Tune-In Tuesday: Hail to the King

Welcome to a new installment of Tune-In Tuesday!

This week’s song is the title track to the new album from Avenged Sevenfold (A7X)–“Hail to the King”. When I first heard this tune, I automatically thought about J.R. Ward’s BDB series. I mean, come on, the next book due out in this series is, “The King”.

BUT…

I then thought about my current WIP–you know, the one I’m sloooowly revising and editing but will have completely polished and ready for submission by December 1st? Yes, RETRIBUTION. When that story came to mind, I listened to this tune again … and again … and again, and this song gave me such fantastic inspiration that when I arrived home, I locked myself in my writing cave and began writing his scene. A scene where we first get to see him behind the mask he shows everyone else. A scene where my skin crawled and I had to take a break because I couldn’t keep myself inside his head for too long.

For me, that’s not only a fantastic antagonist to write, but “Hail to the King” is a fantastic song for writing inspiration. 🙂

Enjoy!

 

 

Structure of a Scene, Part Two – Motivation Reaction Units

I feel like Sheldon during A-ha moments 🙂

Last week I shared my ‘A-ha!’ moment with Scene & Sequel. It’s one to read, read, read on a particular topic until it’s in your brain, but it’s entirely another to be shown said topic and actually understand it.
 
 
Hmm….I do think that was a classic Show vs. Tell example! *smiles*
 
 
Anyway, so back to Motivation Reaction Units (MRU), another fun technique I learned about in Margie Lawson’s Deep Editing Course. MRU’s are basic Stimulus/Response patterns. Margie included in her lecture this informative post by Randy Ingermanson (the ‘Snowflake Guy’) to help drive home the lesson. Randy refers to this particular set as the small scale structure of a scene. In other words, you’ve set up the Scene & Sequel, and now you have to write the smaller stuff, the actual sentences and/or paragraphs that make up the scenes.
 
 
Stimulus/Motivation we know. It’s taking something from our POV, dropping a bombshell on them, or kicking the crap of them (most times when they’re down). But the Response/Reaction is what I really want to address in detail today.
 
 
The Response/Reaction shows what the character’s made of. Below is the three-part reaction I learned from Margie’s easy breakdown, and the example listed next to each part is the first thing I pictured in my head that helped it remove its shoes and stay for the long-haul in my brain.
 
 

Three-Part Reaction

Emotional Response – This is the involuntary visceral response your POV has the moment the Stimulus happens. It’s their heart pounding, blood boiling, bones jolting, chest breathing harshly, knees giving out, etc. Whatever involuntary reaction you can think of that happens as a result of a jolt of emotion going through them. This needs to be first. If you just found out your spouse was cheating on you, would your heart pound before or after any other reaction, like ‘come again?’? Before, right? Your heart would ­da-dum in your chest before the words left your mouth. This grasps your reader and pulls them deeper into your character’s POV.
 
 
The Reflex – Let’s go back to the Stimulus I stated in the Visceral Response section. You’ve discovered your spouse has been cheating on you. After your heart lets out that loud thud, what do you do next? Hit the wall? Hit your spouse (woman only)? Stomp your foot? Snap your hand over your mouth to keep from screaming? THAT’s what comes next in POV’s Response. Feeling first, Reaction second.
 
 
Action & Speech – Now that your heart’s pounded and you’ve screamed or punched a wall or whatever else you’ve done, it’s time for you talk and act! To process what you just informed, be it with short-shots of dialogue, or act on what you just heard by kicking the cheater to the curb, luggage in tow.
 
 
The Reaction of your POV character should follow this sequence and include all three responses if they were just subjected to a HUGE Stimulus. For the smaller stimuli, you may not need all three. BUT…you still need to have their Reaction/Response in this order. If not, the response will more than likely not make sense to the reader.
 
 

Checking for MRU’s in Your WIP

Now if you’re like me, you’ve already got your WIP completed. It’s been drafted and probably been put through the ringer a few times with edits and revisions. If this is where you’re at with it, then it’s time to smack it around a little more. *evil grin* Pull it back out and go through it, line by line by line. Write down every Stimulus and Response you find, pair them up. You may find you have a Stimulus without an equal Response. Or a Response without a Stimulus. You may discover that the pesky scene you couldn’t figure out for-the-life-of-you wasn’t working because it was missing the preferred order of Reactions, or it was missing either the Stimulus or the Response entirely.
 
 
MRU’s are how we should be writing Scene & Sequel. One MRU after another after another after another until the scene or the chapter is over. Then pick up the process again and again and again until the story is told. If you’re editing and you find a small section of the Scene or Sequel that isn’t an MRU then guess what? Yup, it gets the axe! It’s not needed, it’s drags the story’s tension, and takes the reader out of the story.
 
 
Easy enough, right? This is a nifty little buggar, huh?
 
 
Have you ever written or edited a scene MRU by MRU? How easy did you find this process? Is it easier for you to write like you normally would then go back and edit, looking for the MRU’s as you go along? What other advice have you read or can share about MRU’s? Have you had any “A-ha!” moments similar to this? Was it during the plotting, writing or editing phase?
 
 

*For more on Motivational Reaction Units, pick up Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. Margie Lawson refers to this book often in her lectures. Amazing book, awesome advice, unforgettable techniques.

