Friday, August 1, 2014

Use MRUs

What are motivation reaction units (MRUs?


In writing fiction, for every action, there must be an equal reaction.


If we write, “He caught the ball,” we must have before that, someone throwing or batting a ball.



            Action or motivation for reaction
The batter held steady then swung with ease, but the ball sailed over the head of the second baseman and curved to the middle ground uncovered by the defense.

From center field, the player ran, did a cartwheel, and scooped up the ball. The play was a feast for the baseball-lover’s eyes.



The second paragraph (reaction) would be incomplete without motivation (the first paragraph).


In like manner, the first paragraph (motivation) must have the second paragraph (the reaction).




If someone pushes the button of the point of view character, make sure that character reacts.


If someone swings a hammer and hits your hand, I’ll guarantee, you’re going to at least say, “ouch.”


Try this exercise:


Across my path stood the biggest brown grizzly I’d ever seen.


     Write the next paragraph.


     I was given this exercise. Here’s mine.

     Tiny hairs stood out on the back of my neck. My legs froze at the same time I stopped breathing. I swooshed in some air and yelled. “Help.”



How did you do?




The order of the motivation and reaction.

The motivation and reaction must be in the right order. The center fielder wouldn’t catch that ball before it was batted his way. Neither would you yell “ouch” before the hammer struck your hand.


The order of the reaction.

Back to the button-pushing



     Motivation or button being pushed –

 The character sits on a tack.


That character reacts in this order:

1.                            Feeling – The character has no control. It just happens.

2.                            Action – The character has some control.

3.                            Speech – The character can control this.



Go back to my exercise above.

     Tiny hairs stood out on the back of my neck. My legs froze. “Help.”

Feeling – Tiny hairs stood out on the back of my neck.


This happens without my control. I can't stop it. The same can be said of any visceral feeling. I break out in a sweat. My breathing becomes labored.


     Action – I froze.


     Perhaps, I have some control over this action but not much. The same can be said if I write, “I ran for camp,” or "I pulled out my knife."


     Speech – “Help.”


     This, I control. Dialogue doesn’t come without me consciously doing it.

Not only must the reaction come after the motivation, but the reaction must come in the proper order.

You may not have all three.


No feeling


She sat on a tack. (motivation)

She jumped to her feet. (action)

She screamed. (speech) 


Notice here there is no feeling. However, the action must still come before the speech.


 No action


The bear appeared on the path. (motivation)

Tiny hairs stood out on the back of his neck. (feeling)

“Help.” (speech)


No speech

He threw the ball to right field. (motivation)

Perspiration poured from his brow. (feeling)

He slid and caught the ball. (action)


Notice that even with only 2 parts, the reaction still comes in the proper order; feeling, action, and speech.



Of course, if your reaction is only one part, there is no order.


Example of that:


He threw the ball to right field. (motivation)

He slid and caught the ball. (The reaction is only action, no feeling, no speech.)



For advanced study on this topic, go to Randy Ingermanson (the snowflake guy) He's the expert on MRUs.
Here's the link:


 Two more that write effectively about MRUs are Camy Tang and Dwight Swain.
Have you checked your fiction for MRUs? What if it strengthens your novel?

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