When I talk about novel structure, I talk a lot about Dwight Swain who wrote Techniques of the Selling Writer.
Swain has some really cool elemental aspects that he talks about and no, they don’t have to do with inciting incidents or the climax—at least not initially, and I thought it would be fun if we had a little series where we explored this both here on the podcast and on my Write Better Now newsletter for the next week or two.
Let’s get started!
So, think of basic elemental structure and creating your novel in four steps, and we’re going to start with step #2, but here are the four steps.
- Making cool characters.
- Grouping your sentences and paragraphs into motivation reaction units.
- Grouping those motivation reaction units into scenes and sequels.
- Grouping those scenes and sequels into story patterns.
A motivation reaction unit is all about the cause and the effect.
So Motivation Reaction Units (MRUs) are what Swain calls the smaller bits of cause and effect that happen in a story. You want the cause and effect in your story to make sense for the world and for the character. In Swain’s writing world and/or writing model the motivation is the cause and the reaction is the effect.
So a motivation is the stimulus outside your character that affects the character or makes them (causes) react.
Examples are things like:
- Turns out the character’s wife is cheating.
- Their dog jumps onto the kitchen table.
- Their teacher announces a calculus test.
- The rice on the stove catches fire.
- Someone says something.
- They trip over a hamster.
- They trip over a president.
Then the reaction happens in response to the motivation/cause.
So your character might:
- Tell his bff about the wife.
- Rush over to the kitchen table to coax the dog off.
- Pretend to be sick.
- Throw water on the rice.
- Says something back.
- Fall over the hamster.
- Get arrested for assault or be saluted as hero, who knows?
The proponents of the MRU theory/plan want to make sure that you order things in your story in a very specific way, which they believe is this:
You have to show the reader the cause before the effect or the motivation before the reaction.
Reactions are things like:
On the blog, thewritersaurus.com, H.Duke writes,
“If “Scene and Sequel” are large-scale scene structure, then “Motivation-Reaction Units” are small-scale scene structure.”
And there are three components that comprise the reaction. These are taken from AdvancedFictionwriting.com
- (involuntary) feeling
- (involuntary) physical reflex
- (voluntary) action and/or speech
I’ll have more about that in the blog/newsletter I was talking about tomorrow, so you should go check it out.
Thanks for listening to Write Better Now.
For exclusive paid content, check out my substack, LIVING HAPPY and WRITE BETTER NOW. It’s basically like a blog, but better. There’s a free option too without the bonus content but all the other tips and submission opportunties and exercises are there.