Monday, June 19, 2017

Motivation-Reaction Units (How to use them to become a Boss Storyteller)

(This post was originally featured on Laura Heffernan's blog, here.)



Hello lovely writers! I’m here today to talk about motivation-reaction units.

“What the what?” You say. “I’ve heard about plot and pacing and world building and character development, but what is this motivation-reaction witchcraft you speak of?”

Well. I’m so glad you asked.

Have you ever had a scene with a big reveal or shock or scare, but once your big bang happened, things just felt sort-of off? If so, there’s a good chance your motivation-reaction units need looking at.

At it’s core, a motivation-reaction unit, or MRU, just means that when something happens, there’s a motivation (a stimulus) and a reaction (how the characters react to the stimulus). We have Dwight V. Swain, author of Techniques of the Selling Writer to thank for identifying this little nugget of knowledge we call the MRU.

The motivation part is pretty easy. Something crazy happens. Done.

Problems often arise, however, in the reaction part of the MRU. When something crazy/scary/shocking happens, humans react in several ways. These feelings happen in such quick succession, that it’s often hard to separate them out, but they are all different parts of a reaction. And they happen in this order:

1: There’s an unconscious internal reaction—a feeling
Nervous. Happy. Terrified.

2: There’s an unconscious physical reaction—a reflex in response to how we are feeling
We gasp. Our palms start to sweat. Our blood rushes to our face. We freeze in place.

3: Then there are conscious physical reactions—what we say (if anything) and what we do.
“I can’t believe you forgot my birthday,” and the character starts to cry.
“I can’t believe she wore socks with her Chacos,” and then the mean girls blast a picture out on Instagram.
Or, if the motivation is a rabid werewolf apparition, a la ghostbusters, the physical reaction will just be to run.

Now, all of these things happen in our reactions, but you don’t need to list every single thing in a character’s reaction every time there’s a motivation in your book. Actually, please don’t. If you do, it will clog up the flow and slow the pacing way down. It’s okay to let the reader imagine one of more parts of the character’s reaction when something happens in your story. But in pivotal scenes, when the tension is high, the reaction you include on the page should contain more than one of the three parts above.

And—here’s where many beginner writers go wrong—THE REACTIONS MUST BE IN THE RIGHT ORDER, and THEY MUST COME AFTER THE MOTIVATION!

We never react to a stimulus before feeling that initial burst of fear or anger or whatever, and when our characters do this, something feels off.

As an example, let’s take our undead werewolf monster from above.

Lucy heard a noise.
She crept around a corner and when she rounded it, the sight made her scream.
She ran, her blood racing through her body, as an angry werewolf apparition jumped out at her.
It roared, its yellow eyes hungry for a kill.

Something about this passage seems off, yes? The first problem is that Lucy’s reaction comes before the werewolf actually jumps out at her. As a writer, it’s really tempting to keep our readers in suspense, so we make our characters react first, and then reveal the horrible motivator behind their reaction in hopes of getting a bigger reaction out of our reader. But this doesn’t work for a reader, because if we do this, they are no longer experiencing the story along with the main character. It starts to feel inauthentic, and will pull the reader out of the story.

So. Always put the motivator first.

Then, in the reaction part of this example, Lucy reacts physically (screaming and running) before she reacts internally (her blood racing through her body). In other words, she reacts on purpose before she reacts automatically. And this never rings true. The first thing that should happen when Lucy sees the apparition is her blood racing through her body. This is an immediate reaction that she doesn’t control and takes no thought for. She hasn’t really even processed what she’s seeing yet. After that visceral reaction, then she starts to think. Her brain kicks into gear, and she can then scream and run away.

Here’s a better version of the above example:


The undead werewolf jumped out at her, roaring, its yellow eyes hungry for a kill.
Lucy’s blood turned to ice. Her lower lip trembled, the only part of her that seemed able to move.
The monster roared.
She screamed, and her limbs unfroze. She ran.


Can you see the difference? First the motivation happens (the werewolf jumping out at her). Then her response is 1: a feeling of fear, which manifests by her blood turning to ice, 2: an immediate physical reaction in response to the fear—her lip trembling, 3: conscious action—screaming and running away.

This example was one of fear, but MRU’s come into play all the time, whether your motivation is something sad like losing a pet, something embarrassing like a bad Instagram post going viral, or something climactic like when the romantic tension peaks and they finally kiss already. Anytime something happens—especially when it’s something big—make sure your characters’ reactions happen in the right order so that they ring true.  

If you really want to have some fun, pay attention to what happens inside you the next time someone surprises you or scares you or ticks you off. Break down your reactions in order (after you’ve cooled off) and study them. It will make you a better writer.

