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Old 03-10-2005, 09:31 PM   #1
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Motivation-Response Unit in Scene vs. Sequel

According to the link Denis posted (click me) in the He thought thread, a scene and a sequel are made up by a series of MRUs. Dwight Swain defines scene as "Goal, Conflict, Disaster" and Sequel as "Reaction, Dilemma, Decision."

I'm getting the impression that the sequel is mostly internal processing, following the Scene. Mr. Ingermanson describes well how to use MRUs with Scene, but doesn't go into detail on how to use MRUs with Sequel. If Sequel is the internal processing, what would be the Motivation unit? Using his example:

Quote:
The tiger dropped out of the tree and sprang toward Jack.

A bolt of raw adrenaline shot through Jack's veins. He jerked his rifle to his shoulder, sighted on the tiger's heart, and squeezed the trigger. "Die, you bastard!"

The bullet grazed the tiger's left shoulder. Blood squirted out of the jagged wound. The tiger roared and staggered, then leaped in the air straight at Jack's throat.
Let's say Jack fires another shot and it kills the tiger. How would a Sequel look using MRUs?
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Old 03-10-2005, 09:52 PM   #2
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I'm getting the impression that the sequel is mostly internal processing...
I don't think that's it. Reaction, dilemma, decision can be revealed in action -- can be shown.

If Jack fires and kills the tiger in this scene, the sequel could be (there are many options, here's just one):

He examines the tiger, makes sure it's dead (reaction). Now how can he get the tiger back to the village -- should he leave the tiger there, risking it being salvaged by another animal, or should he hide it, or should he build a contraption to carry it back (dilemma)? He decides to hide it in a nearby cave (decision.)

Motivation -- he needs to take it back to the village
Response -- he hides the body for the time being so he can return with help


Everything can be shown, and if you're very good, you don't even have to tell us what Jack is thinking... just show us through his action.


I would, however, say that this approach is VERY broad, and you have asked a good question -- what if the scene is more internal than that? I don't think every scene and sequel must present all of these elements, and not always in so overt, "exciting" ways. But yeah, motivation-response is the basics. Goals/desires for the character should be present in every scene -- whether that goal/desire is being met is not the point. Now, must there be a decision at the end? Probably. Even if the character remains ambivalent, that's still at choice, at that point.
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Old 03-10-2005, 10:17 PM   #3
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Question Everything can be shown

"Everything can be shown, and if you're very good, you don't even have to tell us what Jack is thinking... just show us through his action."

This is a little off-topic, but I would like to know how you can show what a person is thinking/feeling when they are all alone, don't speak the language of those around them, or hiding their thoughts/feelings from those around them.

I can see it with the tiger in the above posts, but supposing there is nothing present and physical to react to or that the person is afraid for their his but acting brave or that he is about to betray a friend. I have been using interior monologue, but I am not happy with the passivity of that.

Thanks for any suggestions.
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Old 03-10-2005, 10:26 PM   #4
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See, I would have started with the M-unit being "without the character," as in

Quote:
The tiger's body lay still, its blood dampening the forest floor.
but then I'd get stuck. If what Ingermanson says is true, the M would be followed with a reaction of feeling, reflex, action and/or speech, like what you have:

Quote:
A wave of relief shuddered through Jack's body. He poked the tiger with the barrel of his gun. Nothing happened. [another m-unit] How would he get it back to the village? Should he leave the tiger here, risking it being salvaged by another animal, or should he hide it? Or should he build a contraption to carry it back?
Don't we need another M-unit in order to reach a decision?

Quote:

The screech of a Tiger Corpse Devourer echoed through the trees. "Crap," he muttered. Looking around, he spotted a cave nearby. He slung the strap of his rifle over his shoulder and dragged the tiger by the tail.
Is this even close? Or am I missing something?
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Old 03-10-2005, 10:38 PM   #5
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Quote:
Don't we need another M-unit in order to reach a decision?

