* do we get yet why I harp on and on and on and on and on about knowing your characters and making them REAL before we even begin? *cough*)

So once we understand why we can immediately EMPATHIZE with our CHARACTERS we then need to delve a little deeper and ask what is our hero/heroine's LONGING. And Michael describes this as being the deep desire he/she may only be paying lip service to...as to actually go after it would be too frightening. This means that your character is IMPRISIONED BY THEIR FEAR. And if they're imprisioned by their fear then the chances are they've been WOUNDED at some point in the past.

If they've been WOUNDED then you have to ask youself what IS your hero/heroine's WOUND? Michael describes the wound as being an unhealed source of CONTINUING PAIN - something that happened in the past (so prior to the beginning of your story) that they may believe they've dealt with but haven't and it gets in the way. He also says that the most deep-seated wounds often occur in adolescence (when our personalities are forming) ~ like Will in Good Will Hunting or my Teagan in Project: Parenthood who was emotionally starved during her teenage years. Wounds that go back that far can be the hardest to heal, right? So again, BEFORE WE BEGIN, we have to understand our characters and look at the WOUNDS they carry so we have a clear line of thought and emotion by that character throughout our story. We romance writer's would often consider THIS to be the CONFLICT - but Michael approaches conflict slightly differently and I have to say the way I do myself is closer to his reasoning (little did I know it) - so from now on I'm gonna refer to things the way he does, okay?

Then he asks us to as what is our characters BELIEF? And this follows on a logical path from their WOUND, cos if we are WOUNDED then we form conclusions about how the world works, don't we? In other words we form a BELIEF SYSTEM. In Project: Parenthood Teagan believes that in order to protect herself from being wounded again the way she was before then she's better to remain detached from emotional involvement - you see what I mean? And this is at odds with her natural human desire for love, isn't it? Even if she won't admit it to herself. (pay attention to this now because we're on our way to delving into the VISIBLE and the INVISIBLE journey's...)

Michael then asked the important question of what is our hero/heroine's IDENTITY? And he describes their IDENTITY as being synonimous with their PERSONA ~ the false front or mask people project to the outside world and hence to other characters they meet in the book to protect themselves from the fear they carry. So in Teagan's case her identity is that of a successful, confident, independent career woman who has no need for emotional involvement with a *significant other* in order to feel fulfilled... which we know is a lie...

And that brings us right back to her LONGING again. Full circle. What is your hero/heroine's REAL LONGING? The deep desire they may only be playing lip service to as to go after it would be too frightning due to the wound they carry from the past? And this may well be where the INVISIBLE starts to kick in... as they may even deny this longing to themselves or sometimes their fear and sheer depth of longing is so great that they can't even project it! Because at the end of the day, that longing is pretty much always the need for connection to another human being, isn't it? And the fear lies in the chance of rejection, doesn't it? A natural human reaction and a COMMON UNIVERSAL THEME. So Michael then gets us to make our characters fill in the blank in "I'll do whatever it takes to achieve my goal - just don't ask me to ------- because that's just not me..."

It's basically asking your character to say aloud the LIE THEY TELL THEMSELVES in order to protect themselves from pain or the anguish they felt before... So Teagan would say; "I'll do whatever it takes to achieve my goal (of being happy in the future) - just don't ask me to let someone close because that's just not me... (I do better on my own)..." And that's A LIE, isn't it? Because we ALL need people, don't we?

This statement then puts our characters outer IDENTITY (visible) at odds with their INNER ESSENCE (invisible because they won't let it show...) So it becomes a battle between the VISIBLE and the INVISIBLE doesn't it? Which is where the REAL CONFLICT LIES...

So Michael asks us about our characters INNER ESSENCE. If you could strip away all of their artificial beliefs (the lies they tell themselves to stay safe) and outer masks then what would be left? What is the REAL TRUTH - The ESSENCE of who they are? Who do they have the potential to become without all that additional baggage? And YOUR STORY then becomes the ability to answer that by having your ending allow the characters to LIVE IN their true ESSENCE - LIVE UP to their TRUE POTENTIAL. In which case we discover that Teagan's essence is that of a warm, vibrant, big hearted woman with the ability to connect with, share her life with, and truly love someone and therefore Project: Parenthood is the story of how she gets to BECOME that woman... See?

So THE REAL CONFLICT Michael says is created when there is a TUG OF WAR BETWEEN IDENTITY AND ESSENCE. The fight between the VISIBLE and the INVISIBLE. Make sense yet???

Questions questions questions and then I'll continue... so that we can get round to announcing my WRITING CONTEST WINNER and the new competition for this next month and the goss on the new book I'm about to start writing...

And REMEMBER MICHAEL HAUGE'S WEBSITE and his BOOKS and his DVD's - links for ALL OF THEM in the last post!!!!

11 comments:

Janet said...

And the types of characters who don’t have the courage to express a longing/desire (who have shut down so much that they insist everything is fine and refuse to admit they have longings) have an unconscious need instead (Another version of missing piece.)

A question for Trish: In writing romance novels how does this internal longing or need connect with the character's visible desire (external goal)?

Does the visible desire (external goal) arise directly from this longing/need?
e.g. If the hero's inner need is respect, would his visible desire be something like: to build his business until it's an international success?

Or should it be distinctly different? eg the hero has an inner need for respect. But his visible desire is to find his daughter.

Which appraoach would you go for? :)

Ray-Anne said...

Thank you for taking the time to share your notes with us- as you say, lots for the little grey cells to get working on. And extremely helpful. All I have to do now is translate this good stuff into a cracking storyline!
LOL and thanks again. Ray-Anne

http://mischiefandfilth.blogspot.com/

Trish said...

Okay - Janet I LOVE THAT YOU MAKE ME THINK!!!

