Last week I asked the advice of my loyal blog readers on how best to rename those pesky Motivation-Reaction Units. Thank you for all the suggestions!
A few of you expressed concern that my forthcoming book, WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES, might be too theoretical, or too focused on this or that, or too something else. All I can say is that the few comments I’ve made so far have dealt with small parts of only two of the 22 chapters. The book will cover everything that I’ve learned and taught over the last 21 years of writing, all in one handy reference. And there are some new ideas in it.
It sounds like the terminology “Objective Beats” and “Subjective Beats” is none too popular. A number of you prefer “Cause” and “Effect”. Others like “Stimulus” and “Response”. Still others prefer “Action” and “Reaction.” The issue I have with all of these is the same problem that I see with “Motivation” and “Reaction.”
That problem is that sometimes the POV character provides the Cause/Stimulus/Action/Motivation/whatever you call it. In those cases, typically a non-POV character provides the Effect/Response/Reaction/whatever.
However, just as often the situation is reversed and some other character is doing the Cause/Stimulus/Action/Motivation and the POV character is providing the Effect/Response/Reaction.
For example, consider these two beats, in which Harry is the POV character.
Harry threw a dung-bomb at Malfoy’s face, hoping he’d swallow it.
Malfoy leaped back, tripped over his own feet, and fell in a bucket of flobberworms.
In the above example, Harry provides the Cause/Stimulus/Action/Motivation and Malfoy provides the Effect/Response/Reaction.
Now consider the following two beats, in which Harry is still the POV character:
Malfoy threw a dung-bomb at Harry’s face. “Eat this!”
Harry leaped back, tripped over his own feet, and fell in a bucket of flobberworms. He desperately hoped Cho wasn’t watching.
In the above example, Malfoy provides the Cause/Stimulus/Action/Motivation and Harry provides the Effect/Response/Reaction.
A number of you like the terms “Internal Beat” (for the POV character) and “External Beat” for all other characters. And I can see your point. I haven’t written the chapter on all this yet (still finishing up the chapter on Theme), but at the moment I’m leaning to Internal and External. Thanks for all your discussion on these points! One thing is clear — it’s impossible to take everybody’s advice.
On another note, I’ve been working furiously hard on a software project, “Snowflake Pro,” which will automate all the repetitive parts of working through the Snowflake method. My current plan is to have this ready for sale by the end of the month. My daughter and I are working on four example Snowflakes that will be included with “Snowflake Pro” when it goes on sale.
“Snowflake Pro” will walk you through all the steps of analyzing your novel. At the end, the program automatically generates a skeleton of your book proposal! It fills in all parts of the proposal that you do as part of the Snowflake method, and it leaves slots for you to fill in all the other parts.
I showed an early version of “Snowflake Pro” to one of my writing friends awhile back, and the first thing she said was, “Wow, this is fun!”
More details soon . . .
“Snowflake Pro” sounds great. Now, might there be a “Snowflake Light?”
Randy sez: I’d have to think of some feature that I might delete. Right now, I can’t think of any, other than the automatic proposal creator, but I don’t think anyone will want to do without that! That’s the feature I’ll probably love the most for myself. This is a tool that I’m going to be using on every book I write from now on, because it streamlines the process so much. And every time I use it, I’ll probably think of new little features to make it go even smoother, so I’ll just update the software every time I do that. By the way, updates will be free forever.
Camille Cannon Eide says
I find in my kind of fiction that the pov character can often provide his/her own stimulus/motivation/cause thing, which would make external not always applicable, I think. Like a thought that spurs the pov to act/react. It is a motivator or stimulus, but not always external.
Just wondering will Snowflake Pro be able to be used on Mac?
