Stringing Words Together and MRU's

No matter what you are writing, you have to put words one after the other. A few things first.


Repetition is boring. You need to vary sentence length, structure and the words within. That means don’t start multiple sentences in a row with the same word. I love triplicates in everything, absolutely obsessed with them, but don’t shame the triplicate by using the same word three times in a row to start a sentence.


When you read others’ work, or your own, you’ll likely start to notice that if you use the same word even twice in the same or neighboring paragraphs it slows you down a little. It can create an instant comparison between two things, but if you do it for humor you need to space them out, so the comparison hits harder.


That gets me to the next part of repetition. For a story to be interesting it has to have modality. I view modality in stories on three different layers. The plot, the scene and the prose. It is actually good repetition; in a way we all understand. Modality is the motion of an oscillating wave, of a fish’s tail winding back and forth or the steady repeating rhythm of the bass in the background of the song.


We as humans like motion, activity, and we LOVE predictable motion. I could correlate that to our love of being right, but I’m not a psychologist. Right now, I’m going to talk about the modality and the motion in the prose level of your story. How to make words flow and it is actually really simple.


I was introduced to the term ‘Motivation Reaction Units’ and though I deviate a little from the concept in practice now it was almost entirely how I wrote my initial stories.


Let’s go through the structure of a motivation reaction unit and then we’ll start stringing them together and talk about how they can be expanded or collapsed depending on your genre expectations and for situational emphasis. No story is complete without EXTERNAL motivation. Something always happens. A bush rustles, the sun peeks over the trees to a new day or the stupid rooster crows and wakes our characters.


That’s the first part, something EXTERNAL is happening. We’ll return to this, but it has to be external to your POV character.


The next step is really easy. Your character or characters have an INTERNAL reaction. It might be a description they make of the sight of the sunrise, or it might be a thought as they think about what to do. They don’t DO it yet. That’s what comes next.

So, something happens, our character has an internal reaction and then they are going to externalize said reaction into an action. It could be a spoken thought; it could be an action or a chain reaction. But now we are going to have our character do something. This is the best part because their action is going to change the world. It’s a drop in water and there are going to be ripples as to what happens next.


You as the writer get to steer the course.


That ripple is going to cause another external motivator. Your character jumps away from the bush, he makes noise, and something pops out. Your character sighs from seeing the sunset and catches a passerby’s attention. Their action MUST change the world and create the next external motivation. That spirals into internal reaction and then external action that once again flows back into external motivation.


This starts to flow back and forth and back and forth, slowly undulating and carrying the reader through your words. It creates modality on the prose level that turns into momentum keeping your reader grounded in the story and their eyes moving while wheels turn in their head. It is the power behind the narrative driving it forward one word at a time.


Now that you understand the basic concept, let’s jump directly with how to play with it. What’s the point of adding a new tool if you don’t get to play with it and break it in? Personally, I do at times swap the internal reaction and the external reaction. In dialog particularly I like to lead with the spoken words. That might just be a me thing.


But in MRUs you have several things you can play with, and you already know all of them too!


First, the external motivation. If you want to pull the reader away from your character for any reason, you can expand the external motivation, describe it with more words, make it bigger or grander to shift the reader’s focus to that for a longer period. You still must flow back to your internal and external reactions, but you can be scant there and jump back to your larger external motivation to keep the focus on what’s happening outside the POV entity.


Next you can expand your internal motivation for times you want to draw out emotional responses from the reader. Not just at the moment of the emotion, but leading up to it you can better seat your reader in the POV character’s mind by having them spend more time in there so they can empathize with what is going on with the character.

     Sometimes this is differentiated such as calling it ‘close third person’ or other similar terms. The internal motivation I also find is a critical role in making your character personality, not just what he did, but why he did it, is almost more important to many readers.


Yet if you are in a moment where actions speak louder than words we can expand on our external reactions, turning his blade at the last second to not hurt the masked figure might say a lot more about his mental state than him debating if he should really kill them. These are your decisions as the writer to make. If you are aware of the techniques and their results you can better understand a passage, why it may not be working and how to fix it.


Overall, the number of times you complete an MRU cycle in a period of text determines the pacing for that section. Is it fast, a hard staccato as blades clash and reactions reign king, or is it a slow savoring of a brotherly bond with someone you’ve fought side by side with to create a deeper emotion between the two characters?


You decide.


Now that you understand the tool, use it, play with it and decide where it belongs in your author toolbox. Most importantly, start to see it in what you read and how MRUs are used. Some of you might think that this is simple, and the basics certainly are. People like patterns and this is one of the patterns you can use to help people understand what you are saying.


It’s like math. I say math and you immediately think 1+1 does equal 2. But that’s only Euclidean math, the common math we all use to talk about numbers. There are a whole uncountable number of different types of math. But if you want to explain anything to many people you use basic, Euclidean math because that’s the common language we all use and a pattern we all immediately expect to see. If I start talking hyperbolic geometry when I say math, everyone’s confused.


MRUs are the foundation, the common language that everyone understands as to make communication easier. If things are written well, they should foremost be easily understood so you can communicate your brilliant story to your reader without misunderstandings.

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