MRUs ERTE's) How to Write Engaging and Suspensful scenes like Dean Koontz
And now, onto the final part in the series. We know how to write inhale scenes and exhales scenes, but what in the world is an MRU? Motivation Reaction Unit. Blah. Boring. Some dude name Dwight made up the terminology.
I don't care for the terminology. The way I think of it is like this. Write about what is happening outside of your character, and then have your character react to that outside stimulation. After that, if necessary, have your MC counter react.
Before showing an example, here are the following points you want to keep in mind when your MC reacts to external stimuli.
1. Automatic response. Shivers. Adrenaline rush.
Teary eyed. Gasp. Jerk reaction. Cuss. Shaking. Throw arms up. Flinch. Heart pounding.
2. Willful bodily response. A physical response in reaction to an outside source. Pulling away. Jumping. Slapping.
3. Speech. Character says something in response to the outside source.
4. Thoughts. Thoughts or introspection in direct response to the outside source.
Taking Control and Counter Reaction
5. Body. Does she do something else as a counter action? An example would be: she punched the person in the nose. Now she is taking control of the situation, rather than things just being done to her.
6. Speech. Does she say something to take control of the situation?
7. Thought. Do her thoughts shift to taking control of the situation?
Here's an example:
Exterior Stimuli. The puckered pedals at the end of the bulbous flower moved like lips. "Hello. How are you?"
Reaction. (1) Alice jumped, gasped, and her eyes bulged. (2) She looked around as if making sure she was alone. (3) She wondered if the flower had actually moved, but she was positive that she heard a voice.
For Alice's reaction, I think about the four points, automatic response, willful bodily response, speech, and thoughts. In Alice's above reaction, I only used three of the four, because I didn't feel she needed to say anything yet. It is a good idea, especially upon rewriting, that you look at every external stimuli and ask yourself if your MC could react. Then go through each point and see what reactions she could have, if any.
Taking Control. (5) Curiously, Alice extended her hand to touch the flower.
Now Alice tries to take control of the situation by counter reacting. As a counter reaction, she wouldn't have an automatic response, so there are only three responses to choose from. I went with a body response. I could have gone with speech, but I save that for her next reaction.
Exterior Counter Reaction. "You didn't ask permission to touch me," said the flower.
Now the ping-pong match has started. Next, if applicable, make the other character counter react. Then, we start all over again, with Alice's reactions to external stimuli, and I think about the four points again.
Reaction. (1) She snapped her hand back as if the flower were a rattle snake. (1) Her heart raced, as (4) she thought about how indeed the lips of the flower moved. And just how could a flower have lips? (3) "Did you just say something?" Alice asked, not entirely sure what was happening.
The order of the reactions should be logical. They can be in any order, so long as they are in a logical order. I would have to write about her hand snapping back first, because that is the first automated response, followed by her racing heart. She wouldn't have the thoughts before snapping her hand back, for example. I left out two because I couldn't think of anything for her to do.
It makes more sense to have the flower counter react, than to have Alice take control of the situation.
Exterior Counter Reaction. The pedals on the end animated once more. "Of course, I said something. Don't flowers talk where you come from?"
When it comes to external reactions, you are limited to speech and movement, unless you are writing in omniscient POV or your MC can read minds. So you think about the following three things when an external character is counter reacting: Automatic response (movement and sound only), willful body response, and speech.
The parts we have then are:
Taking Control/Counter Reaction
External Counter Reaction
We could call them ERTE Units. Blah.
We covered one kind of external stimuli, which is another character, but that is not the only kind of external stimuli. Before going into more types, keep in mind that your MC could be reacting to a group of characters. In such a case, you might write several of their actions before having your MC react.
Okay, so what are other types of external stimuli? You're probably already thinking of them. Environment. Let's say Bob is hiking on a rocky cliff side.
External Stimuli. A rumbling crashes above Bob.
Reaction. (1) Adrenaline triggers Bob's senses and he shoots a glance up at the rumbling.
External Stimuli. A mass of boulders and dirt tumble toward him like an angry entity.
Reaction. (3) "Oh, Crap," he says (1) as his weak heart pounds dangerously fast. If he were healthy, he wouldn't have hesitated, but would have sprinted along the cliff side to dodge the onslaught of bludgeoning rocks. (4) His mind races through ideas. His only option is to hang off the cliff and hope the rocks will bounce off the pathway and over him. Hopefully, they won't crush his fingers in the process. (2) As quickly as possible, and ignoring his faulty heart, he hung over the cliff.
I included all four reaction types in this example. I also added a bit of narration, which fits into none of the reaction types.
Narration, another kind of stimuli, can be external or internal. So your character can react to it.
External Stimuli. The walk to Freemont Creek would be long, perhaps too long just to catch some crawdads.
Reaction. (2) He stopped walking down the cracked sidewalk. (4) He thought about closer places he could go to catch crawdads, but couldn't think of any.
Taking Control. He decided to play video games instead.
He reacted to the narration, and then he reacted to his own thoughts by taking control. Here is another example of internal stimuli.
Internal Stimuli. Oh, wait, if John fired the gun now while flower particles filled the tiny room, a flash from his gun might cause the cloud to combust.
Reaction. (2) With his thumb, he slowly guided the hammer of the revolver back into place.
I have to break this up into two parts.
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