Today we’ll be looking at a passage posted by my loyal blog reader, Daan. As we’ve been doing for the past week, I’ll analyze those pesky “Motivation-Reaction Units”. But first, a couple of quick questions came up today:
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).
Randy sez: No. Maybe. Maybe.
Julie asked another question:
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….
Randy sez: Maybe.
If the reader can figure out the transitions, then let her do so. If she needs to know, then tell her. But a lot of times, she really doesn’t care. If there is no conflict during the journey, then there’s really no point in dwelling on it.
Daan posted this segment:
“I don’t no why everybody is bleating about the crime statistics in South Africa,” Tim said. “Two weeks ago the Minister of Safety and Security labelled the escalation of crime as one of the legacies of apartheid. We all know that Mr Deputy.”
Simon shifted in his chair. Complacent fool! The old political face saving crap. If one of those political bigshots would contract haemerroids, he is sure to blame it on apartheid.
The Deputy Director frowned. “So far you are not being exactly helpful Tim. We are looking for solutions here, not excuses.”
Simon nodded his head, grinning.
“Let’s hear what young Simon here has to say.” the Deputy said.
“Thank you Sir. During the past few weeks I gave all these issues a great deal of thought.”
“Yeah?” Tim sneered. “And what brilliant conclusions did you arrive at Mr. Rodin Skosana?”
“Watch yourself Timothy,” Simon said. “Just because I have ten times more brains than you, doesn’t mean you have to be rude to me.”
Randy sez: I’m confused. There are at least 3 people in this scene, or as many as 5. Here are the ones I can identify:
2) Minister of Safety and Security
3) The Deputy Director
5) Rodin Skosana
The larger problem here is that everybody is being quite rude to each other and I don’t know why. Simon is the POV character, and I should presumably like him. But right now, I’m not sure if I do. Simon is as rude as the others, and I don’t know enough to know whether his scorn for the others is justified.
I think the passage would read better if the arrogance were toned down a bit. I’m thinking right now of a scene late in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE in which Lady Catherine shows up at Lizzie Bennett’s house late at night and demands to know the truth of rumors that Lizzie is soon to wed Lady Catherine’s nephew, Mr. Darcy. The entire conversation is, on one level, mannerly and civil. But beneath the surface, it’s war. This is called subtexting. I would like to see a bit more subtexting in Daan’s scene.
OK, loyal blog readers! What do you think? Am I right here, and if so, how would you rewrite this to be more civil and yet the same level of conflict?
Daan Van der Merwe says
As always, I appreciate your comments and I highly respect your opinion. However, With all due respect and in all modesty, I think you are a bit harsh here.
There are indeed three characters in the seen.
1. The Deputy Director
2. Tim Sutherland
Ah, Lady Catherine and her serious displeasure.
I’m picking out what I think Daan is trying to convey here. Bear with me, I’m slow.
Simon wants to do more than talk about apartheid and has no use for Timothy or more importantly, his politics.
Tim is threatened by Simon’s intelligence, but probably more than that; his obvious youthful energy and desire to actually do something, which I suspect is a threat to Tim. I wonder if Tim is going to be a bigger threat later for Simon.
If Simon is young, idealistic and driven to make a change for the better, then he has no need to rise to Tim’s pettiness and has nothing to prove. It seems a little immature for him to point out that he’s smarter. (unless he is really young…)
Subtlety from Simon at the end would speak much louder. Like calmly answering Tim’s question and sharing his brilliant conclusions, which could be a more effective way to shut the guy up. Tim’s rudeness will be evident without any help from Simon.
Sorry, I analyze, and couldn’t come up with actual examples. I hate to mess with other people’s voice.
Daan Van der Merwe says
Sorry! I am not finished! I don’t know what happened. 🙂
The Deputy Dirctor (of Public Prosecution) is in the middle of a meeting with his assistants, amongst whom are Simon and Tim. The topic is the crime situation in South Africa which is in fact a very serious and sad reality.
The Minister of Safety and Security is nowhere in the scene. His ridiculous justification of the crime situation (which was also a highly controversial reality a few years ago), is quoted by Tim. Tim is indeed a slack, lazy and incompetent man. I am not rude towards Tim. The sad reality is that we find these kind of men all over the world and it is for this reason that Simon, our hero, feels nothing but contempt for his colleague.
I don’t think the Deputy is rude to Tim by simply pointing out that he is not helpful. It is shown (not told) that Simon agrees (quite rightly) with the Deputy that the time for excuses is gone. Either solutions are found or the Becried and Beloved Country will be just another Zimbabwe within the next five years.
