Monday, February 1, 2010

TeenInklings E-Zine, Volume 7: MOTIVATION REACTION UNITS

“MRU” is a pretty technical term for such a simple concept. Some people call it Action/Reaction. Same thing. Boiled down, the writers’ purpose is to give the reader a Powerful Emotional Experience. The best way to do this is to make sure everything happens in order. Rapunzel can’t let her hair out the window before the prince calls for her. The airplane can’t fall out of the sky before the pilot shoots it down. That would be taking away the readers ability to Experience your writing! To fix these you need to break them apart into paragraphs. A Motivation paragraph where Rapunzel lets her hair out the window, and a Reaction paragraph where the prince climbs up.

There are two main parts to an MRU. The first is the Objective External Part and the second is the Internal Subjective Part, and they happen in that order. Confused yet? In human speak—Motivation and Reaction. A Motivation would be something that happens to your protagonist, like a thief putting a gun to your protagonist’s head. A Reaction would be whatever action your protagonist takes, like handing over his wallet. They need to happen this way to truly give your reader a Powerful Emotional Experience.

Let’s put on our safety goggles and dissect this ugly frog, shall we? Okay…

Motivation Paragraph:
Sir Gigglebee the Bold brandished his sword and charged Sir Lame of Nowhere.
Reaction Paragraph:
Sir Lame ducked away and slammed his visor. Time to end this. “En Garde, foolish Sir Gigglebee! Your days of boldness are at an end!” Sir Lame hefted his shield and charged.

This is one complete Unit. In good fiction, once you finish one MRU you do another, and then another, and then another… The point to remember is that first drafts are for getting the words on the paper, no matter how terrible. The real magic happens in the rewrites, so don’t worry about trying to make things perfect the first time around.

Now let’s get deep with these things—real deep. After your protagonist has been given a Motivation they need to React. A Reaction has three parts that writers say need to happen in order. Here’s the three parts:

A.) Instant reaction—snort, giggle, nod, chuckle, grin. You really don’t think about these things, you just do them. (Sir Lame ducked away and slammed his visor.)

B.) Internal feelings. Like anger bubbling to the surface or thought. (Time to end this.)

C.) Dialogue and/or action that you think about. (“En Garde, foolish Sir Gigglebee! Your days of boldness are at an end!” Sir Lame hefted his shield and charged.)

When writing your character’s reaction, you don’t need to include all three. You can use only one or two, but unless you have a very good reason not to, keep them in order. Imagine how odd it’d be to read a paragraph that starts with dialogue, then internal thought, then an instant reaction. How backward would that character feel?

Now I have to confess, I don’t always follow the Reaction Rule. The difference is that I know I’m making an error and put it in anyway. In the end I usually just restructure that error to make it correct or cut it. That’s probably for the best.

Once you get your Motivation Reaction Units correct you’ve discovered the secret to compelling fiction. Cool, huh? If you’ve got a question you’re itching to ask be sure to leave it in the comment section.

Check back next month for Volume 8


  1. Wonderful insight!

  2. Yes.... Human speak Chris... Stay down to earth ;) lol jk

    okay..... The Gigglebee example literaly had me rolling! I had to read it three times over just to get what you were saying.... I'm going to use that XD

    But to get back to the serious side of things.... Great post. They all have helped me in my writing!!!

    God bless,

    ~Cottia.... I mean Ivory :)

  3. Thanks, Shanti, KM and Mary! You guys are awesome!

    Cottia/Ivory, feel free to use it wherever you want! And thanks for reading all of these, it's encouraging to know that these are helping someone.

    God bless you, too!

  4. Great advice as always! Keep it up!

  5. Chris ... this is great stuff, and MRUs have really helped my writing.

    Are you getting this from Randy Ingermanson, who got MRUs from Dwight Swain? Maybe a credit at the end would be good.



  6. Thank you, Leighton!

    Good idea, Mr. Treskillard.

    For future readers, the term "MRU" was coined by Dwight Swain in his book, Techniques of the Selling Writer. Randy Ingermanson popularized MRUs in his famous Advanced Fiction Writing E-Zine, which I link to in my sidebar.


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