To the first part about missing piece - YES, I'd agree with that one myself. And we kinda cross over into that in the next segment I have for you guys in the next blog. And it's the INVISIBLE LONGING for that missing piece as you call it that can put them in conflict with their outer identity - so with Teagan the missing piece/invisible longing would be someone she can truly love who will love her in return but VISIBLE OUTWARDLY - HER IDENTITY is that of someone who has no need for someone else... yes?

***A question for Trish: In writing romance novels how does this internal longing or need connect with the character's visible desire (external goal)?

Does the visible desire (external goal) arise directly from this longing/need?
e.g. If the hero's inner need is respect, would his visible desire be something like: to build his business until it's an international success?***

I could answer this with a simple YES... but you've *met me* so get comfy...

I would say yes, if his need is respect then he is likely to be doing things that will command that respect. What you have to ask yourself is WHY he has that need - cos THATS part of his inner character - you with me???

So if your hero is building his business single mindedly to international success then we have to ask what is most likely driving him... so I'd have to ask myself did he come from a poor background and feels the need for the security money can provide but has then been so single minded he has locked love out of his life? That may seem like an outer/inner battle on just the poor background/money alone issues but you have to delve deeper again...

And ALREADY I'm making this more complicated than it has to be .... Grrrr...

Lemme try again...

If he was poor as a child how would it have effected his relationships with those around him? Parents would have been stressed - yes? Parents may have argued over money... if a lone parent they may have worked themselves to death for very little return... and all those things in the parents life will have had an effect on the childs... yes? He may have had to watch the arguments all the time or been yelled at when they were stressed or had that dreadful feeling of helplessness as a child when he had to watch someone work themselves to death and he could do nothing to stop it happening... so therefore his OUTER need may seem to be simply for success... but his INNER need is still based in the need for love - both to protect his loved ones and those in his care in the future from that kind of trauma - yes? To make sure that if he ever had a child of his own they wouldn't go through what he did (that was his WOUND) - but at the same time he still, at his very core, has the LONGING for someone to love so that all the work he has done can be focussed on someone...

Does that make sense?

BUT by being so single minded about building the business to make sure he is fulfilling one need - he may actually be holding himself back from the more important goal of that person to love and protect in the first place. THIS IS CONFLICT. So if he's working 60 hours a week and flying all over the world and never has any time then what would happen if he met a single parent who was grounded in her home life?

He may at his very core need her more than he admits... and she is the very kind of woman his mother may have been - struggling to make ends meet with a child to care for - so he then has CONFLICT between what he needs and what he thinks he must do to keep things *safe* and *secure* for the future... To continue on his current path he may have to realize he can't have a relationship with this woman.... but what if he continues on his path and then can never be with that very woman he needs???

See?
And therin lies the conflict. Not in an outside plot - but in an inner battle between the outer and inner personas... what we SEE and what we DONT SEE... so the VISIBLE and the INVISIBLE...

At least that's my take on it... SORRY YOU ASKED NOW AREN'T YOU???

And RAY-ANNE YOU'RE VERY WELCOME!!! I just hope I'm putting ANY OF IT accross in ANY SEMBLANCE OF SENSE...

As to the putting it into a story... ahhh... welcome to my world...

Trish said...

Oh and Janet... I can do MORE examples... LOL...

No? - yeah - thought not...

Michelle Styles said...

Trish I hope you know that you have increased my writing craft library....

Trish said...

LOL Michelle - well we're even then!!! You did the same to me all too recently - not that I've had a chance to sit down with the McKee book yet... and now I have REVISIONS IN so that's me kept busy for a while...

I'll be interested to see what you thought of the book/s and which one you got... Come back and lemme know?

Now - off to put all my new found knowledge to good use....

Janet said...

"What you have to ask yourself is WHY he has that need"

Ah, I understand--- the backstory (poor background)provides the need (security) which produces an inner goal(wealth) which in turn gives him a concrete external goal.(To build his business to an international success)

His solution to fulfilling the inner need will most likely be a wrong turn attempt.

Beacuse at the end of the story the character will have his need for security fulfilled in a completely different way (eg He'll come to realise that as long as he has enough money to provide a comfortable life, the security he craves will come from the heroine's love. He doesn't have to keeep on achieving) Which is the basis of his character arc.

Thanks,Trish.

I'm off to order the Hero's 2 Journeys from Michael's website and think some more about this!

Trish said...

Janet - by george you've got it!!!

And you can see why it made me realize that THANKFULLY I wasn't completely OUT-OF-MY-TREE in harping on and on and on about knowing them before you even begin...

Most of the background and back story and what came PRIOR to the beginning of your story is KEY to understanding WHY your characters do the things they do. And I really really really believe in this. Probably more than half of what you discover about them before you even type a word may never make it into the story once you get going but you still NEED TO KNOW IT - you know?

It all comes down to the WHY... WHY do they behave the way they do - WHY do they fight against what we the reader can see is best for them - WHY...

Lemme know what you think of the DVD when you get it???

H's & K's
Trish

Janet said...

"Lemme know what you think of the DVD when you get it???"

Will Do. :) I sent for the CD (as it's cheaper than the DVD) and I also ordered The Writing Romantic Comedies and Love stories.(The same one he did at RWA this year?)

Trish said...

The VERY ONE he did Janet!!!! And he also did one on structure... which YES I DO HAVE NOTES ON and honestly YES I WILL BLOG ABOUT... ;)

Am sooooooo excited to hear what you think of them once you've gone through them!!!

Janet said...

Hey, I've just found this.
Go to this download page, (on The Unknown Screenwriters' blog)

http://tinyurl.com/2mett6

scroll down to Transformational Character Arca and download the file.

Very helpful stuff. :)