The screech of a Tiger Corpse Devourer echoed through the trees. "Crap," he muttered. Looking around, he spotted a cave nearby. He slung the strap of his rifle over his shoulder and dragged the tiger by the tail.
That could work. A motivation to make him make a decision. It's not necessary, but it makes it more vivid. Not everything has to be triggered by something, it could be internal, but they most certainly would manifest into some sort of choice -- in this case, he decides to hid the tiger's body.

As for "everything can be shown" -- in novels, sometimes you just can't avoid going into the mind of the characters. And that's a good device for novels -- just don't overdo it, so that you're telling too much and not enough showing. On the flip side, if you watch movies, almost everything is shown visually -- unless you count VO monologues -- and through dialogue. I think screenwriters, by the nature of their job, has mastered the "show not tell" much better than novelist, because they're usually not allowed to go inside the character's head (they can, of course, through VO again -- like what they do with the show SCRUBS, to great effects). But mostly, emotions, thoughts, etc. are shown by action and dialogue in scripts -- and can be achieved similarly in novels... it's just a matter of how you write it.
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Old 03-10-2005, 11:11 PM   #6
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Gosh. Blink and put your sprog to bed, and a thread grows! Back up for me a moment: You can't have a Swainesque sequel unless the scene ended on a disaster, reversal or complication.

So, azbikergirl: what was the point of the scene?
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Old 03-11-2005, 12:26 AM   #7
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Heh. Darned if I know! I'm using the examples from the link Denis posted.

If a scene always ends with a disaster, reversal or complication, do you put a scene break (#) between scene and sequel? Or do they blend together? So if the tiger leaping at his face would be the end of the scene, where does the sequel start?
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Old 03-11-2005, 01:14 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by azbikergirl
If a scene always ends with a disaster, reversal or complication, do you put a scene break (#) between scene and sequel? Or do they blend together? So if the tiger leaping at his face would be the end of the scene, where does the sequel start?
Right after. The "scene" here is different than a "scene" in a novel. It's more like a "setup" -- the first half of the scene. Then the sequel --the second half, the resolve -- follows, then a new "scene" begins...

In a novel, you put a # between "actual" scene.
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Old 03-11-2005, 01:35 AM   #9
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I think the lightbulb is getting brighter. So the sequel in our tiger example would start with Jack pulling the trigger, killing the tiger -- as the Reaction to the Scene's disaster?
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Old 03-11-2005, 01:50 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by azbikergirl
Heh. Darned if I know! I'm using the examples from the link Denis posted.

If a scene always ends with a disaster, reversal or complication, do you put a scene break (#) between scene and sequel? Or do they blend together? So if the tiger leaping at his face would be the end of the scene, where does the sequel start?
As I understand it, for Swainesque scene-sequel pairs:
  • The scene must show a struggle and end in a twisty complication
  • The sequel is optional and must summarise, concentrating on problem solving and feelings.
  • The sequel is a great place to throw in local colour - Robin Hobb does this brilliantly with her Fitz books: tight confrontation in Chade's chamber, then Fitz loafs around the castle working out what to do.
So, back to the tiger.

If the scene showed the hero trying to find water and succeeding, only to be attacked by a tiger, then the leaping tiger is the reversal. However, unless the hero legs it very, very fast, there isn't space for a sequel. You just go onto the next scene. In this sense, the tiger scene directly sets up the next scene.

If the scene shows hero fighting the tiger and killing it, then it still needs a reversal, e.g. hero breaks spear, uses last bullet, belatedly remembers he's a conservationist, or that tigers are sacred in these parts, or notices that it's wearing a collar. Now what's he going to do?



A Swainesque sequel would then show him slogging through the jungle, day upon day, wrestling his emotions or fears. Then at last he arrives at the Temple of the Three Quargs, and everything becomes clear. He must make himself garrot out of vine leaves and try to fight his way free.



