Today we’ll continue our investigation into “Motivation-Reaction Units” — also known as MRUs. As I’ve been doing for the past week, we’ll critique a real passage posted by one of my loyal blog readers.
Thank you so much for this study of MRUs Randy. I’ve gone over the opening of my novel and revised it with MRUs in mind. I believe there are three MRUs in here, but may be completely deluded. If you have to laugh, please stuff a pair of socks in your mouth first, to save my feelings! Here goes:
“Sweet to tongue and sound to eye …”.
She was motionless outside Trocadéro metro station, looking up the steps towards the entrance to the musée de l’Homme. How had she landed here? She should have been miles away, in the Quartier Latin, heading towards the rue St Andre des Arts, to the gallery.
… wood, horn, bone, feather, thread of gut … Again, the peculiar sensation of being not herself, but her double – Laura looking into Laura. This time ‘she’ was seeing, reflected back from the blackness of her pupil, a halo. On the halo’s inner rim was a web from which tiny random drops of light were suspended. Laura recognised and remembered.
It wasn’t spider silk and the drops of light were beads. It was a made-up web – made to trap dreams, bad dreams. In the dark of the night nightmares would lose their way, bewildered by and thus ensnared in the web’s intricate cyclic pattern, condemned to execution by the touch of the first ray of daybreak.
It was a dreamcatcher. Dreamcatchers kept dreamers safe. Only good dreams could pass through the hole at the centre of the web. Four bouquets of feathers – symbols for spirit and thought – dangled from the bottom of the wooden hoop from which this particular snare was fashioned and the whole swayed hypnotically in an air-conditioned breeze. A pendulum, to remind that time was running out? It had long hung above the door to Le Café de l’Homme, the restaurant inside the museum.
The sun flooded her eyes. A flock of birds emerged from a dark stale mouth, flew into her face – a lunchtime crowd in flight from the station exit. There was a fluttering dispersal as they circumnavigated the unexpected island of her body, regrouped on the other side to move onwards as a single host once more.
“Sweet to tongue and sound to eye …”
The words were dusted across the fine blonde hairs on the back of her neck. She didn’t react, didn’t turn to seek the owner of the voice. She knew there’d be no-one there, or at least, no-one visible to her naked eye.
Randy sez: Wow, this was so good I didn’t really notice where Motivations and Reactions began and ended on the first reading. I’m going to guess, because we’re coming into this passage without much context, that the Motivations are the following:
1) “Sweet to tongue and sound to eye …”.
2) … wood, horn, bone, feather, thread of gut …
3) “Sweet to tongue and sound to eye …”
The Reactions are everything else, if I’ve understood this passage correctly. If I’ve parsed this right, then the only suggestion I have to make is to put a paragraph break after Motivation #2. That would make clearer the distinction between Motivation and Reaction. And the reason for wanting to make that distinction is so that the reader knows when to identify with the character and when not to.
This is a fine piece of writing. What can I say, other than, “Well done, Ann!”
Lynn Squire says
Interesting writing Ann, and thanks for the clarification Randy. With as much narrative in this writing I thought perhaps it might be considered more telling than showing, but I see by looking at it from an MRU perspective that it truly is showing. I’m probably not making sense here, but I’ve gotten the impression in the past that so much description is a no-no. Of course this is probably somewhat genre specific. By nature a fantasy would require more description in order to create a story world. There is a lot of intelligence in this writing – and I like that.
Parker Haynes says
Wow! Without Randy’s pointing them out I would never have seen the MRUs in this.
Ann: Beautiful! The kind of descriptive play with words that makes me want to savor each line again and again. Thanks for sharing.
Nice job, Ann. Randy’s observation of the MRUs made it easier to identify them in such a lyrical, narrative section, and therefore, easier to fit into our own work. Thanks for sharing.
This is the kind of passage that sends my analytical brain into smoking melt-down. (Is this Reaction? Or this? Are they both? Or Neither? I smell burning hair . . .)
It’s tougher to see m&r in passages that aren’t give and take dialogue and action, isn’t it? I remember in Randy’s MRU article his recomendation that if it’s not M or R, then cut it out. No matter how attached you are to that heartbreakingly beautiful prose.
But……… now I’m beginning to think that you absolutely have to make sure you understand what classifies as M & R before you start hacking!!
I am currently working on cleaning a virus from my kids’ (#@!%&!) pc. I’ve got an online tech support dude working with me on it, which is good, because I only know enough to be dangerous. I can see things in the system files that look like they don’t belong, but if I were to go deleting files without better understanding how the files work together, I could delete valuable stuff.
Randy’s analysis of Ann’s passage shows me that my understanding of MRUs is limited to the basic cut and dried examples and with that knowledge alone, it would be dangerous for me to take a machette to my wip.
I’d run into a passage like this—not like this, but in the sense that it has extended portions of description, bits of explanation/inner monologue, etc, and probably think I needed to rewrite it into cleaner, more clearly defined MRUs, which totally would ruin this piece, and could make a mess of my story and hack up my style.
Beautiful writing, Ann, and thanks for sharing, Randy. I don’t think I’ll delete anything I suspect lacks MRU now until I get some professional help.
Robert Treskillard says
I didn’t get to read your blog yesterday because I was going on 4 hours sleep. Now that I’ve read it, all I can say is, WOW! I had never caught the concept of “The Author-Reader Contract” before and so what you said makes perfect sense. Thanks!
Karla Akins says
Well, I thought I was lost before. Now I know I am. Somebody find me, please.
Sorry, Randy, this is kind of off topic, but I lost your e-mail….
I have a part in my story where after being deep in the woods, my characters travel to a big city subway station. Should I show all this traveling if there’s no conflict in it? Also, should I summarize the fact that they traveled in a paragraph or so at the beginning of the subway scene? If not, should I allude to it throught other things (ex. the main characters rides there on the back of a motorcycle; i was thinking that i could say that her legs were sore from the long ride).
Thanks Randy! I guess if you don’t want to post the answer on your blog (once again, off topic) you could e-mail me.
Thanks a ton and thanks for all the great writing tips!!!
Sorry, one more thing:
is there any point at which not telling the reader about traveling becomes excessive. I know it can work the other way around, but it seems like just having the characters be one place and another place the next chapter would confuse the reader….
For the 1000th time: thanks!
Ann, that was a delightful piece of writing. I look forward to reading the whole thing one day in the not too distant future, I hope.
Ann Isik says
And all! I’ve only just managed to read this as I am on hols in Loire Valley and in the Office de Tourisme in Tours but I didn’t want it to appear like I’d not valued this input. I will consider all comments back home, but thanks so much Randy and the rest of you!