Motivation Reaction Unit

Why is there so much hype about MRUs? Because. A well-done MRU pulls your reader further into your story. And that’s what we want, right?

Dwight says scenes are told in a series of causes and effects. Or, a series of stimuli and reactions. You string enough stimuli and reactions together, and you’ve got yourself a compelling scene.
What elements compose an MRU?
1. Motivating stimulus: the stimulus occurs outside your character

2. Character reaction: the reaction occurs inside your character
Example MRU: Hot water splashed against her skin (motivating stimulus). She yelped and sucked her finger (character reaction).

Notice, the character is NEVER the subject of the motivating stimulus. You do not want to say: She felthot water spash against her skin. Nix the “she felt”. This distances your readers. It’s a no-no.
Let’s break down the character reactionaspect of an MRU.
Three Components of Character Reaction:

1. Visceral: What emotion immediately overtakes your character? Your character has no control over this.
2. Reflex: What reflexes kicks into action? Do they duck? Gasp? Flinch? Yelp? Run? 
3. Rational Action/Speech: What does your character do or say? Your character has control over this.
Important note about order: Don’t get it wrong.
The motivating stimulus must come first. Your character can’t react to something that hasn’t happened yet. You wouldn’t want to write: She yelped and jabbed her finger in her mouth after the hot water splashed against her skin. This reads funny – the MRU is out of order.
The components of the character reaction must stay in order as well. A visceral reaction always comes before action or speech. When hot water splashes against your skin, your nerve endings burn, then you yelp. It’s not the other way around.
Get the order right and hook your reader. Get the order wrong, and your reader will know something is off, even though they might not be able to verbalize what’s wrong.
Let’s look at a detailed example:
Motivating stimulus: car backfires
Character reaction:
– Visceral reaction: pulse seizes 
– Reflex: his limbs jerk
– Action: grabs wife’s arm and spins around to locate the noise
– Speech: “What was that?”
How this would look in the story:
A loud clap splits the air (motivating stimulus).
Jack’s pulse seizes (visceral) and his limbs jerk (reflex). He grabs his wife’s arm and spins in all four directions, trying to locate the source of the noise. (action) “What was that?” (speech)
Notice: I showed the visceral response. I didn’t tell it. I didn’t write – Jack is startled. Also, the stimulus and the reaction have their own separate paragraphs. This should always be the case.
Should we put all four elements of character reaction in every MRU?
Of course not! Unless you want to exhaust your reader.

So how do you know when to put all the elements in?
-When you want to increase tension
-When you want to highlight something important
When you want to highlight something important and increase tension, this is prime time to bring your reader deep and include every component of the MRU.
Questions to Ponder: How do you feel about MRUs? Did this help you understand them better? Any questions you still have about them? I can try to explain if you do.