Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Chicken Or The Egg?

The time-old question “which came first the chicken or the egg” is one of those moot questions we don’t waste our time on, but as authors, the “which comes first” is an important issue in developing sentence structure. I’m an author who loves the music of words and I listen to the cadence of a line and change the wording if it doesn’t provide the rhythm I want. This means I’m a person who needs to pay attention to the “cause and effect” element of my statement so I don’t change a sentence to meet one need while losing the impact of motivation and response.

Dwight Swain teaches the concept of MR unit, referring to the order in which words should fall. M stands for motivation and R for reaction. A person is always motivated by someone or something before he takes action. He’s hungry. He goes into the kitchen. He can’t see. He turns on the light. According to Swain’s teach once motivated the character’s follows the pattern of: feeling, action, speech. An excerpt from his book, Techniques of the Selling Novel provides this example. Look at these lines and place a 1, 2, 3, and 4 on the blanks to show the proper order of these sentences when considering the motivation and reaction.

______She Smiled.

______”How’s it going, Jill?” he asked.

______”Just fine, thanks.”

_____A glow of warmth crept through Jill.

According to Swain, here are th answers from top to bottom: 3, 1, 4, 2

“How’s it going Jill?” he asked. (Motivation)
A glow of warmth crept through Jill. (Feeling)
She smiled. (Action)
“Just fine, thanks.” (Speech)

This is the basic idea to consider when deciding which comes first as you structure your narration and dialogue. In all of your writing, consider cause and then effect.

Look at this sentence. She hurried to close the box when she heard Bill coming into the room.

In this case, I’ve give you effect first and cause second. A reader would face her closing the lock without understanding why she was in a hurry, so this sentence needs to he rewritten: She heard Bill coming into the room and hurried to close the box. In this order, we see the motivation and then the response or action following. This still leaves a hook because we don’t know why she fears Bill knowing she had unlocked the door or chest or whatever it was.

Though this may seem silly or unimportant, writing/storytelling can be improved by placing events in the cause and effect order. Her lungs failed her when she saw the glorious sunset. Turn it around, and it makes more sense. When she saw the glorious sunset, her lungs failed her. Now the sentence has more impact.

While cadence is important—the music of the words—don’t lose the cause and effect order in your novel. Readers want to know why something happened—so show them cause and then response.


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Nice post! Thanks.

Jillian said...

The great tips just keep on coming for my "Gail Notebook"! And this one used my name. :) I have recently started reading Dwight Swain's book. It looks as if I spent my money wisely. Thanks, Gail!

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Thanks, Write Essay. . and Jillian good for you. Swain's books are very helpful and not difficult to understand. And once again, I'm glad I gave you some things to think about. I have to do the same. Easy not to pay attention to that little tip.


Martha Ramirez said...

Great way of breaking this down, Gail. Thank you! Love Dwight.

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Steven Barnes said...

Dwight Swain's "Techniques of the Selling Writer" may be the best nuts and bolts text ever. The "Motivation Reaction" unit, as well as his basic concept of plot (Situation, Character, Objective, Opponent, Disaster) is priceless.