A Month of Changes with More to Come

June has been a busy month of changes. Those changes come at a cost of my time and energy. That means that despite my best intentions, not much writing is getting on the screen. But positive changes can be a good thing.

image of a chalky, chalk board with the words "Time for Change" written in white chalk. We all are facing changes

Intentions

Instead of goals or resolutions, I use intentions. You can miss a goal. You probably break most resolutions. But an intention is a focus. When life gets in the way of your plan, take care of that event or disturbance, intending to return to your primary plan. Every morning begins with a renewed intention.

Making

There are three more days this month, but I doubt I’ll get any more making done. Somehow, I got my newsletter out and five blog posts written and posted. Beyond that, there’s a lot of thinking while doing other things and some note taking on two separate but related projects.

It will probably be September before I can make any real fiction writing progress. SIGH. Read on for the why.

Managing

Very little done in the managing area, not even keeping up with routine business chores. 

Marketing

Even less was done in the marketing department, but I have plans… oh boy, do I have plans. 

Home

Home has been where almost all of my focus and energy have gone. I am finally going to have my worn and stained and poorly patched wood floors repaired and refinished at the end of July. However, that means I have to move every stick of furniture, clothing, and anything else out of the main living areas. 

My two-year-old grandson, J, visited recently and voiced his opinion of this:

Changes are happening at my house. This photograph shows a floor littered with shreds of paper, boxes to be made, empty boxes and a box full of books with a book titled the Fantastic Art of Boris Vallejo on the top of the pile.

“It’s a mess!”

Grandson J

Me: Yes, it is, J. It’s a huge mess right now.

My late husband and I may have been related to pack rats who fill their nest with all kinds of things. After almost thirty years in this house, the accumulation of stuff is overwhelming. Fortunately, my grandson, C, and son have been helping—a lot.

C and I held a garage sale during 95˚ F weather. We stayed in the shade, under a fan as much as we could, and drank a lot of water. 

Cleaning out my late husband’s art studio has been… challenging and a long, slow process. 

Going Forward

After I finish sorting and clearing out things I don’t use, need, or want any more, my son and grandson will help me move everything else into the garage or basement. Then I will attempt to paint all the walls in this three-bedroom ranch before they refinish the floors. Wish me luck in getting all of this accomplished in thirty days. 

Writing time will continue to be minimal until the end of July. 

While the floors are done and drying, I’ll start writing again. Halfway through August, I’ll begin moving everything back to the main level again.  

Everything Changes

This black and white illustration shows the scales of justice out of balance with one hanging very low and the other very high. Sadly, this is what our justice system looks like post roe v. wade.

Big and small changes happen all the time. Some changes are more than not good. The SCOTUS decision to strike down Roe v. Wade is the worst. I am a Christian and am horrified at this outcome. Outraged that some states are taking it so far as to declare that they may prosecute a woman taking care of her personal physical and mental health. It’s terrifying how closely this resemble the religious totalitarian society in my series, The Fellowship Dystopia.

Taking away freedoms is NEVER the right thing, the Christian thing, to do. This SCOTUS decision will lead to more changes. We who believe in the right of free choice must make certain the next change is a positive one.

When bad things happen, we must commit to changing what we can, but we need also to lighten our load by looking for the good. Some changes are good for us. I choose to look at my long process of home improvement as a positive change for me. Ultimately, it should save me time and and make my environment more comfortable. 

What positive changes are happening in your life?

Image Credits

Top image by  Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Middle photo by Lynette M. Burrows

Final image by kalhh from Pixabay 

Create Compelling Scenes with the MRU

I consider myself fortunate to have met Mr. Swain early in my writing career. His book helped me massively improve my writing. I hope this information helps you too. Writing Compelling Scenes with the MRU is introduced here and appears in full on the Writers in the Storm blog on Wednesday, June 15, 2022.


Structuring your novel’s big picture is important. The structure of your scenes all the way down to your character’s motivations and reactions are equally important. If you get the sequence out of order, you risk confusing or completely disengaging your reader. Don’t worry. You can create compelling scenes with the MRU. The motivation-reaction unit (MRU) is a tool introduced by Dwight V. Swain in his book, Techniques of the Selling Writer. This post is only an introduction to the MRU. In his book, Mr. Swain does a deep dive into the MRU and other tools writers can use to be a selling writer.

“A story is a series of motivation-reaction units. The chain they form as they link together is the pattern of emotion.”

Techniques of the Selling Writer, Dwight V. Swain.

What is the MRU?

In Techniques of the Selling Writer, Mr. Swain uses his understanding of the pattern of emotion (how people’s brains work) to create a guideline for writing fiction. He calls it the motivation-reaction unit (MRU) and breaks it down into parts. 

At its simplest, the MRU is—

a.) Motivation.

b.) Reaction.

