The Pattern of Writing

So, you’ve dreamed up your story.  What’s next?   Erect the basic structure of your story by rearranging your gobbledygook into a clear pattern a.k.a. MRU (Motivation/Reaction Units.)  A good analogy to this:  the basement and studs of your house.


1.  Motivation: (or, as I call it: ACTION) – an event, a happening, a change in the status quo.  (This is something that could be captured by a camera.)  Note:  Action should be the major portion of most stories.

2.  Reaction:   The character(s) have an immediate and physical reaction.

3. Internalization:  (or, as I like to call it: a mental reaction)  internal thoughts, opinions, or further explanation.  Internalization should be the smallest portion of most stories.

4.  Repeat this pattern over and over until the story reaches a conclusion.

Note:  Each scene may have multiple action/reaction/internalization paragraphs.  Sequence is still followed with few exceptions.  Sometimes the action/reaction is moving so fast that there may be no internalization.

Example:  Here’s a bit from my story ‘Crazy About Money.’

(ACTION) Wrapped in a heavy canvas jacket, the woman with the predictably wild hair-do stumbled over the threshold.  The orderly, following close behind, quickly captured her under the armpits.  Dr. Liam Nestly had seen the same scene played out a thousand times before—different patient, different day, but the same stumble and the same capture.  (REACTION) He stifled a yawn, until his eyeballs grew moist with the effort.

(ACTION)The tiny woman mumbled a thank-you, and the big orderly mumbled his response.  The odd couple did their funny little rumba-dance, sans music, all the way to the doctor’s receiving chair.  (REACTION/INTERNALIZATION) Nestly could not blame the orderly for taking the rear approach; quite often, vomit and drool covered the front side of the canvas tuxedoes that new patients wore.  It was always better to guide them from behind; besides, the backside of a straight jacket sported a heavy belt, buckles and laces that were handy things to grab in an emergency.

(MORE REACTION) Nevertheless, Dr. Nestly frowned.  (INTERNALIZATION) He always frowned at the straight jackets, pretending to disapprove.  But his non-verbal condemnation was really just a bit of theatrics, for the patient’s sake, rather than any real difference of opinion with hospital procedures.

(ACTION) “Is the patient violent?” Nestly asked.

(REACTION) The orderly shook his head, already removing the keys from his pocket.  “No doctor.  Not since we gave her the sedatives……

Note:  In a sense, all dialogue is a series of action/reaction units. The best way to get a clear picture of writing patterns is to read.  Read stories written my professionals (you know, the guys who make money) and see if you can pick out the patterns.  99% of the time, they will follow this pattern, unless they are going for some special effect.

There are some purists who believe that Action/Reaction units should not be contained in the same paragraph.  I would not go that far, especially for short-short stories.

Of special note:  You must never write action without a reaction or a reaction without a preceding action.

Bad Example:  I once read a story on a writing site that when something like this:

Three malcontent teenagers were walking down the street.  They were looking for trouble, spray painting walls and terrorizing citizens.  They see a bum.  They kick the bum, and they continue walking down the street looking for more trouble, eventually finding it.

Do you see the error?  There’s action but NO REACTION from the bum.  He doesn’t squeal, he doesn’t try to get away.  Is the bum dead?  And even if the bum was dead, that would have to be explained.  And even if you kick a dead body there is a reaction; granted, it may be a minor reaction, but still a reaction.  Even if you kick a can it has a reaction.  Maybe the can is filled with cement and doesn’t move, but even then your foot has a reaction.  Whahahah!

Author’s note:  Once again, I’ll tell you that everything filed under ‘About Writing’ represents my personal cheat sheets and is not a definitive study of the subject.


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