A day in Michael Hauge’s romcom seminar inspired me to republish this brief article I wrote about a year and a half ago.
Hauge claims the Inner and Outer Journey run in parallel. I think he’s right, with one small caveat.
A gorgeous Sunday morning in a Manly cafe with a view on the ocean. Perfect circumstances to switch off.
Not if you’re me. I was pondering story structure. And suddenly I had this thought.
Think of a character’s journey as a journey of change. Nothing new so far.
If you look at both the Inner and Outer Journey of a film story as defined in terms of ‘change’, you’ll see they are structured identically.
I remembered this review of HANCOCK, where the critic pointed out that early in the movie we realise Hancock is a character who needs redemption. He needs to change. Like Bill Murray’s character in GROUNDHOG DAY, Robert Downey Junior’s character in IRON MAN, Bob in THE INCREDIBLES or THELMA AND LOUISE. Or pretty much any hero in any successful movie. They’re all transformational.
In every movie with a character arc, first there is a more or less visible ‘need for change’.
In this first sequence of many successful films, we see the hero’s flawed behaviour. We understand: this character needs to change in order to find happiness, an emotional or psychological balance, to realise a full life.
Then the Inciting Incident happens. Almost always AFTER we understand the character’s inner problem, that ‘need for change’.
Pondering over this, I started mapping it out over the 3-Act time line and I came to an interesting conclusion: the character journey, whether it is Inner or Outer, has three stages:
1. the need for change (a situation of conflict)
2. the journey of change (obstacles and increased conflict)
3. the result of change (conflict resolved, new situation)
Let’s look how these three stages play out over the inner and outer journey:
INNER JOURNEY (that which brings change to the character’s behaviour)
1. the need for change: opening until inciting incident (halfway Act One)
2. the journey of change: from inciting incident until crisis (end Act Two)
3. the result of change: conflict resolved, new situation (halfway to end of Act Three)
OUTER JOURNEY (that which brings change to the world)
1. the need for change: inciting incident until end of Act One
2. the journey of change: from beginning of Act Two until Resolution
3. the result of change: from Resolution to end of movie
Stages 1. and 3. are much clearer in terms of their visible clues about the change. The second stage (mostly Act Two) is murkier. It is a gradual change, which is a matter of ups and downs, victories and defeats.
The 2nd act Inner Journey is largely defined by the mid point.
Because the Inner Journey is weaker in this act, the mid point (the “S” in the middle on the pic.) keeps the story in balance.
Let’s have a look what this would look like on the 3-Act time line:
The vertical lines are the act breaks, the crosses are Inciting Incident and Climax/Resolution.
So we can conclude the following:
Inner & Outer Journey are identical, only shifted in time.
The meaning of this timeshift is simply the following:
In order to get what s/he wants, the Hero must first transform.
It may not be a new view at story structure, but I haven’t seen this approach anywhere else.
Try it, it may work for you.
Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in acquisition, development and production. He has trained students worldwide, and worked with half a dozen Academy Award nominees. Karel speaks more European languages than you have fingers on your left hand, which he is still trying to find a use for in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The languages, not the fingers.