Last year I had the good fortune of getting into Michael Hague’s “Identity and Essence” workshop at the Romance Writers of America (RWA) national conference. I was sitting on the floor, crammed in at the front of the room (in a dress), taking notes on my phone with a Bluetooth keyboard. It was totally worth the discomfort.
The main takeaway of the session was the Identity to Essence character arc in romance. I’m going to try to distill this concept into just a few paragraphs.
At the beginning of the story, the characters are operating out of identity. Identity signifies the masks they show the world. The reader can see how right the character are for each other, but because they’re living in identity, they cannot connect.
Essence is who the characters truly are beneath the masks they show the world. In order to have an HEA (happily ever after), they much connect on the level of essence. But it’s not easy to discard the masks and let oneself be truly seen. It’s uncomfortable and scary to be so vulnerable. The characters will fight against it, until they eventually see that they cannot have what they want (love with the other person) as long as they are clinging to their identities. They must release the masks and live in essence if they are going to have an HEA.
Over the course of the romance, your lead characters will go from identity to essence. At first they’ll fight it. Then they’ll get a taste of how good their lives can be if they release the masks. But then they’ll hit a moment where they retreat into identity – it’s too scary to be seen. Finally, they’ll realize that their lives will be better together, and in order for that to happen, they must embrace living in essence. So they do. The end. Happily Ever After.
Do you think you’ll be able to use this in your writing? What sort of character arcs do you tend to use?