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.