Character Arc ala Michael Hauge

A while back I wrote a blog post about Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure, which I’ve found to be an incredibly powerful tool for plotting my characters’ inner and outer journeys, as well as the story’s turning points and black moment.

Today, I want to talk more about character arc.

A character needs to grow and change. He starts with one viewpoint at the beginning, but the events in the story serve to change that character’s viewpoint by the end. Michael Hauge says, “The character arc is the transformation from living in fear to living courageously. A character will arc when he moves from his identity to his essence.”

Identity = emotional armor (facade) worn to protect himself from some wound.

Essence = who the character is when the emotional armor is stripped. True self.

At the beginning of the story, a character will have an emotional need that he may or may not be aware of. The emotional need will probably manifest itself as a physical goal (the outer goal). But the physical goal is primarily a symbol representing the emotional need (the true inner goal).

For example, the hero’s outer goal might be to win the big promotion at work. But what does the hero truly desire? What is his emotional need? Perhaps the promotion will give him the approval he’s been seeking. Or perhaps a sense of accomplishment.

Why does this character have this emotional need?

An emotional need grows from an emotional wound. This wound creates the character’s beliefs. The character will make choices and decisions in his life based on these beliefs.

If our example character desires approval, it could be because his girlfriend’s parents dislike/disapprove of him. Or perhaps he desires a sense of accomplishment because he has failed too many times in the past.

The character’s wound will create a fear. In order to never experience that fear again, the character creates an emotional armor, his facade (his identity). If our example character fears disapproval, he may become a doormat, letting people walk all over him or take advantage of him at work. If he fears failure, he may cheat or lie in order to get the promotion

Though the outer motivation is the same–winning the promotion–each unique wound and fear gives rise to different inner motivations resulting in different story conflicts.

The essence is who the person really is or really wants to be. By the end of the story the character discovers their true essence. In a romance (which I write), the hero will chose to live in his or her essence, giving the reader their happy ending.

To sum it all up…

From a character’s wound grows a fear, which gives way to his identity (emotional armor). The only way he can obtain his emotional need is to step out of his identity and into his essence (true self).

“The character arc is the transformation from living in fear to living courageously.” – Michael Hauge

For more information, check out Michael Hauge’s website.

~KM Fawcett

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2 responses to “Character Arc ala Michael Hauge

  1. Great post, Kathy! It really boils down the path writers need to take to create a full character. I also noticed not only will the character’s emotional need be met by stepping out of his identity and facing his fear, but that same philosophy applies to real life people too. Once we face our fears and live courageously our desires will be fulfilled.

  2. Very true, Stacey! One of my reoccurring writing fears is, “What if it’s not good enough?” The only way to face that fear is to sit down and write, and then rewrite. Maybe I should Post WRITE COURAGEOUSLY on my computer. 🙂