In the book, Mr. Swain talks about each part of the MRU in great detail. Read it to get a deeper understanding of the MRU. He also discusses what story is, story structure, character, conflict, and ways to be a successful professional writer. 

How Your Brain Reacts to Stimuli 

People react to a stimulus predictably. There are simple responses, more detailed responses and complex responses. What we think varies. What we feel varies. What we do and say varies. But each of our brains reacts to a stimulus in the same pattern. 

A stimulus is something that directly rouses a reaction or activity. We pick up stimuli with one of our senses: sight, touch, hearing, smell, taste. Neurons in your brain process the stimulus and cause a sequence of responses. The blink of an eye is one reflex that happens instantly. Some responses we learned at an early age— don’t touch the hot stove. We gain some after repeated experiences, and some responses need to be processed on a higher level of thought that might take hours to months.

Simplest Stimulus and Response

A reflex is your body’s simplest response. A dangerous stimulus causes an immediate motor response. 

Stimulus: Something flies toward your eye.

Response: You blink without a conscious thought. 

More Complicated Stimulus and Response

The more complicated the stimuli, the more complicated your response. Your brain processes this in nanoseconds and your body responds in seconds or minutes. 

Stimulus: 

You feel the pain of a bee stinging you.

Reaction: 

You want to stop the pain, slap at the bee, and yell. 

Complex Stimuli and Response

Some stimuli, particularly social ones, are far more complex and trigger a complex response.

Stimulus:

Your ex-husband confronts you at a public event and loudly demands that you admit your much loved, recently departed, second husband abused you. 

Reaction:

Confused and hurt, you play the words in your head again,. You knot your hands into fists. You politely deny the accusation and you excuse yourself from the uncomfortable situation. Later, you replay the scene in your head; you remember similar conversations with your ex, and your suppressed anger boils. You curse loudly and deface your ex’s expensive car. 

How to Create an Effective Motivation

Motivation always comes before reaction. But what motivation is Mr. Swain talking about?

Read More

Where did you first hear about the MRU? What have you written, read, or watched that has a great example of the MRU?

If you enjoyed this post, you may be interested in the Story Sentence or my posts on Re-Visioning Your Story.

Progress Report: Moving Forward in May

It’s the end of the month and time for my May progress report. After the mass murders at Rob Elementary School in Ulvade, Texas, it feels small and unimportant. Compared to the grief of so many, my report is small and unimportant. My heart breaks for those families forever changed. But a comparison like that is wrong, worse than comparing apples and walnuts. Eventually, those families will move forward the best that they can. In the meantime, it’s up to the rest of us to move forward. And for me, much of my report is about moving forward in May.

Intentions

Instead of goals or resolutions, I use intentions. You can miss a goal. You’ll forget or break your resolutions. But an intention is a focus. When life interrupts your plan, take care of that event or disturbance, intending to return to your primary plan. Every morning begins with a renewed intention.

Making

It was an incredibly busy month. The making portion of my writing business was not the focus. However, I made notes on two stories in development. You’ll see more from the world of the Fellowship Dystopia in the future.  

Managing

Being a launch month, book production and marketing consumed me for most of the month. Happily, If I Should Die is now available everywhere they sell books online. 

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by host Alex Greenwood on the Mysterious Goings On podcast again. Have you listened to it?

Marketing

My limited efforts in marketing on Amazon and on Facebook are encouraging. I marketed and sold books in person.  

Home

My newsletter readers got a glimpse of the unwanted surprise I experienced the last of March and affected the entire month of April and into May. I started rearranging my office to make room for my new sit-stand desk. Surprise! I discovered an exterior wall covered in mold. That led to a rapid move of the “working parts” of my office into my living room. Everything else got packed up. (I had an incredible amount of books and stuff crammed into that space!)

Bids for mold remediation delayed book production activities. It was not the dangerous mold.

They removed the moldy walls and treated all studs. Then the drywall installers came. After all of that, I decided I wanted the floors re-varnished. Turns out that’s better/cheaper done for the entire house. I put that off until after the book launch.

Events

If you follow my tweets or Facebook posts, you know I attended ConQuesT, my local science fiction convention over this Memorial Day weekend. More low-key than usual, it was delightful to be at an in-person event. The volunteers of the con did a great job, especially considering that for the prior two years they’ve prepared and cancelled. 

Going Forward

Moving forward, I have many plans for my writing. Writing the third book in the Fellowship Dystopia is a top priority. Growth of my readership through this blog, my newsletter, and my street team remains a priority. 

Speaking of my newsletter, join the Reading Rebels to receive a free book and more up-to-date information and snippets from my works in progress. 

Final Words

When the world feels unstable, frightening, and incredibly sad, moving forward is difficult. Be empathetic. Keep your head on your shoulders. Remember, tough times don’t last. Tough people do. Don’t let the crazies, the hateful, the tyrannical make you act like them. Rise above. Be strong. You can be the change you want to see. Be the light in these dark times. 

