Sam’s MRUs

In my last blog entry, I continued a critique of a section posted by Katie. I think we all agreed that her revision was a bit better than the original.

Gina asked this question:

Just when I thought I was getting this, I hit a speed bump. Can’t a thought (which I’m assuming is rational speech, but could be wrong) come BEFORE a feeling or reflex? In my example below it’s the thought that causes the feeling. Putting the feeling before the thought (which caused the feeling) seems out of order. What am I not getting about MRUs?

Ex:
I waved at him, but he focused on herding the students to their desks. What if I was forced to listen to a detailed lecture on forensics? The all too familiar agita churned.

Randy sez: If the feeling is more natural after the thought, then put it there. In this case, you have a Reaction (“I waved at him”) followed in the same sentence by a Motivation which is told in narrative summary (“he focused on herding the students to their desks.”) I would recommend splitting this Motivation out into its own paragraph and showing it.

Then you have a new Reaction in two sentences. Let’s look at each of them in turn. The first part of the Reaction is interior monologue, which is a rational act: “What if I was forced to listen to a detailed lecture on forensics?”

This is good so far, but now you’re worried about the sentence that follows: “The all too familiar agita churned.” This is an emotive Reaction, but what is it reacting to? The answer is that it’s reacting to the POV character’s own interior monologue. So it has to come after the interior monologue. You’ve got the emotive response in the only place it’ll work.

Now let’s turn to the sample segment posted by Sam a few days ago:

“Hey, I think they’re making out” Tim exclaimed.
“Let’s scare them” said Chuck, matching the same mischeveous smile that Tim had.
As they walked through the trees, the moonlight allowed a good view of the inside of the car. The car began to shake and rock as the noises became louder. Chuck looked back at Tim and tried to supress his laughter.
A Scream pierced the night air. The car stopped rocking. Chuck and Tim were suddenly frozen in place.
The passenger door opened and a woman’s body fell out onto the ground.
Tim stared at the body; Chuck at the man who was closing the car door.

Randy sez: I’m going to guess the genre here is Young Adult horror or suspense or something similar. The Point of View character appears to be Chuck, but I don’t think you are fully in Chuck’s head, for reasons we’ll see when we analyze each MRU in turn.

Motivation #1: “Hey, I think they’re making out” Tim exclaimed.

Reaction #1: “Let’s scare them” said Chuck, matching the same mischeveous smile that Tim had.

Randy sez: This is OK so far. It’s not completely clear who is the POV character here, but this would be clear in the context of the whole passage and so it’s not necessary to make it obvious in every MRU. The usual ways to let the reader know who’s the POV is by mentioning thoughts or feelings of one particular character. It appears that Chuck’s matching Tim’s smile might qualify here as an indicator of POV. But let’s move on:

Motivation #2: As they walked through the trees, the moonlight allowed a good view of the inside of the car. The car began to shake and rock as the noises became louder.

Reaction #2: Chuck looked back at Tim and tried to supress his laughter.

Randy sez: This is a strong clue that Chuck is our POV character–trying to suppress his laughter. In Sam’s text, these were both in the same paragraph. It would clarify things to put a paragraph break between them (and fix the typos, which I will not do).

Motivation #3: A Scream pierced the night air. The car stopped rocking.

Reaction #3: Chuck and Tim were suddenly frozen in place.

Randy sez: Here, the reaction is sort of shared between Chuck and Tim, which deprives us from identifying strongly with either. It would be stronger to show us Chuck’s emotive reaction here. What does he FEEL?

Motivation #4: The passenger door opened and a woman’s body fell out onto the ground.

Reaction #4: Tim stared at the body; Chuck at the man who was closing the car door.

Randy sez: Once again, the Reaction is shared between Tim and Chuck. And here it’s a little fuzzy just who is the POV character. Chuck can’t know that Tim is staring at the body. Chuck at this point only knows what he is staring at.

Overall recommendation: Try to sharpen up things just a bit so that we are experiencing this terrifying scene solely through Chuck’s eyes. Show us what he sees; make us hear what he hears; and most importantly in a visceral scene like this, make us feel what he feels.

6 Comments

  1. Bryce Beattie June 17, 2008 at 9:53 pm #

    This is great practice. Dissecting the MRUs like this just seems so much easier when it’s somebody else’s story. Lumping two characters together in a reaction like that is something I really need to work on.

  2. Gina June 17, 2008 at 9:54 pm #

    Thanks Randy, that definitely clears things up, and I’m glad I’m still on track with MRUs. Definitely not there 100%, but I’m on my way!

  3. Daan Van der Merwe June 18, 2008 at 1:36 am #

    Hi Sam,

    This story sounds right up my alley. Good work!

    May I suggest the following:

    A scream pierced the night air. The car stopped rocking.

    Blood rushed through Chuck’s temples.

    The passenger door opened and a woman’s body fell out onto the ground.

    Chuck stared with horror at the sightless eyes of the woman. A man closed the car door. The bloodstained kife in his hands paralyzed Chuck.

  4. Davalynn June 18, 2008 at 8:12 am #

    Sam,

    I’m looking forward to your rewrite because I know some teenagers who would love this.

    In reading through your scene the first time, I hit a speed bump at what Randy called Reaction #3: Chuck and Tim were suddenly frozen in place. That sticky little word, “were” slowed things for me. Your verb “freeze” doesn’t need any help. Maybe you could say, “Chuck and Tim froze in place,” or simply, “They froze.” The shorter sentence increases the speed of the action, or so I learned from some guy at a conference who said he wanted to rule the world.

    Thanks for letting us learn through your hard work.

    Davalynn

  5. Carol F. June 18, 2008 at 9:54 am #

    Hi Randy,

    Been off writing a non-fiction, but I’m back to my fantasy trilogy soon. MRU’s have stumped me for years, but I think I’m beginning to understand!

    “Motivation” is anything that happens outside of the POV character.

    “Reaction” is what happens in the POV character and through his actions.

    Reactions should happen in the order we, humans, actually react: first physically–an involutary response, (Jake’s breath caught in his lungs,) then emotionally (as fear flew through his soul,) and finally we take action, (“Who’s out there?” he yelled. “Come out where I can see you!”) The reaction can omit any of these steps, but if we show them, they should be in this order, right?

    Is it this simple, or have I missed it again?

    Carol

    Randy sez: Yes, you got it!

  6. Bruce Younggreen June 18, 2008 at 10:38 am #

    Carol, It looks to me like you have just graduated to the next college grade (freshmen, sophomore, junior, senior) from wherever you were last week. (That, coming from a freshman who knows little to nothing about MRUs.)

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