Waiting for "The Call"

“Honey, it’s always crap. Every book I write is crap. It’s my job to fix the crap afterwards,” according to Nora Roberts. Well, I've got it half right. Still working on the "fixing it" part. "Trust your characters to be complex enough and to have enough emotional baggage. Force them to make hard choices." Advice from Michelle Styles that might help!

Setting goals April 18, 2008

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 3:31 pm
Tags: , ,


Well, yesterday I set some goals for my writing, which would acknowledge my exhaustion just getting everything done on day I go to the “day job”, and hopefully motivate me to get my ass into gear on the days I am not working, so I do actually get some writing done and not just writing about writing, which doesn’t really count.

Four days off work now. Sunday is Full Moon Madness again, I hope to get five thousand words, hopefully all on the story! That will be a whole chapter. If I use my time well, its possible I could finish the first draft by the end of these four days off.

That will leave the first draft a bit short of fifty thousand words, but I have more I want to add to most sections, as nearly everything needs more physical beats and emotional response to events. There is an excellent post on physical beats and why they are so important to our stories here , on Michelle Styles’ blog.

The other thing I want to look at is the clunkily named Motivation Reaction Units. Lynn Raye Harris, the Harlequin competition winner mentioned them in one of her posts on I (Heart) Presents, which got me thinking about them again. The concept comes from a book I have seen recommended by several writers- Techniques of the Selling Writer . I haven’t bought this book yet, but it’s another one on my wish list! There is an article that talks about some of the concepts in the books, including Motivation Reaction Units, here . It’s an article I read when I was first thinking about writing again, but only now, as I’m wrestling with getting that sense of really experiencing the story rather than being an onlooker, do I feel I’m getting what he is talking about.

The essential part for reader involvement and emotional intensity is the bit in the middle, the “feeling” and “reflex” component of the Motivation Reaction Unit.  Something happens, the POV character has an emotion response to it (the feeling) and a physical response to it (the reflex). Then they speak, or act. It can’t just be action / reaction. The motivation is not the triggering action so much as it is the POV characters emotional and physical response to it. Then out of the character’s response, comes their reactive action. The bit I am missing at present is the true motivation- I’m just showing action / reaction, and that’s why my story feels like looking in a window at two people, rather than being there in the room, right inside the POV character’s head.

That, and the physical beats that anchor the dialogue in a physical reality, are the main things I need to work on in my edit. Oh, and sorting out subtly dropping in more backstory so the characters actions seem more believable, changing the whole situation with her father, and generally rewriting great chunks of story!

I’m getting ahead of myself here anyway- I haven’t finished the first draft yet! And at the rate I’m going (now 3.30pm and I haven’t written a word on the story today) it is not going to happen any time soon.

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2 Responses to “Setting goals”

  1. Steven Says:

    Just a note: you seem to be equating “POV character” with “focal character”. They are not the same thing. The difference, in addition to motivation-reaction units and many other things, is discussed well in “Techniques of the Selling Writer”.

  2. waitingforthecall Says:

    Good point! It’s not always the case, and Swain gives an excellent explanation of this. I hadn’t actually read Techniques of the Selling Writer at the time I wrote the original post, I’ve read it twice since!
    I am writing category romance, where the POV and focal characters are usually synonymous. Our focal characters are the hero and heroine, and in most stories of the type I’m aiming for, they will also be the only POV characters.
    There are certainly romances where the focal character never gets POV- Wuthering Heights for example. But it’s pretty much a convention of short category romance that the focal characters are also the POV characters. It tends to help create more character identification and a deeper emotional response in the reader.
    Also, thinking about motivation-reaction units, I can’t see how a writer can show the feeling component of the MRU if the POV character is NOT the focal character. The POV character will be forever standing outside the feelings of the focal character, observing stimulus and external reaction but only able to guess at the focal character’s internal reactions. I can see uses for that technique, especially when the writer doesn’t want the reader to know what the focal character’s feelings are about something.
    The hero was always a black box to the heroine of older romances, written from only her POV. Stories told from first person heroine POV would share the same issues. In category romance the character who is focal for the scene tends to also be given POV for that scene. It could be fun to play around with what results from giving the POV to the character whose feelings are less crucial, but as an unpublished writer trying to break into series romance, the advice usually given is to play it safe, and stick to the conventions. Which means POV character equals focal character for that scene, and the focus is generally divided between the hero and heroine 50/50 or no more off balance than 60/40.


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