Please also note that Simon’s rude reaction to Tim’s rude (and uncalled for) question, is a retaliation in kind. I realise that it is wrong to retaliate in stead of turning the other cheek, but our hero is also human.
Rodin is the sculptor of the famous sculpture, “The Thinker”, and calling Simon as such, is part of Tim’s rudeness towards Simon.
I realise that without reading the story before this scene, it may well be confusing but I was concentrating on MRU’s and I really tried to limit the M’s and R’s to three.
Daan Van der Merwe says
Thank you for your helpful comments Camille. Yes, Simon surely doesn’t need to retaliate in kind. But you know, (sorry Grammar Police!) one of the many great articles that I have read in the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zines, had the title “Dialogue is War!”
Carrie Neuman says
I don’t know how it works in politics, but in any company I’ve worked for, the patronizing “young Simon” bit would be an age discrimination complaint waiting to happen. The guy running things should know better.
I also cringed a bit when Simon announces how smart he is. The only people I’ve ever heard do that are the ones who aren’t as smart as they think they are.
Both of those could be deliberate choices on your part. If Simon’s greatest flaw is arrogance, than it works. If the boss doesn’t know what professional behavior looks like, it explains a lot about the scene.
I just wanted to join the many others who have thanked you for this topic. I have been continuing to work on my novel, and already, many times, I’ve written something, read it back, felt it wasn’t quite right and then discovered a nasty little ‘as’ allowing the reaction to come before the motivation. While correcting these has challenged me at times, inevitably, I’m happier in the end, and the theory of MRUs is helping me to see what’s going wrong.
I’m sure I still have a lot to learn, but thanks for taking the time to explain these things to us. I’m loving this, and I’m looking forward to whatever comes next!
Pam Halter says
It be easier for me to understand what’s going on if I knew the story from the beginning, but I agree with Randy in that everyone seems very testy. Not a bad thing, but hard to understand without a previous look at the characters.
It would also be easier to know how many characters are in the scene if they were established and therefore, you wouldn’t need to go back and forth between their names and titles. You may be trying to change things up a bit, but once the reader knows who is who, it’s simpler to keep with their names.
I’m saying all this without any kind of knowledge of political goings on.
I have to add that I loved when Tim said he didn’t know why everyone was “bleating” about the crime statistics. Great verb that I would not have thought to use and creates a good visual. Good job, Daan!
Parker Haynes says
Although I found this segment confusing on the first pass, I suspect that is due to not having read the story up to this point. Also, my lack of insight into the political goings on in South Africa may account for my confusion. Here again, had I started reading at page 1, it might all be clear. Same with Randy’s perception of rudeness. Not knowing your characters, I don’t know if this is “in character” or not.
Rodin – The Thinker. I didn’t make the connection until your explanation in your comment, but I never knew his last name.
I personally appreciate what I see as your attempt, (I think) as an author, to challenge the political status quo. But then I’m one of those oddballs who thinks quality fiction should provide more than just entertainment.
Daan Van der Merwe says
Pam and Parker, thank you very much for your comments and constructive critique. I sincerely appreciate it.
DC Spencer says
(OK, Randy, I’m going to give this a try.)
You had me immediately with the first comments, and I joined the scene as I read. Detail: add a comma in front of “Mr. Deputy” in the first graph.
Personally, I appreciated Simon’s sense of humor and silent disdain for the political big shots. Add a hyphen between face and saving: face-saving. (Is this correct, Randy? I know it would be in journalism.)
When Simon says, “Thank you, Sir.” (add comma before Sir) I wanted to “see” his body language. Add something here, some little movement, it doesn’t have to be big, maybe even a glance. His physical language may say something different than his spoken language.
Personally, I would leave out the sneering Tim at this point. It appears that these men are all professionals, and may think what they like. However, to speak so disrespectfully is a bit much, as Randy pointed out. Of course we don’t know the whole story, but Tim’s remarks – as well as Simon’s about brains – distracts from the issue at hand. I already know what Simon thinks of these men. What does he think about the problem they are discussing? He’s been asked for his opinion – let’s have. Later, you can add more scathing mental commentary.
Finally, I’m guessing Simon is Mr. Rodin Skosana (and not really the Brit on American Idol). I don’t know if this is a real historical person that Tim is comparing Simon to, or if Simon is a nickname. My apologies if he’s a real SA figure that I should know about.
This sounds like an interesting story.
PS – I submitted my comments prior to reading the others due to a time crunch here. Sorry for any repetition.
The English police are showing up again! But before they cut loose, let me say that I loved the word bleating. It gave the connotation of idiots talking about they-knew-not-what.