A Train Station with a Story

Kansas City’s Union Station

Kansas City is the home to a majestic building that is called Union Station. In 1945, more than 678,000 people passed through those doors and onto passenger trains that took mostly members of America’s Armed Forces all over the country. In its 100 plus years of existence, it has seen tears of joy, tears of sadness, and even blood and tears. Its history inspired me to use a fictitious version of it in book two of the Fellowship Dystopia, If I Should Die. But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

The First Kansas City Train Station

The West Bottoms district is one of the oldest areas of Kansas City. It sits near the junction of the Missouri River and the Kansas River. Originally called the French Bottoms, it was an area of trade for Native Americans and French trappers. After Kansas City’s stockyards opened in 1871, the railroads came.  

Union Depot opened on April 7, 1878 in Kansas City, Missouri’s West Bottoms district. The grand building stood on Union Street (hence the name) filled with the passengers boarding trains for distant cities. 

In 1903, Kansas City’s great flood destroyed many of the businesses in the area. Rail executives decided to build a new station on higher, more centrally located ground.

The New Union Station

By 1906, twelve railroad companies combined to form The Kansas City Terminal Railroad. They chose Chicago architect Jarvis Hunt to design the new station.

Construction of the massive beaux arts architectural style building began in 1910.

November 1, 1914, Union Passenger Station of Kansas City opens its doors to a massive crowd. The construction cost close to six million dollars. 

Rail traffic peaked during WWI-with 79,368 trains passing through the Station, including 271 trains in one day.

UnionStation.org

Union Station Massacre

On June 17, 1933, a team of FBI agents and police officers escorted convicted mobster Frank Nash to the station. Nash and four law enforcement officers died in a shootout outside the building. Many myths about that crime persist today. Many claim that marks on the building are from the bullets that flew that day even though modern Kansas City Police disproved that. Mystery surrounds which other mobster committed the crime. They convicted Adam Richetti of the crime and died in the gas chamber on October 7, 1938.

A Long History

Almost the noon hour at the Union Station in Kansas City, MO.

After 100 years, Union Station has a long history, a colorful history. With that colorful history and the beauty of the building inside and out, how could I not use it as a location in If I Should Die? Of course, to fit the alternate timeline of the Fellowship Dystopia, I had to change enough part of the Station’s story to make it part of Miranda’s story. But the clock in the Grand Hall of the station becomes an important location. A location of hope and disaster that will change Miranda’s life. 

Inspired by history,If I Should Die, The Fellowship Dystopia, Book Two goes on sale tomorrow. It’s available on all your favorite online bookseller sites. 

Amazon Barnes & Noble Kobo Universal Link

Which historic location do you think the third book of the Fellowship Dystopia should include? Why?

Image Credits

The Frame of a Story: The Forces of Antagonism

This is the beginning of my contribution to The Writers in the Storm blog this month. I share my understanding of Robert McKee’s Forces of Antagonism and how I use those forces as the frame of a story.

This photo is a shot of the grass and blue sky visible between the backs of a man and a woman standing side-by-side. Each has an arm extended in front of them with their thumb and index finger framing the ghostly outline of a house illustrating the frame of a story.
Dreaming Couple Framing Hands Around Ghosted House Figure in Grass Field.

In constructing a story, I am both a pantser and a planner. I plan the frame of a story, then place the characters in that frame and discover what they will do in that situation. It’s taken years for me to figure out a method that works for me. I share it here, not so you have a blueprint to borrow, but to illustrate one way to build your own frame. As I explained last month, the first step in building a story’s framework is the story sentence. The next step I take is to decide on the Forces of Antagonism that will best express my story.

I first came across the idea of forces of antagonism in Robert McKee’s book, Story. No disrespect to Mr. McKee, but I didn’t get it at all. I had a more narrow definition of antagonist that I conflated with the word antagonism. Plus, his terminology didn’t resonate with me. In fact, I barely understood what he was saying. Then a friend reintroduced me to the concept. 

Forces of Antagonism 

… the principle of antagonism is the most important and least understood precept in story design.” Story, by Robert McKee

The first part of the principle is easy. It’s about people. Humans conserve energy, all kinds of energy. It’s part of our DNA. If we see two choices ahead of us and one seems easier than the other, most of us will do the easier thing. We avoid taking risks, if we can. 

Mr. McKee explains “the principle of antagonism is that a protagonist and his story can only be as intellectually fascinating and emotional compelling as the forces of antagonism make them.” He says the more powerful and complex these forces are, the more completely realized the character and story must become. 

If you’re like me, you read antagonism and think antagonist. Most likely you are thinking of a single person or group who will oppose your protagonist. But that’s not quite right. 


The Frame of a Story

Read the rest of this post and learn about the principle of Antagonism, how I interpret the four forces, and how I use them as the frame of a story so I can be both a planner and a pantser on The Writers in the Storm.