Ah, romance! Boy meets girl. Boy is a mess. Girl sees something in boy that he never knew existed. Boy lives up to girl’s belief in him. Boy – now in his true essence – and girl live happily ever after.
This simple formula is what creates a good romantic story. We’ve seen it time and again.
- Beauty and the Beast
- Dirty Dancing
- African Queen
- Angel and the Badman
- Music Man
- Guys and Dolls
- The Lady and Tramp
- King Kong (Think about it.)
Sometimes it’s the girl who needs to move into her true essence.
- Sweet Home Alabama
- Hope Floats
- My Fair Lady
- Miracle on 34th Street
- True Lies
- Romancing the Stone
The beauty of this formula is that it’s flexible. Often, both boy and girl change.
In a rare instance, the girl is changing the boy, but she doesn’t realize it.
- Ground Hog Day
Or the boy is changing the girl, but she doesn’t realize it herself.
- 50 First Dates
This is the lesson I learned when taking Michael Hauge’s screenwriting class at the ACFW national conference last year. Here is his bit of wisdom:
“The reason the romance character and the hero belong together, is because the romance character is the only one who sees beneath the hero’s identity and connects at the level of essence.”
We made him say that several times so we could write it down. This, my friends, is the key to writing a good romance. For an in-depth observation on this subject, please go to my Craft Cinema blog and learn how the animated feature, Megamind, meets this requirement. I have also included Hauge’s six questions to ask your character to understand his or her identity and essence. Watch the movie first, though, unless you don’t mind the spoilers.
Beauty and the Beast is the quintessential example of the identity/essence idea.
Beast is a prince trapped in a monster’s body due to his lack of the ability to love. When Belle meets him, he is living in that identity. Beast has no love or respect for any human being. He has captured Belle’s father, an innocent victim who accidentally trespassed on his property.
Belle offers her life for her father’s, and is now condemned to live in the dying castle forever. Through her spunkiness, she eventually stands up to the beast, who responds to her in his identity. He grouses and grumbles, even roars a time or two about how impossible she is. But we get a glimpse of his true essence when he protects her from wolves. He gets hurt in the process, and as she tends his wounds, he begins to open his heart to caring for another person.
The final act is a poignant portrayal of true love. Beast allows Belle to go home after he shows her a magic mirror and she sees her father lost and sick in the forest. At this point, he moves into his essence—now caring deeply for someone other than himself. This unselfish acts leads to his near demise as angry villagers storm his castle.
The mob is lead by Gaston, who early in the story made it known that he would have Belle at all cost. Through a series of events, Gaston and the villagers believe the beast to be dangerous and must be destroyed. In a one-on-one combat between Gaston and the beast, Gaston nearly meets his fate at the hands of the beast, but the beast relents due to his love for Belle and his new essence. He tells Gaston to leave and never return, but when Beast leaves him to climb up to the balcony where Belle awaits him, Gaston follows and stabs him in the back. Gaston then falls to his death.
On the balcony now, Beast is dying. Belle cries over his limp body. He has sacrificed himself by moving into his essence—a caring and loving being. But, in true Disneyesque fashion, as he breathes his last breath, the spell is broken, and a dramatic transformation takes place. He turns back into the prince, a handsome young man who must now convince Belle that he is the person she has come to love. She’s skeptical at first, but when she gazes deep into his eyes, she sees him for who he truly is, the one she fell in love with, sans fur and fierce teeth.
And then they kiss. And the spell is broken all over the castle. And they get married. Sigh.
Please enjoy this quick look at the beautiful love story. It shows in only a few minutes how identity/essence works.
Kathy Kovach is the ACFW Rocky Mountain Zone Director, and author with Heartsong Presents and Barbour Publishing. She writes Spiritual Truth…With A Giggle, thus proving herself as one of God’s peculiar people. With a passion for story, she dissects movies on her Craft Cinema blog. Read the first chapters of her books at Fiction Finder and visit her at www.KathleenEKovach.com.