You could build a long Sequel using M-R units, as long as they were narrative summary. Here's a gobbet from the 15th volume of my Thog Chronicles:
[R] Desparate, I went West, [m]but found no love. [r] Then I went East, to the very tip of the Isles. [m] here a wise woman told me that I had a cold heart, [r] so I ate her heart to prove her wrong and continued my quest. [m] But the years rolled by and the world changed, until I, [r] Thog the Mighty, grew to accept that perhaps I might be [m] unlovable. [r] And that made me angry. Now all that remained was to destroy the hateful world which so mocked me. [m] To do this, I needed the Sword of Fthang. [r] And thus it was I found muself at the foot of the Steps of Doom on a cold winter's night.


As for the scene break #: it depends. Some writers use them. Some flow smoothly from scene to sequel, others use clearcut Sequel-Scene pairs or visa versa.

There are other techniques. David Weber often puts the transition in flashback or reported reminiscence, right at the start of the scene. A lot of writers don't bother with sequels at all, especially where the novel has multiple viewpoints.

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Old 03-11-2005, 02:16 AM   #11
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I did not know what an MRU was before I read this, and now I will do my best to forget it. This discussion makes me very glad I did not major in English. It reduces writing to something that sounds like a mechanical description, perhaps of how an engine works. Ugh.
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Old 03-11-2005, 02:36 AM   #12
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I think this is useful to some extent and also good for analysis.

I think the concept of goal-conflict-decision, motivation-response is something very useful in constructing your scenes. Obviously, not every scene must follows the same structure. Like Vomaxx said, the would make it mechanical. But keep all this in mind, especially when you feel like your scenes are flat...
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Old 03-11-2005, 04:49 AM   #13
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Scene

I'm afraid all of this is way above my head. Too analytical. I just write down what happens.
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Old 03-11-2005, 05:02 AM   #14
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Heck, I did major in English in college and this is the first time I'd heard of MRU myself.
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Old 03-11-2005, 09:41 AM   #15
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Well you see fellahs, if you conduct a basic cost/benefit analysis, and filter that through the stimlulus/reaction unit (taking into account of course, the personality vector), and feed that through the POV Knowledge Base (PKB) you can easily solve for the X of the plot coordinate.

Now to get the Y coordinate for the plot point (PY), simply average the theme vectors and subtract N on the intersecting story curve (SCN). Correct for inspiriation (I) and there you are!


NOTE: (I) is always a radical number.
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Old 03-11-2005, 11:30 AM   #16
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The trouble I have here is that I'm largely self-taught. So the way I break a novel down into its component parts is entirely different. For example, I think of the scene as a single unit of storytelling, which, ideally, should be stripped right back to it's essentials to preserve its unity of purpose. In other words, it occurs in one setting and features one group of characters. It addresses one significant point of plot, and describes one significant image to impress upon the readers mind. When I write scenes of this sort, they generally weigh in at somewhere between 5 and 15 hundred words.

Given this, I'm not sure I see how MRUs would be useful. Sure, I would want to show the motivation of my POV character, and his responses, but I would also want a lot of other stuff besides. I would want some description, and some interraction between the characters and the setting (to keep the sense of a dynamic and vivid fictional world in front of the reader -- and also because its occasionally good for revealing a character through body language). I would want a smooth transition into the next scene, and -- if its an important scene -- I would want some sort of powerful and visceral image to imprint upon the reader's mind.

The points of the scene and sequel are fine as they go -- even if, to me, they would represent an entire chapter of several scenes (but I'll set that aside for the moment). The entire pattern would run: goal, conflict, disaster, reaction, dilemma, decision. In fact, the sequence I use myself runs along somewhat similar lines: problem, initial response, reversal, regrouping, and climax. They're similar ideas, but with different labels. The only substantive difference is that I fold reaction and dilemma into one, and, of course, the fact that I treat each of these as a separate scene (I also apply that same sequence to groups of chapters).