I gather that this is a first draft, since you implied that you produced it just for this exercise in MRU’s. I LOVED the African scene. Those of us who have lived in Africa are “with you” from the start. I would READ this novel. Please don’t stop writing it.
Oh oh! Here come the English Police in earnest!
1) The word “no” in the first line should be “know.”
2) Use a comma before addressing someone. Before:
Mr. Deputy in paragraph one,
Sir in paragraph six,
Mr. Rodin Skosana in paragraph seven, and
Timothy in paragraph eight.
I’m sure you know this. Just a reminder.
Putting “Rodin” in quotes might have helped those of us who didn’t know who he was.
3) I agree with Randy that there seemed to be five characters, so that needs to be clarified.
4) Too much mud-slinging for an opener. The mud-slinging might be easier to take if we could see Simon’s inner burn at Tim’s remarks; his trying to control retaliation and not being able to do so. I agree with Carrie that Simon’s remarks about his own intelligence put me off.
5) As to MRU’s — I’m learning like you are.
I think these “problems” with this draft would have been cleared up had you taken it, first, to a writers’ group. If there isn’t one near you, why don’t you start one — or join a critique group or forum on-line.
Great start, Daan. Keep writing this one!
David A Todd says
I haven’t figured out the whole MRU thing. I’ve read what R.I. has to say about these, and have been following the recent posts, but somehow it’s not clicking for me. So I can’t address this in terms of effective use of MRUs.
But I agree with Randy. This passage left me hopelessly confused. Possibly predecessor paragraphs (not included herein) provides the explanation. But these paragraphs as presented do not provide clarity. I like the snarkiness of the dialog, but how many people are in the scene? I sort of figured out that Simon and Rodin Skosana were the same person. But I can’t really tell that Tim and Simon are peers, meeting with their boss and a bunch of other peers. As I say, possibly previous paragraphs have made that clear. If previous paragraphs don’t describe who is in the meeting, you probably need something to say others were in the room. Maybe they squirmed in their seats due to the sharp exchange between Simon and Tim.
About whom does Simon make the complacent fool remark? Tim? The deputy director? The director? This is not clear to me.
Also, I’m not sure having Simon nod in the middle of the deputy’s dialog is good, unless you say the deputy noticed this, and that’s why he called on Simon to hear his views, as opposed to all the others in the room.
Daan Van der Merwe says
DC, Sylvia and David. I am indebted to you for your very helpful comments and suggestions. Thank you very much.
Thanks a lot for answering my question, Randy! It really clears things up.
Karla Akins says
Clear as mud. But at least I’m trying to get it. I’m hoping eventually the fog will clear.
I agree with all the “language police” comments, of course. This is an easy fix, though, and I will not dwell upon it too much, except to point out that the word should be spelled “haemorrhoids” (or, in the USA, “hemorrhoids”), and that “big shot” is not one word.
So, the rudeness:
Clearly Daan is trying to convey a sense of “un-collegial collegiality” here 🙂 – i.e. a group of colleagues who does not really get along, but has to work together, anyway. It comes across quite well, I think.
Simon’s disdain for his colleagues is obvious – and well “shown.”
True, some of Simon’s thoughts must be tuned down, as Randy pointed out.
Perhaps the second paragraph could read something like:
Simon shifted in his chair, determined not let the complacency and obvious political face-saving get to him. But . . . man! If one of these political big shots should contract hemorrhoids, he was sure to blame THAT on apartheid, too!
And, yes, the allusion to Rodin IS a bit hazy – even for the reader who IS familiar with the sculptor. Perhaps something like a simple “Mr. Simon “The Genius” Skosana” could convey the same intent without the mild confusion?
Also, I do not think it is necessary to say that it is Simon’s “head” that he nodded. I mean, what else would he nod? Also, in this sentence, Simon’s grin seems a bit incongruous, given his mood at that moment.
So, perhaps something like:
Simon nodded, careful not to show his happiness with the Deputy’s well-aimed reprimand
“Let’s hear what young Simon here has to say.” the Deputy continued.
And, finally, Simon’s comment about having ten times Tim’s brains.
I agree with Camille’s and Carrie Neuman’s comments.
Simon would come across way more authentic (AND brilliant) if his interaction with Tim were a bit more subtle and a bit less self-congratulatory. Perhaps something like”
“Manners, Timothy,” Simon showed his teeth in a mirthless grin. “No need to get personal. Rudeness is a sure sign of one’s inability to debate on a mature level.”
Hope you find my comments helpful, Daan. I like the scene and the setting. As quite a few of your other friendly critics mentioned, this sounds like a story worth reading.