Randy sez: Yes, it will run on Mac OS 10.4 and 10.5, Windows XP and Vista, and any flavor of Linux. I have been working for 20+ years as a scientific software developer, and currently work part-time as Director of Software at Vala Sciences, a biotech company in San Diego. We write our software in the Java programming language, which means that it automatically runs on any modern operating system. We deliver a different installer for Windows, Mac, and Linux, but that’s just to take care of the weirdities on each machine. I work on a Mac myself and I can reboot into Windows as necessary to test it there. Our experiences over the past several years with Java have been terrific. This is important because while Windows is still the most common machine, many biotech people like Macs and a number have large Linux clusters. (For fun, see the Vala web site here: www.ValaSciences.com.) Our software is called CyteSeer, and sells for several thousand dollars. I am happy to say that Snowflake Pro will sell for MUCH less.
You really can’t take everyone’s suggestions. Reminds me of the tale of the old man, the boy, and the donkey.
Whether the old man walks, the boy walks, both walk, neither walks, or they carry the donkey, someone will always find fault.
Stick with what resonates with you. We’ll learn your terminology — and work with that.
Let us know when Snowflake Pro is ready — hopefully very soon. I’m in the throes of writing a historical and need all, ALL the help I can get.
Snowflake Pro sounds awesome! That combined with Writing for Dummies means a big year for Randy! Congrats!
The Old Man, the boy, and the donkey!?! I just read that story to my daughter last night!
The Snowflake Pro sounds great!
I would hope you woud put in some details and examples on how to use Excel spreadsheets to plan writing.
That would be something not covered in other writing books. And something with your science background you would be especially expert in.
Thanks for an excellent blog.
So now Randy, all you need to do is find a new term for Powerful Emotional Experience; so the new term will have a better acronym!
As I was reading through this post I thought of Internal and External beats as a good alternative to Objective and Subjective. Then I kept reading and you listed those as the front runners.
I guess I know what I’m voting for.
Sheila Deeth says
It’s neat to see the discussions and the ideas taking shape. Nice to be encouraged to think too, and nice to feel valued in your response to readers’ thoughts. Thanks Randy.
Lynnette Bonner says
Alternatives to PEE… Hmmm…
Undeniable Emotional Experience – “Don’t forget to give your readers a U-EE.” 🙂
Emotionally Powerful Experience – EPE
Effectual, Dynamic, Supreme, Mighty, Strong, Robust, … just doing my part to rid the world of the P.E.E.
Cheri Williams says
I’m pretty partial to PEE. It’s clear, succinct and no one seems to suffer from PEE Confusion.
Sam Robinson says
Just to be quibbly, may I ask if you’re suggesting in your first example that Harry gratuitously threw the dung-bomb at Malfoy without any motivation whatsoever? If not, it looks as if you may have quoted the end of one MRU and the start of the next. Of course, each action from whatever character may result in a reaction from another. To lift a similarly tempting passage from Swain (example near the end of Chapter 3):
“[Reaction] Tight-lipped, Haskill triggered a searing purple beam from the lance.
[Motivation] The foremost beetle drew into a writhing ball under the ray’s impact, rolling crazily through the rubble.”
In Swain’s example, given the action orientation, the word ‘internal’ doesn’t quite fit the bill for Haskill’s reaction either, although ‘external’ is still good for the external world. Swain refers to the process as an interaction: as the focal character responds to external motivations, so the world outside responds to him.
Finally, quoting Swain a little out of context with your naming challenge in mind, “So much for the M-R unit … deceptively simple at first, it sometimes poses problems of choice that are little less than fiendish.”
Best of luck with making your choice. We’re confident it’ll be the right one.
Andra M. says
I’m with Judith. Stick with the terminology you’ve developed over the years. We dummies will figure it out.
I look forward to seeing “Snowflake Pro.”
First of all thanks for the great site/blog/e-zine. I have learned a ton of basics about writing fiction in a very short amount of time, thanks to the resources you provide. I even wrote my first fantasy short story (in Turkish :)) recently, and I can already feel how much more fluent and flowing it is thanks to you.
So one of the biggest things I learned from you was the importance of MRU’s. And I can’t help but feel very compfortable with the term MRU at the moment 🙂 Internal and External, still imply a POV character, which ,as you point out in the Harry/Malfoy example, is problematic. I always interpreted Motivation and Reaction as “Motivation to Events” and “Reaction to Events”, which does not necessarily limit their meaning to POV character. So my two cents is that, whatever terminology is used, the words should have the capability to be not associated with POV character, and I feel that Internal and External lack this capability.
