Let me start off by saying that I am a terrible writer. I weeble over grammar, wobble over paragraph breaks, I spend too much time on description, etc. I’m a baby writer. Being new to writing fiction, that’s going to happen. I’m learning, and I think I’m getting better. I am picking up new tools regularly as I learn. I’m building my toolbox with each new technique in description or plotting. I freely admit this is stolen writing advice, but it’s an important tool in my writing toolbox.
Orson Scott Card described the MICE quotient in his book Character and Viewpoint. It is a framework for describing types of stories, and the type of ending that story should have. The beginning and end of a story will generally mirror each other. The beginning of the a story sets up a conflict, and the story concludes when that conflict is resolve. It is a way of recognizing the type of story that you’re telling and what a satisfying ending for that story is. It is an agreement with your reader about what they should expect from your story. Given below is a quick synopsis of the different story types he described.
A millieu story begins when the character enters a strange new place, and ends when they leave the strange place. The promise of a millieu story to the reader is that they are going to explore a strange or alien world with the protagonist, and return from it, likely changed (Character Story subplot!)
Example: Lord of the Rings uses a strong millieu story line. That is not the main plot element. We explore Middle Earth with Frodo as he sees things amazing and terrifying. At the end of the story, Frodo returns to the Shire a changed man, er hobbit. Stories that are strictly millieu stories are rare. Gulliver’s Travels would probably be the closest thing to a pure Millieu story.
Idea stories starts with a question and ends with answer to that question. The promise of an Idea story is that there will be a problem to solve. This is one of the most common story types. It can be a mystery, heist, or any other story where a story is asked that must be answered. The satisfying resolution of this story is the answer to that question.
Examples: This is one of the most prevalent story types in use, so there are several examples The Italian Job, Ocean’s Eleven, Murders in the Rue Morgue, 2001, Every single episode of CSI or Sherlock, Doctor Who – Time Heist… you get the point
Character stories starts when a character realizes that they’re not satisfied with their lot in life, and end when they change their situation successfully or when they reconcile that they’re stuck like this. The promise of a character story is that a character will change their role. They will start with some dissatisfaction with their role in their community.
Examples: Every buddy cop movie ever. Boil a buddy cop film down and you’ll find a rom-com for bromance. Think of Danny Glover burned out and unhappy with how stale his life has become. Now meet that psychotic, whacky Mel Gibson! Sparks fly, and bad guys die. It’s a match made in blockbuster heaven. If you’re more conventional, Consider Alicia Silverstone in Clueless. In this adaptation of Austen’s Emma, Silverstone becomes unhappy with simply being a superficial popular girl in her school. Introduce mature, socially conscious Paul Rudd. Silverstone’s character struggles, grows, matures, and falls for Rudd’s character.
Event stories start when something goes terribly wrong, and end when the status quo is restored.
Examples: San Andreas, Independence Day, etc. Most disaster films fit into this scenario nicely.
Here’s my TLDR crackpot theory on LOTR:
I was really dissatisfied with the end of the final Lord of the Rings movie. The openeing scene of the first movie was the creation of the Rings of Power. In the final movie [SPOILER], Frodo destroys the Ring of Power. Now the film continued for nearly half an hour after that. This made it feel long winded and was an unsatisfying ending to me. I have a long theory on why I think this works in the book, and not the movie. Regardless, if Jackson would have wrapped up the film quickly after that, I think that it would have made a much stronger story.
These can be more than the central conflict. For instance, a novel can contain four or more. While a short story will likely only contain one element from the MICE quotient. Using this
where you start and where you end mirror each other.
There you have it, a quick overview on MICE. It’s an invaluable tool for me, when I am troubleshooting my plot. These principles help me to make sure that I am on the right path, and that the story will have a satisfying conclusion. By understanding what the promises you make to your reader, you’ll greatly improve the odds that it will be satisfying to the reader (or at the very least not annoy them enough to throw the book across the room). And rightly so, if you start a story with the body of a dead senator, you might be a little miffed if it turns into a romance between the interns in her office.
Karen Woodward’s blog is fantastic!
Character & Viewpoint – where all of this started
This blog is an overview of the MICE quotient talk I presented to the Pueblo West Writers Group |Blog| |Facebook|
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