In tightening up some chapters, I began to question some of the structure of my chapters. Has anyone ever come across the method of writing scenes as breaking them down to Scenes and Sequals, and subsequently composing those parts into MRU's (Motivation Reaction Units).

Information link: www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/scene.php

I'm a big fan of learning ones own process, writing to the end, going back and editing repeatedly til one is happy with their own work. But, I do get stuck on some scenes and I was looking for information/advice and I came across this, so essentially is this good advice? Some of the concepts this person provides seem really vague or nonsense.

  • I'm not sure what the question here is. It's advice; take what works for you and what you're persuaded has potential to help. "Is this good advice" can be asked about anything you see written about writing ever, and you can ask it again about whatever answer you get.
    – Standback
    Oct 4, 2011 at 8:54
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    I don't know, Standback. I appreciate the rigor you're applying, but I think by the nature of writing, questions are very likely to be either so specific that answers will only be useful to the individual requester, or somewhat general and open to debate. Writing is... open ended. Most answers are going to be based on opinion. The value of the answers will lie in the evidence used to back up the opinion. I think.
    – Kate S.
    Oct 4, 2011 at 10:48
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    @KateSherwood: My great difficulty with subjective questions is that, being personal and subjective, I can't intuit the specific problem the OP has when I consider his question to be vague. I don't like "Please debate the following writing article" as a question. I'd be very happy to see "My circumstances are <X>, how does advice <Y> apply to me," or "I have reservation <X> concerning advice <Y>." But I can't fill in $X in OP's stead...
    – Standback
    Oct 4, 2011 at 11:31
  • Have to agree with @Kate here. +1 to compensate for the (in my opinion) inappropriate -1 . Oct 4, 2011 at 15:02
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    Please, @Shan, do not pity upvote. Only vote up posts, if you think they are worth upvoting. Do not vote to compensate stuff. If it is not worth an upvote for you, it also shouldn't be worth just because it has a downvote. You are ruining the sense of voting. Oct 4, 2011 at 18:42

3 Answers 3


I find these sorts of formulas, well... formulaic. If I'm going to read about how to write, I want to read someone who HAS successfully written, a lot, and well. Someone like, say, Stephen King. And when I read his On Writing, I really don't see the craft being reduced to a math problem.

I won't say that this sort of thing wouldn't help anybody, but I know that it doesn't help me. I spend too much time trying to twist and contort my writing to fit into the formula, or I discard things that I know work because they don't fit and I can't make them, and the whole thing takes the organic joy out of the process. For me.

To the poster's credit, he does acknowledge that the time to use these tools is AFTER you've already written your first draft. According to him, you write, you analyze according to the formula, and you rewrite as needed to conform. According to me, you write, you analyze according to the sense you've developed after decades of reading and studying well-crafted fiction, and you rewrite as needed to conform to the story you want to tell. Maybe these two paths will take you to the same place... but I like the scenery along my route a lot better!

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    +1 for not following a formula! I completely agree that the best way is to learn how to analyse good writing (through reading many books, or reading books on writing) then analysing your work yourself.
    – Lexi
    Oct 4, 2011 at 7:58
  • @Lexi: reading lots is the more important part, not amount of books about writing will help. They may help better understanding good writing, but the key is actually reading. Jun 21, 2012 at 23:05
  • @JAE: Agreed, I should have said "and reading books on writing". Mainly because it's possible to read lots, but not read critically. I find the books on writing help me to pick out specific techniques writers are using, and understand why something does or doesn't work.
    – Lexi
    Jun 22, 2012 at 0:18

When I'm writing well, I don't think deliberately about MRUs. They end up in my writing anyway, but I don't think explicitly about needing a motivation or needing a reaction.

But when I'm stuck, I find MRUs really useful. I map out a few plausible "motivations" and a few plausible reactions, maybe a few more subsequent motivations and reactions. After a few minutes of this, I have beat that I want to write, and I write it, and continue from there.

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    I had never heard of MRUs before, but reading the link, I agree with Dale; I think it's a useful structural tool to have on hand to get you past roadblocks. I don't think any method needs to be followed slavishly. Oct 4, 2011 at 11:32

I found thinking about Scene/Sequel helpful in learning to avoid pointless scenes, both while revising and during outlining.

If you want to read more about it, definitely check out the book he got it from, Dwight Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer, and also Jack Bickham's Scene & Structure.

It does seem formulaic, but that can be helpful when you're trying something new, and the Bickham book in particular provides plenty of variations on the formula.

  • "pointless scenes"? So anything without conflict/desaster is pointless? Well, if it floats your boat (and your readers')... it sure doesn't float mine. Jun 21, 2012 at 23:23
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    Pointless scenes that don't do enough to advance the plot. Some writers can get away with, and some readers will tolerate, scenes that exist solely for character development or world building. I find it much more interesting to read a conversation where the characters are disagreeing with each other than several pages of everyone sitting around drinking tea, being happy, and having no problems.
    – Elizabeth
    Jun 22, 2012 at 13:54
  • Then, Elizabeth, there lots and lots of pointless books. Much of the greatest literature is, as you say, pointless. I think this is a site for writers. Of all persuasions. Oh, and sitting around, drinking tead, being happy, having no problems... could be a perfect setup for really shaking things up. Jun 22, 2012 at 14:19

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