Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Keeping Things In Order

Hmm, I got exactly zero comments with my last post. Maybe it was too confusing.

Randy Ingermanson talks a lot about the snowflake method, scene and sequel, and motivation-reaction units (MRUs). Now I'm mostly a seat-of-the-pants writer, so the whole idea of planning and plotting an entire book in detail before I start makes me want to keep reviewing books. And trying to figure out scene and sequel is equally paralyzing. Not saying anything against Randy or his methods (btw, I do really like his books); they just don't work for me at this point.

MRUs are another story. It's just an educated way of saying, "Write what happens in the order that it happens." (For Randy's better explanation, scroll halfway down this page.) In other words, don't have your character scream in pain and then hit his thumb with a hammer. Or even write: "George screamed in pain because he hit his thumb with a hammer." What happened first? The hammer hitting the thumb. So you need to write something more along the lines of: "George swung again at the nail, missing it completely and hitting his thumb instead. The instant pain jerked an involuntary scream from his throat." Of course, if George isn't the point-of-view character for the scene, an onlooking character would most likely hear the scream, then realize its cause.

Randy's insights were a good refresher. I figured out that I'd been following the basic formula of MRUs in my writing without consciously thinking about it. I'd just been writing things in the order they would naturally happen. But not every writer does this. Not even published ones.

I just finished a series of books by Jeanette Windle - CrossFire and FireStorm. Both were over 600 pages long, but since I read an average of 100 pages an hour, I wasn't too worried. Fifty pages in, an hour had passed. Something was wrong. The story was moderately interesting, though I found the heroine's blind assumptions improbable. I looked closer. There was a bit of head-hopping, but it wasn't too bad. The thing I found eating up my reading time was that I was having to go back and reread sentences. A lot. Why? Because the author was putting reactions before motivations. She wasn't writing the story in order.

I ended up enjoying the last half of the first book (once the blind assumptions were gone) and the second book. But I'm still pondering how such a little thing made a profound difference in my reading experience. And I wonder how much better the books would have been if the author had mastered MRUs.

5 comments:

Gina Holmes said...

Hey there. Two comments: 1 you can keep the spammers off by requiring word verification to post a comment. I had to do that too.

2nd: nice blog. Randy's teaching is fantastic. It makes me cringe though of going back through my novels and rewriting them. I think I do okay but I wish I'd know that mru stuff a couple years ago!

Katie Hart said...

Thanks, Gina!

M. C. Pearson said...

Hi, found your blog on TL Hines' Christian Blog Alliance list. I agree about just writing as the story comes. I'm also on my second book, seeking publication for my first. *SIGH* God is trying to teach me patience...I'm not a very good student. What is your book about? Have you tried The Writer's Edge Manuscript Service? I've had one publisher request my book proposal so far and I've sent it to three others as well. Drop by my site sometime...I'm also a member of Faithwriters if you want to exchange chapters to review.

Valerie Comer said...

I hadn't noticed that about Jeanette's book (I've only read the first.) Maybe because I wasn't really *into* writing craft yet at the time? Or maybe because I was reading differently; I knew Jeanette in Bible School eons ago, and also I've been to Bolivia (also eons ago!) So perhaps I was simply wearing *other* reading glasses at the time.

Sarah Anne Sumpolec said...

I definitely prefer to tell the story as it happens, SOTP and all, but just last week I found myself in need of a synopsis- for a novel I hadn't written yet. Yikes. So I had to go forward and plot, despite my fear that I wasn't going to want to write the story when I was finished. But alas, it was a good exercise for me, and when forced, I found that I can sigh and plot out my act structure:-)

It's good to at least be aware of the methods:-) I'll have to check out the MRU thing...

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