This is a bit heavy on the speculative fiction side. Turns out I like Science Fiction & Fantasy. Who knew? I probably should write some notes about the individual books, but it’s the holiday season, and I’m feeling lazy. Suffice to say, that I enjoyed nearly everything on this list. However, I would like to point out that The Expanse is a very special treat! Oh and City of Stairs? That’s a book that shouldn’t work but does somehow, and OMG is it good! And of course anything written by Scalzi or Wendig is gold.
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 bookCharacter 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.
Millieu 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.
She struggled to breath as the Benz pinned her to the seat. It rocketed up the on ramp of I-95 faster than she could believe possible. Her eyes were wide as saucers and her fingers ached with the death grip she put on the wheel. Tail lights flew by her like they were backing up their own carports recklessly. She glanced down at the speedometer and said, “No shit?”, as she saw it reading one hundred twenty six miles per hour.
She took her foot of the gas and let the big German coupe idle back to a reasonable speed. She was surprised not nearly as much by the violence of the acceleration, it left her breathless and her head was swimming slightly, but at how smooth it was. Like having an elephant in velvet underpants dive onto her chest.
She was not prepared for it. Driving in circles in her mother’s beat up LeSabre had not prepared her for this monstrosity. She smiled and dipped into the accelerator again, and grunted as the elephant bounded into her chest. Cars began whizzing by her once again. White lines began to blur into a single line as cars became stationary fence posts on a country road zipping by her. She weaved from the left lane to the right and then back again, moving between the cars like a running back through linebackers, occasionally emerging on wide open swaths where she would pour the throttle down and pin it firmly to the floor. Her entire world reduced to the two lanes ahead of her and the narrow shoulders.
She eased from the throttle as cars gathered on the horizon again. She didn’t dare look down at the speedometer now, the time it would take to look down and back up, she would cover an entire football field at least, more? She didn’t know. She tapped the brakes to eat up the speed, the nose dove and bobbed to the right. She felt the Taco Bell she had for lunch turn to ice water in her gut as it shifted down and right. That couldn’t be good. A line of three sets of tail lights were approaching up to her right, she would back it down to a sane speed and cruise the rest of the way home.
She thought that she could drop the car off in one of the abandoned boat houses east of her neighborhood, and walk home. Tomorrow she could talk to one of Roger’s cousin’s about picking it up and taking it to a chop shop. That would be a quick profit for her. She figured that she could get three or four thousand for it, not even close to what this car was worth, but for an hours worth of work, it wasn’t a bad rate. That would pad what Roger would be able to extract from Randy’s accounts after he exposed the lousy wife beating piece of shit.
“Fuck me,” Corey hissed at herself as the last car in the line of three decided to pass and changed into her lane. She slammed the brakes and the Benz nosed over hard and veered to the right. Instead of fighting it she followed it. Skimming behind the lane changing asshole and nearly colliding with the next vehicle.
She weaved out onto the shoulder, and let off the brake. The car gave her its nose back and she straightened and goosed the throttle and bolted past it and the next car. Her jaw dropped and the elephant that had been sitting on her chest settled into her bowels as she realized that the third car was a Florida State Patrol cruiser. The other two had been running slow, pacing it, so as not to get pulled over.
She flew by it in a blur on the shoulder, fully in the throttle trying to get by before she reached the barriers of the oncoming overpass. Blue and red lights began strobing before she passed him. She knew her night was over, and probably her life as well.