Thursday, September 8, 2011

Lessons I learned from Michael Hauge PART ONE

I first learned of Michael Hauge when I did a Google research for writing help, which ultimately ended in a visit to Once I purchased and listened to Hauge’s lectures , which were recorded live at the Screenwriting Expo, I felt as if I’d found a hidden treasure. My favorite Hauge lectures are Grabbing the Reader in the First Ten Pages, and Writing Powerful Movie Scenes.

Michael Hauge is an author, lecturer, and script consultant who has coached such stars as; Will smith, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Lopez, and Morgan Freeman. Not only has he worked for every major studio and network in the industry, but he’s also given lectures to over 40,000 participants.

One of the lessons I took away from Michael’s lecture is the idea of story-structure plot placement. In short, this is the movie industries’ tightly woven plot structure measured in movie minutes (a movie minutes is usually equal to one page in screenwriting). For example, most good movies consist of a four-act structure divided into equal segments. The four acts are: Act one (the beginning), act IIa (first half of the middle), act IIb (second half of the middle) and act III. Not a shout-it-from-the-street epiphany, but definitely a help in story pacing.

I decided if this concept helps make a better story, then I wanted to understand and use this device in my novel writing. That’s when I took my laptop to the library and gathered a stack of Disney movies. I chose Disney because I knew they were usually successful movies. Below is an example of the acts/plot divisions I found in the Pacifier.
The Pacifier (movie length 90 minutes)

FIRST 25-percent; Act one leads up to the inciting incident (22 minutes into the movie) where Act II begins the SECOND 25% with the main character receiving a phone call and learning he is stuck taking care of the children "a few more days." This begins the story problem where the main character enters a new world which is completely out of his comfort zone.

THIRD 25-percent; Act IIb begins at 45 minutes (the HALF WAY MARK) where, until now, the children don’t like the main character and want him to leave their house. But when the Ninja's attack, they change their minds and want his protection. Here the story line went from passive to progressive; he was there to baby sit and watch over them, but now it is clear they are in danger and he is their protector.

FOURTH 25-percent; Act III (the last act) begins at 68 minutes(75% into the story) when the mother guesses the password and opens the safe (a major accomplishment for her storyline). The main character receives the phone call that Mom is coming home and he is no longer needed. He’s faced with leaving the "new" odd world where he’s been like a fish out of water and return to the Navy Seal world he knows best. At 71 minutes the main character discovers the secret passage (which contains the secret they've been trying to find), Mom arrives home, the main character prepares to leave, but the Ninjas arrive with guns and after a lot of action the story finds a happy ever after.

After pursuing several stories, I discovered that most successful stories follow this same timeline of having major plot points at 25-percent intervals. Apparently, the public is attracted to this evenly-paced structure, which is evidenced by the movie’s success. This gives the writer a guideline (not a rule) to critique his or her story. Of course, there are always exceptions. This structure is only a guide—not a hard and fast rule.

Opinions and comments?

1 comment:

  1. This is such a helpful and insightful post! Thanks so much for sharing this "secret" with us. Brilliant!