Continuing from my post on December 7, 2010 regarding the hero’s OUTER JOURNEY, I am going to share with you Michael Hauge’s six-stage breakdown of plot structure. In keeping with my “elephant eating” approach to novel writing, these bite-sized chunks are easy to digest:
Michael’s focus is on Screenplay Structure and, while a novel is rather more elastic, I have found his structure guidelines very helpful.
Stage 1 – The Setup
This is where you introduce your hero, drawing the reader in to the setting of his or her everyday life. Right at the outset, establish identification with your hero by engendering our sympathy or anxiety for him, making him likeable, funny or powerful.
Turning Point 1 – The Opportunity
Between stage 1 and 2, your hero should be presented with an opportunity which creates in him or her a visible desire. This is not the overall goal which governs your story, but rather something which sets your hero off on a new course of action and moves the hero into a new situation.
Stage 2 – The New Situation
The hero is now getting used to the new environment, he or she is perhaps feeling excited about this situation, may feel optimistic that any challenges faced here will be easily overcome, and is unaware of what really awaits.
Turning Point 2 – Change of Plans
At this point in the plot your hero is suddenly faced with something (a decision, a challenge, etc.) which will transform his or her original desire into a visible goal with a specific end point. This is where your hero’s outer motivation becomes clear and your story is now in full swing.
Stage 3 – Progress
The hero appears to be succeeding in his or her plan, there are obstacles and conflict, but he or she is managing these and overcoming them. Things seem to be working.
Turning Point 3 – The Point of No Return
Roughly halfway through your plot, things become much tougher than your hero anticipated and he or she is confronted with significant obstacles to achieving the visible goal. At this point your hero must cross the point of no return and commit 100% to achieving his or her goal. This is where she takes irrevocable steps and is now closer to the end point of the outer journey than the starting point.
Stage 4 – Complications and Higher Stakes
Your hero is struggling with difficult challenges and the conflict continues to magnify, he doesn’t give up though, because the stakes are higher and he can’t go back, remember. It seems that success is within his grasp.
Turning Point 4 – The Major Setback
Now something terrible happens and it seems that all is lost. But your hero is fully committed and he or she really has no choice, things are critical, so he has to make one, last, desperate effort to win, escape, stop something or retrieve something (remember Michael’s basic categories of visible goals).
Stage 5 – The Final Push
The conflict at this stage is huge, your hero is risking everything against tremendous odds, the pace and conflict is intense as your hero battles the obstacles to achieve his or her visible goal.
Turning Point 5 – The Climax
At this point the hero faces the biggest hurdle of all and her destiny is in her own hands and the outer motivation or visible goal is resolved. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean the visible goal is attained, the hero could fail, but there is resolution of the goal one way or another.
Stage 6 – The Aftermath
Now, in the final stage, you reveal your hero’s new life following the completion of his or her journey. How has she changed, what has she learned, how has the completion of her journey impacted the lives of the other characters? This is not a very long stage, but is necessary to provide the reader with a sense of closure.
One final tip from the guru (Michael Hauge that is, not meJ): Michael says that most problems with progressing your story can be solved by going back to your hero’s OUTER GOAL or MOTIVATION. Look at this carefully and determine what makes it impossible for him or her to achieve this. That should help you figure out where to take your story next.
Next week I’ll give you some of Michael’s insights into the hero’s INNER JOURNEY.
Click here to read Linda’s post on the Hero’s Outer Journey.