Helping A Screenwriter Understand The Inner and Outer Journey Of A Character by Michael Hauge – 6 Stage Plot Structure

Film Courage: Can you talk about how the outer journey and the inner journey combine within the 6 stages of plot structure?

Michael Hauge: Yes. I mean they definitely intertwine. As I said earlier, you can have a story that is all outer journey, it’s just plot, it’s the character doing whatever physically is needed to achieve that visible goal and there is enough conflict from the invisible obstacles, from nature and other characters that we don’t need to go deeper in to the character. But if you choose as a writer to go to that inner journey level, to explore the inner conflict within the hero, to see the tug–of–war between identity and essence of living a false persona and living a character’s truth. And living in a fearful state, but protected state versus living courageously. If you want to explore that, then they will intertwine because (as I said) the rule is the closer they get to achieving, the more they have to be moving toward their essence. It’s called an arc because it arcs over the whole story. And every time their fear takes over they have to lose ground so to speak. It keeps them from achieving the goal. So in a love story this is easy to see because if the characters are in conflict – the hero and what I call the romance character, the love interest. If they are arguing, it means one of them is in his or her identity. And it’s stopping them from getting more intimate. If they are both in their essence they’re going to grow closer and become more intimate. That is why the midpoint, the point of no return represents a bigger commitment is often the first time they make love because it is physical intimacy that matches the emotional intimacy they have from opening up and showing each other their essence, showing each other their truth.


“If you wanted to really make logical sense and have your audience respond to it emotionally, then the romance character is the character that sees beneath the hero’s identity and they connect at the level of essence. And so, any time you are in conflict, their identity is coming into play, when they actually connect they are at the level of essence.”


So that arc for the hero is going to correspond to the hero getting closer and closer to the outer motivation. But there is another cool way that they can intertwine or another good tool that you can use as a screenwriter, or a novelist or filmmaker of any kind, even actor because this will inform your performance and that is to look at some other key characters in the story. One is the character I term the Reflection. The Reflection is my term for the Sidekick. For the character who is most closely aligned with the hero, so it might be a best friend, it might be a co-worker, it might be a mentor like Mr. Miyagi in THE KARATE KID or if it’s the new KARATE KID, Mr. Han. or Obi-Wan. Anyone who is there to support the hero, who is aligned with the hero at the beginning of the story. So in GRAVITY for example, Ryan, the Sandra Bullock character, is the hero of that movie but is closely aligned with and supported by the George Clooney character.
Now on the visible journey level, on the plot level, that reflection character is reflection because their job is to help the hero achieve her visible goal. So in GRAVITY, what is her visible goal? To get back to earth. Who is the character who is going to help her do that more than anyone, it’s George Clooney’s character. (I wish I could remember that character’s name – but I don’t.) O.k. But once you have that character functioning as a reflection on the outer journey, now you can see how you use them on the inner journey level. And on the inner journey level, the reflection is the character who reveals the hero’s essence to the hero. Or another way to say it is, the reflection is the character that holds the hero’s feet to the fire and any time they are retreating into their identity, the reflection will say “What are you doing? This isn’t you? You should be going after that person” or “You can’t give up!” There are numerous moments in GRAVITY where the George Clooney character (first as a real person and then as a figment of her imagination) says “You don’t want to give up. I know why you want to give up. It’s terrible, it’s terrifying but if you can find the courage and you can put one foot in front of the other and keep living your life, that’s the way you want to be.”

And that is a typical scene or situation for a reflection character. Donkey does that for Shrek. The Vince Vaughn character in WEDDING CRASHERS does it for Owen Wilson’s character. Owen Wilson has retreated once they’ve broke up into his identity and now they are crashing funerals, as well as weddings. And Vince Vaughn says “Why are you doing this? You’ve got to go after her. She’s going to get married. She’s marrying the wrong guy. You love her!” And so that reflection character can intertwine on the inner journey because they are sort of pushing the hero toward their essence.

The other character that also becomes the valuable tool if you’re writing a love story which is a great genre, it’s a great tool when you want to explore the inner life of the character to add a love story to your plot whatever the genre is…it’s what I call the Romance character, the Love Interest. On the visible goal level, if it’s a love story, the hero’s visible goal has to include winning the love of that other character. They want to end up in a committed relationship with that person. They may do it reluctantly, they may be blind to it at first, but eventually by the mid-point anyway, they are going to declare their love in some way and they are going to actively pursue that person romantically. But on the inner journey level, the way that works is the love interest is the reward for the hero having found the courage to be in his essence. So again, you can’t win true love. You can’t win the love of another character if you’re living a false life, you have to be in your essence. And so with love stories, the way it works is (if you’re writing a love story), to avoid the mistake of having these two people be together just because you want them to be for no logical reason other than they’re both good looking and they’re co-stars of the movie. If you wanted to really make logical sense and have your audience respond to it emotionally, then the romance character is the character that sees beneath the hero’s identity and they connect at the level of essence. And so, any time you are in conflict, their identity is coming into play, when they actually connect they are at the level of essence. And nobody else that the hero has actually fallen for, or is involved with or is in love with at the beginning of the movie, none of them see the hero’s essence, only the true love can do that. And so now, that level of plot is also intertwined with the inner journey as well.


Watch the first half of Michael Hauge and Mark W. Travis Film Courage series here on Youtube

Film Courage: Can we talk about a friend who then becomes an enemy or has been an enemy all along? And vice versa, someone who we thought was an enemy (an opponent) but was actually more benevolent than we imagined in the beginning of the movie?

Michael Hauge: Because I use these terms and this jargon I’ve created like, Hero, Nemesis (The Villain or Opponent), Romance, Reflection. Because I use those terms, often that question will come up. Well what if that character starts out as a Reflection (a Best Friend) and actually turns out to be the Killer and then become the Nemesis? I recommend a writer not look at it that way. I recommend that you use the terms that you would apply at the end of Act One. How is this character established at the beginning act of your script? So if this is the character that is the best friend but is aligned with the hero, than they remain the Reflection throughout the movie. They just become a Reflection who turns out to be a Bad Guy or a Killer or a Murderer or a Spy or whatever it turns out that they are. And if a character starts out to be a Friend, but then this is about the two of them falling in love and we know that is where it’s headed then it’s the romance character from the get go and there might be another best friend to be a reflection and so on.

The Nemesis who turns out to be a Good Guy, that can happen as well. But it’s done slightly differently. It’s not so much that the Nemesis has been hiding the fact that he is a Good Guy as much as he has a change of heart and realizes I am going after the wrong thing. I have to help the hero. Tommy Lee Jones in THE FUGITIVE would be that kind of Nemesis. He’s in opposition to the hero but finally he reaches a point where he realizes I’m going after the wrong guy and I’ve got to help him find the truth.

Watch the second half of Michael Hauge and Mark W. Travis Film Courage series here on Youtube

So I don’t think it’s wise to think about characters changing categories because it just becomes too complicated and my goal (among many others) is to make the process as simple as possible. Screenwriting is tough enough without making it more complicated than it is. So I like to use these terms for introducing characters and how they are going to function overall and not start switching categories.



QUESTION: Any thoughts you can add on a character’s inner and outer journey?


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