The inimitable Orson Scott Card’s MICE Quotient is a method of looking at stories and creating story structure. As writers our role is to provide a rewarding experience for the reader. Whatever format or master plan you currently use to shape a compelling story, taking a look at your story through the lens of MICE Quotient can help:
- Know your characters
- Better understand your story
- Avoid the pitfalls of an unsatisfying ending
- Tighten the work
I came across MICE Quotient via the marvelous Karen Woodward, whose work I was drawn to by our mutual admiration of Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. She does a great job of explaining many things for writers.
This is a brief glance at MICE Quotient to whet your appetite. It is a beginning take on the subject. MICE equates to Milieu, Idea, Character and Event — 4 factors of stories whose emphasis and relationship create types of stories. Keep in mind that an author can create a story geared toward one main factor or toward blended factors. Also, a story can be viewed through different lenses of MICE, by the author or reader, in order to generate ideas or deepen understanding.
- The world is the thing.
- World building is your main task.
- You can provide more setting details than in other types of stories.
- Begin the story when the protagonist enters a new world.
- End the story when the protagonist leaves that world.
- Use characterization strategically to support the world but not to overshadow it.
- Usually the Milieu story type is blended with another type.
- Example – epic fantasies such as Lord of the Rings (can also be viewed an Idea story), westerns, and utopians.
- The problem is the thing.
- Your main task is to create an exciting, compelling, tricky trek toward solving the problem.
- Begin the story when the protagonist encounters an obstacle or problem to be solved.
- End the story when the problem is solved.
- You can go wild with eccentric characters in this story type.
- Example – bank heist novels, locked room murder mysteries such as some of the detective stories featuring Nero Wolfe and Sherlock Holmes.
- A fully fleshed out character is the thing.
- Characterization is your main task.
- Begin the story when the protagonist is unhappy with her role in life and seeks change.
- End the story when the protagonist achieves a new life, goes back to her old way of life, or becomes hopeless and just plain gives up.
- Example – romances, women’s fiction. Remember, in romances the hero and heroine should change and grow in order to come together and receive each other’s love.
- The out of kilter aspect of the world is the thing.
- Your task is to show the character responding to and “taking on” an upside down world.
- Begin the story when the protagonist responds to what’s out of kilter and seeks to restore order to the world.
- End the story when the protagonist wins or loses.
- Example – “changing places” stories such as The Prince and the Pauper, dystopian and catastrophe stories such as Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer.
How can MICE Quotient help writers provide a more rewarding experience for the reader? Here are a few ways:
Know your characters – Viewing characters through the parameters of MICE can shed light on goal, motivation, and conflict. You can gain deeper insight about your characters.
Better understand your story – I write paranormal fantasy romances, which are big on world building, and mine are chock-full of action and adventure. Because I love to write that way, to me plot is king. When I viewed the stories through the MICE lens, I realized how fleshed out the characters were, a realization that made me happy.
Avoid the pitfalls of an unsatisfying ending – An important rule to remember is that a story ending must be geared toward the same factor as the story beginning. The beginning is a promise to the reader. The ending is the satisfactory delivery of the promise, for example:
- If you as author end a murder mystery without telling the reader who committed the murder, big NO NO.
- Ditto if you dilute the murder mystery ending with overblown character details.
- If you end a romance with the heroine suddenly discarding the hero and becoming a nun, big NO NO.
- At ending time, we also have to be adroit in introducing new characters to clear a path for a sequel. Anything tacked on that is not part of the promise can lead to reader woe. Those characters need to be gracefully woven in earlier in a non-scene stealing way.
Tighten the work – Deciding which type of MICE you’re going with, or if it’s a blend, can help you focus on the most compelling details to include in a story and what NOT to include. Erle Stanley Gardner purposefully omitted specifics of Perry Mason’s private life. The focus had to be on Mason’s professional life. Private life focus would dilute the sheer genius of Mason’s courtroom gymnastics.
I hope you’ve found some interest in this brief glance at MICE Quotient. What do you think?
Cheers & Happy Reading!
Flossie Benton Rogers, Conjuring the Magic in Romance