Learning to Write MRUs

I’ve mentioned in a past post that my efforts to learn to write Scenes and Sequels were derailed briefly by…well…let’s just call it a side quest. You see, many of the articles that explained the Scene-Sequel technique referred to another technique that many use as part of their writing process: the MRU (motivation-reaction unit). Honestly, this is a fancy way of saying, “Hey, dummy, write cause and effect!” (Seems obvious. Isn’t always. I’ve now seen some scary examples of this.)

For many writers, Scenes and Sequels are made up of these MRUs, and if you put enough of these together, you eventually end up with a story that makes some form of sense. People might even read and enjoy your story. (No promises.)

All right, so…what is an MRU? It’s a basic action sequence made up of two parts: the motivation and the reaction.

  • Motivation – an external, objective stimulus that can be experienced by at least one sense
  • Reaction – the character’s subjective response to the Motivation in order: emotion; reflex action; rational thought/action

The MRU is pretty straightforward, because it’s how we actually respond to things. I know some of the articles pointed this out, but I didn’t actually get my mind around it until I realized trying to overthink my way into writing MRUs was just leading to writing how I normally write. I’ve always tried to write out how I would move through something, right down to the stage blocking. (And hearing professional writers use stage terminology to describe how they write has helped me understand and accept that I’m not a total weirdo for doing it. It helps me to see what’s going on in the scene I’m writing.)

When I was first reading about MRUs, I thought you were supposed to use them to build the entire story. And found out the hard way that’s not exactly true. I struggled for days trying to make MRUs work for my action-light stories, unable to figure out why they weren’t working, before I finally learned they’re for action sequences. I don’t write a lot of action to begin with, so practicing MRUs has been a frustrating process for me. I finally came up with the following and incorporated it into my daily writing habits so I have something to practice on.

My MRU Practice Routine

  • Respond to oneword’s daily prompt. (I do it in my journal instead of on the site.)
  • Rewrite the response into an MRU format. (Also in my journal.)

Feel free to steal that, or use it to create something that suits your own writing habits. And then let me know how exploring MRUs goes for you. Maybe you’ll find yourself frustrated like I was. Maybe it will be just the thing to help with a problem you’ve been experiencing in your writing. But I’m willing to bet you’ll find something useful in it.

 

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