Action, Reaction

I was reading this post I found – between my research for scene and summary – and while I was reading it, it’s like this light bulb went off inside my head, glowing with this superb luminescence. But, being distrusting as I am – always requiring proof that technique works – I have to test this theory. Is this really how to write great emotion? Great character voice?

Let me refer to the rule in general. As Swain described (as cited by Ingermanson), smaller parts of scenes are made up of multiple units, called motivation-reactions units (MRUs). These units focus on two parts: a motivation and the reaction of your character. Motivations are extrinsic forces within your story while the reactions are intrinsic and extrinsic responses. Ingermanson breaks the reaction down even further, separating it into 3 parts: feeling, reflex, action, emphasizing this must always be used in this order although each piece may not always appear. With the repetition of these MRUs, you eventually make up a scene. But, let’s test this and see how this theory holds. This is a rather long passage, so I’ll only use a part. This paragraph is about a boar running at the characters.

Nothing about its muzzle or broad, long face looked at all extraordinary, and yet I had the startling impression of some presence in the way its gaze seemed turned inward and its head willfully pulled to the left as if there were an invisible bridle. A kind of electricity sparked in its eyes that I could not credit as real. I thought instead it must be a by-product of my now slightly shaky hands on the binoculars. (Vandermeer 12)

Let’s break this down step by step, and examine each sentence for its purpose. Similar to what I’m doing in class when I define each purpose of the process of discourse.

First sentence:

This sentences shows the character reflecting on the motivation – the boar crashing toward the bushes toward them.

Second sentence:

The second part of the combined sentence shows the character’s feelings on the board, her impression of it.

Third sentence:

This is still feelings. She does not think it’s real.

Last sentence:

Her reaction as she tries to dismiss it – a product of her shaking hands.

Focus on the operative verbs within all these sentences. Reflect, feel, feel, react. There is a reflex we missed in here – her hands shaking – because it’s taken out of order, mentioned as a last thought, so let me go ahead and include it: reflect, reflex, feel, feel, react.

This means I disproved Ingermanson in the sense that these actions have to be in a specific order, but I supported him in his theory that some or all of these verbs may be present. And, I believe this is okay. Writing does not follow a specific rule, even though we try to define it, give it some sense of order even though that’s all it is – conscious feeling. Always a running sense of action and reaction, just like forces. If something happens, we react.

Use this as a simple tool to help refine your writing because I do support Ingermanson in this specific sense: actions and reactions are some of the most important pieces of writing, and without this, your story will fall flat.

Vandermeer, Jeff. Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Print.


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