Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Motivation reaction units are so important, I thought I should repost my blog entry, What in the World is an MRU? MRUs are the engines that move a story along and keep it interesting. Mastering this technique will take you or your homeschool student a long way in becoming an accomplished story teller.

Let’s 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

Thursday, October 9, 2014


Young adult (YA) literature incorporates nearly all genres. Its main target is youth between twelve and eighteen, but older people may enjoy it as well. The plots are primarily plot-driven and coming of age.

Writing techniques employed in other genres also apply to YA.. However, sentence structure is less complex and vocabulary is simpler. A typical story runs between 40,000 and 70,000 thousand words. That’s enough to develop a multi-dimensional story, but not so much that the reader loses interest. While secondary characters can be any age, primary characters must be teen or college age.

The readers experience the story through a believable and empathetic main character (MC) that they can identify with. As they feel the MC’s emotions and participate in his problems, they can take part in their resolutions. They vicariously overcome crises, reaching milestones on their way to adulthood. This can give them a sense of security, validation, or meaning to their lives. They might also experience psychological or emotional transformation.

Before you begin to write, get to know young adults. Listen to their vocabulary and speech patterns and how they interact. Study their books and magazines for style. Determine what plots or themes are overworked and aim for something fresh.

Teens are constantly bombarded with new experiences. Everything is big, important, and intense. Possibilities are endless. They may feel invincible or they may feel vulnerable and inconsequential, isolated and craving community. Many that desire to change the world care deeply about things of substance.

Topics that interest them are romance, independence, friends, influence of peer groups, and milestones like first date, first car, first job. Stories for older teens may deal with drugs eating disorders, cutting, and other intense subjects.

Stories about romance and darkness are most favored. Fictional romance from the MC’s unrequited love to his love relationships helps the readers understand their fantasies. If the readers feel trapped and helpless, they may turn to tales of dystopia and vampires. Identification with the MC makes them feel more in control of their lives. Stories such as death, suicide, and cutting allow readers to explore dark topics safely.

The focus of all YA is growth. Readers who experience the MC’s conflicts and resolutions gain more maturity and insight, which inches them along toward adulthood.—Quinn