For some more reading on MRU’s, see the following two articles:


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

SOKY Bookfest 2017

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Southern Kentucky Bookfest in Bowling Green, Kentucky, as an author. I sat on a few panels, met a ton of kids during kids day on Friday, and interacted with some amazing readers and authors.

Highlights included meeting authors RL Stine (!!!!), Gwenda Bond, Obert Skye, and so many others. The more big-name authors I meet, the more impressed I am at how down to earth and nice so many of them are. Being a part of this incredibly supportive community is such an honor.

Maybe my favorite part of the weekend was sitting on a panel called "Authors are Fangirls, too." My fellow panelists included Carey Corp, Lorie Langdon, Kathryn Ormsbee, and JC Morrows. We discussed all sorts of important topics, such as our celebrity crushes, casting for our novels, creating playlists and Pinterest boards for inspiration while writing, and which show we'd walk onto if given the chance.

We had all sorts of fun and decided that, regarding specifics, what happens in the Fangirl panel stays in the Fangirl panel.

Chris Evans and Chris Pratt may have come up.

Maybe more than once.

Here are some pictures from my amazing weekend. I can't wait to do this again!



 Gail Nall, RL Stine, and Me












Me and Gwenda Bond




 Me, Gail Nall, and Brooks Benjamin










 Annette Oppenlander and Me


Me with Obert Skye


 Me and Courtney Stevens


 Christina Farley, Lorie Langdon, Jessica Young, Marissa Williams, Me
 Marissa Williams with the Authors are Fangirls, Too session

 Marissa Williams, Carey Corp, Lorie Langdon, Me, Kathryn Ormsbee, and JC Morrows



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Cover Reveal for Under a New York Skyline

Today is the cover reveal for Under a New York Skyline, a collection of four YA romance novellas releasing April 15th from Teenacity Books. And here it is:


Isn't it cute? Here's a short summary of the book:

Romance in New York has never been so loud with hip hop, so frenzied with Comic Con fans, or so alluring with pop sensations. Authors Kathi Oram Peterson, Nikki Trionfo, Maureen L. Mills and Teresa Richards whisk you away to four of the Big Apple’s sweetest, hippest teen romances evah!

If you'd like to learn more about my contribution to the collection, go here to read about my novella, You, Me, and Comic Con.





Wednesday, March 1, 2017

You, Me, and Comic Con

I'm so excited to announce that I have a novella releasing on April 15th in a collection of four YA romance stories with these authors:




Go here to learn more about the collection.

Here's a quick blurb about my story, which is called You, Me, and Comic Con:

When Avery's super-cool, super-tough skater boy boyfriend breaks up with her and heads to NYC for the day, she decides to follow him and win him back with her moves on the ramps. But when he goes to Comic Con instead of the skate park, everything she knows about him is called into question. Is he actually a closet nerd gone to let his Comic Con flag fly? 

Avery has always been too hardcore for anything but skateboard competitions, but to find out the truth, she might have to bend her own rules. With the help of an unlikely group of new friends recruited from the Comic Con line, Avery sets out to discover the truth, and learns some truths about herself along the way.

*

This is the first novella I've ever done and, I've gotta be honest, it's one of my favorite things I've ever written. The format is long enough for some great character development and satisfying story arcs, but not so long as to get bogged down in subplots and complex layers.

I got the idea for You, Me, and Comic Con when thinking about one of my side characters from Emerald Bound, Piper. She's a skater girl, and I thought it would be fun to dive into skate culture and plant a character there. But, of course, I couldn't let her stay in her comfort zone for long, so I threw her into another culture that fascinates me--Comic Con--to see how she'd react. The result was a story that I had an absolute blast writing.

The cover reveal is coming up on March 15 and if you sign up for my newsletter before then, you'll get a sneak peak at the first few pages of my story once the cover is revealed. (To sign up, scroll to the top of this page and look to the right where it says 'Join my fan clan').

Captain America plays a big role in You, Me, and Comic Con, so, as a sign off, here ya go.

You're welcome.

Friday, November 18, 2016

A Merry Christmas Military Giveaway

I'm participating in a holiday book giveaway to honor those serving in the military this Christmas season. If you have a family member or close friend serving in the US Military who will be on deployment over the holidays, you can enter to win them a free book!

There are several titles to choose from and all the books have been donated by the authors as a thank you to our military. Click on the image below to go to the hosting author's blog, where you can see all of the titles available and enter to win the one you think your friend or family member would most enjoy. Winners will be announced December 2nd, 2016.

http://donnahatch.com/bookgiveaway-for-us-military-personnel/

Monday, September 19, 2016

I Have an Agent! My Story and a Giveaway

Once upon a time, I got bored and wrote a book. (Okay, it wasn't quite as simple as that, but that's the gist of it). It turned into quite a good book. I loved it very much and wanted to share it with people.