Structure of a Scene, Part One – Scene & Sequel

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One of the awesomely cool things about taking an online writing course is the fun new ways you learn about old techniques. I love it when something you already know clicks in your head because now you fully understand the concept. And you can point out what you’ve learned in every published book you read.
 
In Margie Lawson’s Deep Editing course, she referred to an article by Randy Ingermanson (the ‘Snowflake Guy’) called, “Writing the Perfect Scene.” The sad part is I read this article a loooong time ago, but none of it clicked for some reason. So Margie shared this article and added her thoughts because it truly was the best way to understand both Scene and Sequel and Motivation Reaction Units (which I’ll cover next week)…and I got it!
 
As Randy states, a scene has a large-scale structure and a small-scale structure. The large-scale structure is Scene and Sequel; small-scale is Motivation Reaction Units.
 
And here’s how I broke it all down in my head to where it clicked:
 

Scene

In this sense, scene can also be understood as the stimulus. You open the scene stating the goal of the character. Then you create a conflict that keeps the character from obtaining it. Then the fun part comes: the disaster of being unable to reach said goal.
 
Easy enough, right?
 
I know it sounds easy, but pinpointing this in every single scene? Not so easy sometimes. There are some scenes where the goal isn’t obvious or clear to the reader. Or maybe there really isn’t a conflict there and the character goes straight from goal to disaster.
 
But as Randy states, your character has to have a goal at the helm of every scene. If they don’t have a goal then they’re simply sitting there twiddling their thumbs waiting for something to happen to them. With a goal they – and the reader – have a clear understanding of what they want so they’ll go after it. And the fun of fiction as a writer is throwing conflict their way. *evil grin* We think of everything possible to plant in front of them, to slow them down, which is great – and also known as disaster. This keeps the reader intrigued and ups the tension (yay!).
 
The best way I understood Scene was to insert myself as the character. I want to be a published author (goal). But I have to learn how to write compelling stories with knock-it-out-of-the-park plots, but it’s hard to do that when life either gets in the way or a character(s) won’t cooperate, or the muse is nowhere to be found (conflict). Then…disaster strikes! My computer goes kaput, or the plot goes to hell…or maybe I reply to MS requests and get rejections (we all know rejections can feel like disaster).
 

Sequel

Sequel is parallel to response. You’ve written your scene where your character has a clear goal, he’s going for it then gets shot down, pushed around, and trampled on by a herd of wild banshees (great visual, huh?).
 
Now it’s time for the character to react to the disaster, face the dilemma ahead of him, and make a decision that’ll allow the story to move forward.
 
Again, easy enough, right?
 
But sometimes we miss ensuring each step is represented in the sequel. We’ll have the character react but then he’ll follow that up in a quick manner with a decision. Or maybe we’ll have him look at the dilemma and make a decision but forgot to include his reaction.
 
This is where the tried and true advice of Randy comes into play. Sequels must have all three of these elements in order for them to work. No exceptions. Period.
 
In life when we’re working toward something we desperately want and get hit so hard it puts a kink in those plans, we react. We cry, scream, steam, stew, stomp, bang our heads against the wall, and sometimes threaten the worst on whatever caused the set back.
 
So why wouldn’t our characters do the same?
 
Once we’re done having a reaction, we sit back down, face the dilemma head-on, then finally come to a decision that will clear the path to getting what we ultimately want…once again.
 
Again, this can be compared to the life of a writer. We’ve gotten tons of rejections which feel like a disaster. So we react by crying, screaming, etc., etc. Then we face our dilemma: one of the rejections suggested revising a core element of our MS, so now we’re faced with the decision to change it and resubmit the query, or move on and query more agents.
 
 

I had a huge “A-ha!” moment when I got to this section in the lectures. Then I got another one when both Margie and Randy explained Motivation Reaction Units (MRU) as the small-scale structure of a scene.
 
This is what a novel is! It’s going from scene and sequel, over and over and over again until the character finally arrives at their ultimate goal. Yes, I knew the overall plot of a story was to get a character from point A to point B, and that they needed to face a series of obstacles throughout that journey. But the problem not only lies in getting the character there. It also lies with ensuring each and every scene has a goal, conflict or disaster followed by a reaction, dilemma and decision.
 
I think sometimes when we’re in the midst of writing that first draft, we just write, write, write until the bare bones are on the screen. Then it’s difficult when we go back and edit because we just can’t figure out why a scene isn’t working. And most times we’ve been told it’s the plot that’s causing a scene not to cooperate – which is true. But a way to examine this theory is to look for the Scene and Sequel, then check for the Motivation Reaction Units.
 
By having these points written on an index card and sitting on my desk, I’m constantly reminded as I write and/or edit that if I look for these elements – or include them as I’m drafting – my path to getting my WIP polished will be brighter and provide me the much-needed jolt of excitement that says, “You can do this! It’s all right there, you just have to pull it out and make it obvious!”
 
And the best part of having these elements in your WIP? If they’re there, in the right order, you’ve helped eliminate the telling…and brought on the showing. 🙂
 
HUGE kudos to both Margie and Randy for their genius in helping this finally sink in and stick!
 
Can you easily pinpoint these elements in your WIP? What other advice have you read or can share on the structure of a scene? Have you had any “A-ha!” writing moments recently? Were they during the plotting, writing or editing phase?