“You were right, Dr. Grant. About what you said. In writing we have something called M/R Units. Motivation and Response. But between that motivation and response is a space, and it’s the choices we make in that space that defines us." -from Book 1: When Darkness Builds
Who is your favorite fictional character? Who was it, when you were a child, that you wanted to be like when you grew up? Sherlock Holmes? Superman? Or even (if you're twelve) Harry Potter? What is it about this character that you idolized? Were they intelligent and witty? Strong and brave? Charismatic and ambitious? Were they everything you ever wanted to be?
But how did you know?
Did the supporting characters excitedly whisper every time your hero entered the room, "Oooo, he's so intelligent...witty...strong...brave...(insert admirable trait here)"? Or did you get to discover first hand that he was strong and brave because he saved the girl, or intelligent and witty because he solved the crime, or charismatic and ambitious because he always managed to end up with exactly whomever or whatever he wanted?
Was it what he did that made him all those things to you?
So, I'm an author (in case you didn't notice) and one of the key rules to writing that gets pounded into an author's head is "show, don't tell." If you want your readers to know what kind of person your character is, you do it through verbs. You show that they are brave by having them act bravely. You show that they are intelligent by having them act intelligently. In other words, they are what they do. But why is that? Why does making someone act brave make them brave?
It's because before they could act bravely, they had to make a choice to be brave.
"They say if you want to get an accurate picture on a person of interest, you should look at how they act. What they do. It's supposed to matter even more than how they dress. Well, I don't believe that. I believe you can tell just as much about a person by what they wear or where they live or what kind of car they drive, and do you know why that is? It's because in the end it's not about what you do or what you wear. It's about the choices you make. Because everything we do, from getting dressed in the morning to holding a room full of people hostage, first requires a choice."
Dwight V. Swain, professor of creative writing for over 20 years at the University of Oklahoma and my personally favorite expert on the craft, said that all stories occur in Motivation/Response Units. Your hero is acted upon, either through external or internal stimulus, and then he reacts. Acted upon, then reacts. Over and over again until he is somehow changed, and that is how you craft your scenes and subsequently your entire story.
It's just like life. Man cannot exist in a vacuum. (How boring would that be?) He lives each day of his life faced with various stimuli and consequently reacts, forming his own existence, his own private story. His world is filled with M/R units. He is motivated, and based on his character, he responds.
He makes a choice.
It was author and motivational speaker Stephen Covey who made popular the idea that there is a space between motivation (or stimulus) and response when he quoted Viktor Frankl, who said:
Between stimulus and response, there is a space.
In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our happiness.
And it is the choices we make in that space that define us.
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The Importance of Friendship
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Fighting the Rain