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.

One thought on “Structure of a Scene, Part Two – Motivation Reaction Units

  1. Hi there!

    I apologize for not responding before now. For some reason your comment(s) went into my spam folder. 🙁 Sorry about that!

    Thank you so much for the kind words and encouragement!! And I’m happy to hear you’ve found something to mark and come back to in the future.

    I didn’t make my site myself. I actually use Blogger ( for this particular site, and so the background is one of their standards that are available to bloggers for use. The pic at the top and the blog title are what I created though. I did that manually via PowerPoint. I’ve got an actual site purchased that isn’t based off of Blogger. I just need to get together with my web designer (AKA: Husband) to get it set and ready for launch. I’ll probably still use Blogger for that part of the site though.

    Thanks again for finding my site, stopping by, and commenting! I truly appreciate it!

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