But I part company with the author when he describes this as the "perfect scene". For me, this is just one possible pattern of events out of many. Sometimes I like to throw in a pattern that runs: character lays big plans, big plans fail, character attempts to recover and gets smacked down again. I half-inched that from one of my favourite movies, L'armata Brancaleone. They way I see it, you can't just go through an entire novel and repeat the same arrangement over and over again. That would be tedious. On occasion, where the story calls for something dramatic, you should break a regular pattern. Not only does that confound expectations (in a good way), it also gives a story a sense of movement. So, as far as I'm concerned, there is no such thing as a perfect sequence.

Basically, I'm just arguing with the article, because I have my own way of handling this stuff, and I like my way better.
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Old 03-11-2005, 12:00 PM   #17
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It's an analytical tool. Some people think this way. Others don't. If you are an intuative writer, walk on by, this will spoil your mojo! And anyway, you probably already do this.

That said, it worked for Swain who was horribly prolific round about the 1960s and 70s.
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Old 03-11-2005, 03:14 PM   #18
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All right, this approach makes perfect sense to me. I think I understand it. And still there's something I'd like to clarify:

When you analyze your novel scenes this way, fine. It works. But how about the very first scene? The setup? When I tried to apply it to my opening scene, I saw that either the scene structure had problems, or the system didn't cover opening scenes.

The thing is, I just can't see any conflict being introduced in a novel's first scene. I always thought that on the contrary, it shows the status quo, the protag's comfortable life before all the trouble begins. He doesn't have any story-related goal at this point so there can't be any story-related conflict! The first scene then ends (possibly) with the story disaster. But there can't be any story-relevant conflict in the first scene, really, because there's no goal nor disaster yet!

To check myself, I looked through a few novels -- some of them indeed just start with the disaster in the very first line, thus the hero's goal, conflict and everything follow. But some (especially some nerve-wrecking thrillers) start very relaxedly -- no conflict, just the setup and backstory. Then, in the end of scene one (two, three), the disaster strikes and then, indeed, it's all "Goal-Conflict-Disaster" scheme.

It is a bit of a problem for me now because I really want to make my opening scene right (and I'm not very happy about the current, pre-MRU version which admittedly has suspense but no conflict as such -- the hero's got nothing to fight for yet, the disaster only strikes in the end, thus creating a story-related goal for him).

The conflictless first scene? I look at some bestselling books next to me -- yes, that's how they do it. But I don't want my hero to introduce himself as a passive whimp. What to do -- introduce some small story-unrelated problem? Hm...

Last edited by Fresie; 03-11-2005 at 03:24 PM. Reason: typos
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Old 03-11-2005, 04:20 PM   #19
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Unhappy

Whew, brother...I'm afraid I'm with Jamesaritchie, Volmax, and Unc Jim; this discussion intimidated me so much I layed off my novel for two days, and am now just timidly trying to re-discover the joy of novel writing. Maybe this type of analysis is of benifit to a writer, who'd like to break it down into components, but I'm going to have to rely on my instinct and understanding of the basic elements and forge on. Gads, I hope I didn't start this!

I think it's fine that somebody can write a non-fiction book on the mechanics of writing and put a new slant/theory on the whole process, but I'd have to say this is covered in Unc Jim's thread with less complication and a very simple approach. Being an idiot sometimes, I have to fly on the basic nuts and bolts of things and once into thetheoretical physics of dynamic tragectory, and atomospheric density, I become a lost little pilot.

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Old 03-11-2005, 05:13 PM   #20
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I think like any advice about how to write fiction, we should all take what benefits us and disregard the rest. I'm also a fan of The Hero's Journey, but some writers will find it too limiting and it may sap their creativity. No one method is right for everyone.