Because, you know, that's what you do with art. You create it, refine it, and then you share it.

Thus began my search for an agent. Which, I was sure, would be quick and painless.

*cue maniacal laughter*

Fast forward three years, a hundred-or-so rejection letters, one brutally honest (read: endearing, crass, brilliant and now friends forever) writing group, and I'd been thoroughly humbled. Then I had my second manuscript accepted for publication by a smaller press called Evernight Teen. This publisher did not require me to have an agent before submitting to them. Although I had a very pleasant experience working with them and I loved the way my debut, Emerald Bound, turned out, I still wanted an agent.

My third manuscript was a YA contemporary suspense totally unrelated to Emerald Bound. It's called Windfall, and it's about a girl who wins the lottery on her eighteenth birthday, only to find herself caught in a major corporate scandal in which the lottery was rigged and she's the pawn in someone else's life or death game.

I started querying this manuscript to agents at the end of February, 2016. In May, I entered a contest hosted by author Michelle Hauck called Query Kombat. I made it in (HUGE thank you to Michelle, for picking me for her team) and, during the month of June, got some fantastic feedback on my query and opening page. I made it through several rounds of the contest and received eight requests by agents wanting to see more material. This was the highest number of requests on my team.

One of those requesting agents was Uwe Stender, the founder of TriadaUS. I sent the material to him, along with the other agents, and then waited.

I worked on another writing project. I enjoyed summer. I went on vacation with my family. I sent out more queries. I got my kids started back at school.

By mid-August, I'd heard back from a couple of the other requesting agents with either rejections or requests for more material, but hadn't heard back from Uwe. Since Triada is well-known for its quick response time (their query guidelines state that if they don't respond within two weeks then they didn't receive your query), I decided to follow up to make sure he'd received the material I'd sent him. He responded right away that it must have slipped through the cracks and that he'd take a look soon. I am *so* glad I followed up!

Two weeks later, he emailed and said that he'd passed it along to one of his agent assistants, Mallory Brown, who wanted to see the whole thing. Five days after that, Mallory emailed me with an offer of representation! She listed all the things she loved about Windfall and all the ways she'd connected to the story! After talking with her on the phone and hearing her enthusiasm, I was convinced she was the right agent for me and the perfect person to pitch my book to editors.

And now it's official!

I'm thrilled to announce that I've joined #TeamTriada and am rep'd by Mallory Brown!

*Commence freaking-awesome mildly embarrassing happy-dancing*

Of course, news this big requires a celebration. Since I did things a little backward and already have a book out, I'm going to celebrate with a giveaway! Up for grabs is an Emerald Bound prize pack, including a signed copy of the book, a metal Shepherd's-hook bookmark with emerald charm, and a custom-made Emerald Bound key chain.


(Emerald Bound is a dark YA retelling of The Princess and the Pea, in which the pea is an enchanted, life-sucking emerald. Use the rafflecoptor below to enter. The giveaway will be live for two weeks.)

For those who are interested, here are my query stats for Windfall:

Queries sent out: 79
Partial requests: 10
Full requests: 4
Rejections: 46
No response: 33

Just as a side note, the bulk of those 79 queries were sent out before Query Kombat. I had a much higher request rate on the queries I sent after incorporating feedback from the competition. If you ever have the chance to enter Query Kombat, or even stalk the entries and read through the feedback they're getting, DO IT!

And now, if you'll excuse me, I must go finish my happy dance.


a Rafflecopter giveaway
 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Read Local Campaign

I have exciting news! I've teamed up with over a dozen Young Adult authors in my region to start a Read Local campaign for our area, which includes Tennessee, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana (TIOKI for short). The campaign launches September 1st, and will be live for the entire 2016-2017 school year. Take a look at all of the amazing books on our list!



Anyone can participate in the challenge--you don't have to live in one of these five states, or even be a teenager. (Sure, they're all YA books. But YA books are the best, no matter how old you are--can I get an Amen?) And the best part? Once you read all the books on the list, you can enter to win your choice of a $25 iTunes gift card, or movie tickets. We'll have three drawings, spread over the course of the year. Entries are cumulative, so if you get your entry in before the first drawing, you'll be entered into all three drawings!

Classrooms in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana can also work together to complete the challenge, then enter to win an author visit for their class. Go here for more information.

I'm so excited to share all these books with you. Happy reading!