However I am sure whatever terms you use, your explanations will make the subject clear at the end anyway.
Looking forward to your book. Best regards
Lynn Rush says
Nice! Lookin’ forward to Snowflake Pro!
Jonathan Cain says
Ok, so if you are looking at writing a novel from the standpoint that it is similar to writing a program, it seems like there is potential to talk about a “DO Loop”.
Maybe this is the proper way to think about Motivation/Reaction: you know,
while otherReactions !=0
This takes care of the whole internal/external thing, because it makes every single reaction part of a single loop of reactions.
This is how I think of the process, and I think it can be particularly useful, especially as far as thinking about scenes and sequels goes.
Felicia K. Fredlund says
Snowflake Pro sounds like a good way to start learning the snowflake method! That program really seems cool.
And I have to agree with Daniel. Both a Dummies book and an awesome program? I officially call this year “The Randy Year”. 😉
Rebecca LuElla Miller says
Randy, maybe it’s just me, but one thing I really liked about the way you explained MRU was the cyclical nature–that one person’s reaction could then become the action that motivated the other person in the scene. It seems to me, this part of the process might be lost by the internal/external tags.
Just something else to think about.
David Hooper says
I know this is a bit of a tangent, but if you were to extend the music/beat metaphor further you could call the motivation units “upbeats” and the reaction units “downbeats”.
An “upbeat” needs to resolve to a “downbeat”, which in turn leads to another “upbeat”, and so on.
Ok – so they don’t explain the content of MRU’s, but they do help explain their cyclic relationship.
Hi there, I really enjoyed the explanation of the Snowflake theory and the steps that are there to guide. But I have a little trouble. I have always enjoyed writing since I was 6 but I am one of my worst critics which makes it harder for me to cope with the what I want to write. My mind is full of stories which makes it even more harder for me to figure out with which one to start. Any advice?
Sen says: “Snowflake Pro” sounds great. Now, might there be a “Snowflake Light?”
Randy sez: I’d have to think of some feature that I might delete. Right now, I can’t think of any, other than the automatic proposal creator, but I don’t think anyone will want to do without that! ”
Perhaps you could build in some limitation to the maximum amount of words (or scenes)to be written with a project in Snowflake Light? Then one would still be able to write a short (short) story with it, but would have to buy the Pro version for being able to write a complete novel with this software.
Please don’t use Harry Potter for examples.
The terminology issues are just down to personal taste now– pick something catchy and marketable. Frankly, I couldn’t care less what you do select if I’m going to be reading about the ideas behind them.
I just wanted to say thanks for the newsletter, and your blog. I always enjoy what you have to say as you tend to call out very practical improvments we can all make. Thanks for spending the time to help us get better.
After hearing writers sing the praise of Scrivener, which is only available for the Mac, I’ve been looking for PC novel writing software, without much success. Most of the ones I’ve tried are either too complicated or don’t have enough features. The best one I’ve found is Celtex, but it’s for script writers. Scripts tie in with the databases, but the text writer doesn’t. Rather than spend more time searching, I’m using Celtex for reference, a spreadsheet for scenes, and good old Word to write the thing.
Snowflake pro sounds cool, and I’m looking forward to checking it out. One word of advice, though – make sure people can download and try it for free. Several of the programs I found looked like they might do the trick, but I had to buy them to find out. Nope, not gonna do it, not even with a money back guarantee. I’ll try something with reasonable limits, say, 30 days or 100 pages, but I’m not going to buy anything without trying it out first.
The key is *reasonable* limits. Demo programs that don’t allow you to save files, for instance, or limit you to ten pages of text or a ten day trial, are worse than useless. They only serve to annoy prospective customers. Let people use it long enough to get hooked, and they’ll buy it, as long as it does the job and is reasonably priced.
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