I had an epiphany last year – thanks to attending a workshop with Michael Hauge and I want to share it with you.
The epiphany I got from the Michael Hauge workshop had to do with conflict. Conflict, both external (in a romance novel, this is what is pushing your hero and heroine together) and internal (the thing that keeps them apart ie: a past, personal reason that makes them think they can’t be with the hero/heroine because it doesn’t gel with their idea of who they are.)
The idea of conflict seems to be what stymies writers the most, and at times it has stymied me. After working on my writing and attending many workshops on the subject and having many discussions with my writing groups on the matter, I think I have come to a better understanding of what makes up good conflict, but the terminology hasn’t always rung true with me and at times I’ve thought I’ve had good internal and external conflict in my writing, only to have that pointed out as the thing that’s not quite working for the length of the novel ie: it isn’t enough to carry the story through. At times it has been completely frustrating to get this feedback. Not that I don’t believe the feedback – I do. But when you believe you’ve done something and then are told you haven’t and yet you can’t figure out why not, it is frustrating.
Funnily enough, when I judge for competitions and when I critique other writer’s writing, it is easy to see if this is a problem and that a lack of good conflict is what makes their stories fall down. So, I do get it. I get how important it is. And I have worked really hard to truly get what conflict is all about and why it is important. However, it is hardest to see your work as clearly as you see someone else’s. But, that’s what a good writing group or critique partner is for – because they can see your writing clearly and help you get in touch with these important essentials to a story.
Having said all this, though, I still felt like I struggled in getting it right until Michael Hauge talked about identity and essence.
My understanding of what he said is that at the start of a story, your character starts within their identity – how they see themselves and how the world sees them. As the story progresses, they journey towards moving out of this identity (which because of circumstances, background and or trauma, is really a false identity) and move into their essence – the person they would have been if not for circumstance, background, trauma.
At the start, the hero/heroine, lives fully in their identity and then something happens that brings that identity into question. Until about half way, they are living in a state of flux, trying to bring back their secure identity, but unable to do so because something essential has changed. Then they realise that they need to look at things differently and very often do or say things that can be completely out of character for how they’ve always behaved. They start to move toward their essence but keep sliding back into their identity, because stepping completely into their essence is a scary thing and will change everything about how they perceive themselves, others and the world.
Then just when it looks like they’re about to embrace their essence fully, something occurs which makes them pull all the way back into their identity (many people call this the black moment). But then, out of this, they realise that living in their identity is not what they want anymore. Life is flat and has no real meaning, and they take that final, scary step into their essence. In a romance, this is usually when they realise they do want that person in their life and that they are deserving of loving and being loved and therefore we get our HEA (Happy Ever After). It is essential that the hero/heroine has come to an understanding that they are capable of making their life feel complete, not that they need the other person to be happy or they’ll die, because pinning true happiness on someone else isn’t truly living in essence. However, they do realise that being with that other person will thoroughly enhance their happiness and life in a way they desire.
For me, for whatever reason, this really made sense. It spoke to me. It made sense out of something I’ve been struggling to understand and get right for a long time. I had bells and lightbulbs and whistles and the entire of the Hallelujah Chorus going off in my head while I was sitting there listening to Michael’s words. It made me so incredibly happy that I’d spent the money on the workshop, that I’d done acrobatics of organisation to be there, to make certain the kids were where they needed to be (sports, parties etc) and that my husband was left with the appropriate instructions as to what needed to be done and when.
Now, I know, for someone else, they might not have had that same reaction. I know I’ve sat in workshops before where people have come out saying suddenly everything made sense and I was left thinking – Neh, it was okay, but I’m really no more the wiser. But this one was gold for me and it’s allowed me to look at my work with new eyes. And hopefully, with this ‘new sight’, I will be able to move closer to my dream of writing an un-put-downable story that others will love just as much as I loved writing it.
While all this is very interesting to know, my point is this – if I didn’t keep going to workshops and reading and talking writing with my writing friends and learning what they’ve been learning, I might never have had this epiphany. Sure, it made me realise that what I’ve been doing has been wrong to a certain extent, because I never truly understood before what I was doing (and I’m not saying I’m the expert now, either, but I feel so much more at home with this new way of looking at conflict and my writing of it seems to be flowing better), but in this case, I was more than happy to discover I was wrong, even though it meant a bit of work in each of my novels to make the conflict clearer and the journey my characters take a more fulfilling one. In fact, I’ve really been enjoying the re-writing and discovering things about my characters and stories I really didn’t know before.
Learning is key. Continuing to learn is my journey towards essence. And in this step toward essence, I realised that epiphany doesn’t mean realising I’ve been wrong, it means realising now I can do something right, and maybe, just maybe, find a little bit of perfection that will make me feel incredibly proud of myself and what I write. And also allow me to give my characters a truly rewarding, HEA.