Monday, August 26, 2013

What in the World is an MRU?

Let’s digress from our study of emotion this time and talk about motivation reaction units (MRUs). The first time I heard these explained was by Randy Ingermanson, creator of the Snowflake Method. He read about them in Dwight V. Swain’s classic. Techniques of the Selling Writer, which is available on

 So what is a motivation-reaction-unit? An MRU is the fundamental grouping of words that form a story.

 The first component of the MRU is a sentence or several sentences which comprise a cause. The cause is something the reader can see. It is totally outside of the point-of-view (POV) character, and can be anything tangible or intangible, conscious or unconscious that stimulates a change in the character. Neither the POV’s name nor pronouns that refer to him may appear in this part of the MRU.

The paragraph that follows contains the second half of the MRU. It is a sentence or group of sentences that show the effect of the stimulus. It is about the POV character and shows the change in his behavior or state of mind in response to the motivating stimulus.

The following is an excerpt from the prologue of my novel Kokoweef, which may be accessed by clicking the tab under the banner. I’ve labeled the alternating pattern of motivation and reaction. Notice that the motivating sentences are completely outside the POV. Also note how the stimulus produces a change in the POV that moves the story along

 The soldiers assumed their posts. Commander Lucifer positioned himself on high ground opposite the wormhole, his generals at his sides.  [MOTIVATION]

 Malum drew his swords. With Michael and his army vanquished, what would Lord Lucifer do next? Attack High Heaven? It had been eons since the Enemy cast them out. A victorious return would be joyous.   [REACTION]

 The wormhole rumbled, and Lucifer raised his hands.   [MOTIVATION]

 Malum’s swords shook. Steady. Only moments until Lucifer signals to attack. [REACTION]

 A low whine grumbled in the passage.  [MOTIVATION]

 Malum tightened his grips.   [REACTION]

 The noise rose in pitch and volume. The tunnel’s crystalline walls vibrated.  [MOTIVATION]

 He swallowed, and his breaths quickened. The surface on which he stood rolled and swayed. He fought for traction then furrowed his brows. Something was wrong. The resonance frequency had changed. An operational wormhole never made that high, warbling sound. What was Michael up to?  [REACTION]

 Fire roared from the wormhole and incinerated several soldiers. The tunnel warped. Squealed. Folded inward. In a blink, it disappeared.  [MOTIVATION]

 Malum cursed, and turned his attention to Lucifer.  [REACTION]

 Rage contorted the commander’s faces. He bellowed and lashed out with his swords. The heads of his generals rolled down slope to Malum’s feet.  [MOTIVATION]

 His hearts lurched.  [REACTION]

So why are the MRUs important? They provide the momentum that moves the story along. Strings of MRUs form scenes and sequences. Alternating scenes and sequences then produce the story pattern.—Quinn