For me, Swain's approach helps with scenes I'm not sure about. I restructured my novel's opening to use this (as seen in the He thought thread) and I think it's better now. There's setting description (relevent to the matter at hand), goal, and impending "conflict" in just a handful of sentences. Not all of my novel will get reworked to use this structure. Only the parts that I see fit to change
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Old 03-11-2005, 05:17 PM   #21
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Quote:
Whew, brother...I'm afraid I'm with Jamesaritchie, Volmax, and Unc Jim; this discussion intimidated me so much I layed off my novel for two days, and am now just timidly trying to re-discover the joy of novel writing.
There's really no need for anyone to feel intimidated by this. In all the years I've been interested in abstract analytical modelling I've learned one thing: systems like this are always after-the-fact rationalizations. Nobody needed to understand the analysis to write the novels the analysis is based on. All you have to do is learn how to write well, and you will intuitively understand what this guy is trying to formally state, without having to learn a single one of his terms or rules.
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Old 03-11-2005, 05:19 PM   #22
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When you analyze your novel scenes this way, fine. It works. But how about the very first scene? The setup? When I tried to apply it to my opening scene, I saw that either the scene structure had problems, or the system didn't cover opening scenes.
Fresie, I changed my opening scene to use Swain's MRU-structure. Check out the He thought She thought They thought thread to see my first two paragraphs. (Unfortunately, I think I sort of hijacked the thread. Didn't mean to!) The first sentence isn't "He's dead, Jim" or anything so gripping, but if the opening arouses enough curiosity to drag the reader in with the MC, it does its job.
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Old 03-11-2005, 05:21 PM   #23
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If thinking in terms of Motivation Response Units helps you get words on paper, it's a good thing.

(Of course, if tying red ribbons to your wrists helps you get words on paper, they're a good thing too....)
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Old 03-11-2005, 05:59 PM   #24
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Originally Posted by triceretops
Whew, brother...I'm afraid I'm with Jamesaritchie, Volmax, and Unc Jim; this discussion intimidated me so much I layed off my novel for two days, and am now just timidly trying to re-discover the joy of novel writing. Maybe this type of analysis is of benifit to a writer, who'd like to break it down into components, but I'm going to have to rely on my instinct and understanding of the basic elements and forge on. Gads, I hope I didn't start this!

I think it's fine that somebody can write a non-fiction book on the mechanics of writing and put a new slant/theory on the whole process, but I'd have to say this is covered in Unc Jim's thread with less complication and a very simple approach. Being an idiot sometimes, I have to fly on the basic nuts and bolts of things and once into thetheoretical physics of dynamic tragectory, and atomospheric density, I become a lost little pilot.

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There's no need to be intimidated. These are tools, something to consider, and not rules. There are A TONS of advice and techniques and what not out there on novel writing. You take what you can and you write. The basic concepts are there: e.g. all this is about is "Conflict Makes Drama." It doesn't mean every scene must follow that arc -- then it's a very exhausting book. But you do need to keep conflict in mind. Plot is about movement -- about people deciding, doing things, and the consequences that follow.

Even without knowing this MRU business, I bet you already know about conflict-action-consequence...

The MRUs is a good tool to analyze your own novel, but not in first draft. Write first. Write, write, and write. Then when you're rewriting, try to analyze your scenes, especially those that are flat and trivial. If you think something needs to be done on them, think about MRUs or Conflict-action-consequence or whatever. Think about tension. Think about themes. They all are techniques to help you improve your work.

But no need to sweat this stuff if it goes over your head. I think most writers instinctively know the concepts already. I mean, read Uncle Jim's thread and he talked about conflict and consequences, etc. The MRUs are just specifics, based on someone's understanding and analysis. They can be useful, but don't worry about if you don't get it. They might be more useful for an Eng Lit. student than a writer, who knows?
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Old 03-11-2005, 06:03 PM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by azbikergirl
Fresie, I changed my opening scene to use Swain's MRU-structure. Check out the He thought She thought They thought thread to see my first two paragraphs. (Unfortunately, I think I sort of hijacked the thread. Didn't mean to!) The first sentence isn't "He's dead, Jim" or anything so gripping, but if the opening arouses enough curiosity to drag the reader in with the MC, it does its job.
Without knowing the MRUs (which I still think is a good analytical tool to use on your own work, but not a "method" to write, at least for me. I write organically), I did change my opening sentence in my book to:

"Betrayal makes us do strange things."

It sets up goal and conflicts, and hint at actions. It's a hook. And it seems to work well.
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