Orson Scott Card’s MICE Quotient

mice quotient

Hi, everyone! Let me take this opportunity to apologize for not posting these last two Fridays. If you read my last post, 6 Essential Things That Most Writers Forget to Pack When Travelling, then you know I was in India visiting my boyfriend’s family. I fully planned to cobble something together while in the land of spice and yoga, but, alas, unreliable wi-fi coupled with culture shock and just a tad bit of jet lag thrown in for good measure killed my Writersaurus ambitions these last two weeks. A better blogger would have pre-written some posts and at least made an effort to figure out WordPress’ scheduling features. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with me and that’s just something you’ll all have to live with as I have.

To make up for all that, today’s post is about the Orson Scott Card’s M.I.C.E. quotient. Card mentioned the M.I.C.E. Quotient in both of his craft books, Characters and Viewpoint and How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy.

“MICE” stands for Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event. Not only is it a way to categorize stories, but also a loose guideline on where to start and end a story based on how it’s categorized. This is useful for those who are getting fed up with the traditional three act structure.

Below is a brief breakdown of the acronym, with examples.

 

Milieu (setting)

A milieu story focuses on setting or world. Generally, the story begins when the characters leave a familiar place and enter a new, unfamiliar one, and ends when they again return home.

Examples: Alice in Wonderland, The Hobbit.

Idea

Idea stories are about the process of finding information. They begin with a question, and end when that question is answered. Books in the mystery genre are often in this category.

Examples: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Da Vinci Code.

Character

Character-based stories center on character transformation. They begin with a character’s dissatisfaction with their own life or circumstances, and end when that character either manages to change those circumstances or accepts them.

Example: The Wizard of Oz.

Event

Event stories begin with a catastrophic event that threatens to totally destroy or alter the world, and end either when the characters stop or overcome the catastrophe, or when everyone perishes. Examples: The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day

It is useful to note that any given story can belong to more than one of the four categories. For example, The Wizard of Oz can be considered both a Character story and a Milieu story. The more categories a story belongs to, the longer it will be. Short stories should generally only belong to one category (or the author risks not satisfactorily fulfilling all the promises they made to the reader), novelettes two, and novels three or four.

As the hosts of the Writing Excuses podcast point out, one of the most useful aspects of the MICE Quotient is that it helps you pinpoint what promises you’re making to the reader. If your novel starts as a character story with an unsatisfied, disgruntled protagonist, that protagonist needs to undergo some sort of transformation (in either circumstance or attitude) to address that dissatisfaction by the end of the book. If instead you end it like an event story with everyone dying in an apocalypse, you will have some very disgruntled readers on your hands. They may not realize exactly why, but a story like this will rub your audience the wrong way.

That’s not to say you can’t have a story that is both character and event focused – you just want to make sure you fulfill (and properly foreshadow) any promises you make.

If you’d like to know more about the MICE Quotient, please listen to Writing Excuses episode 6.10, which does a great job of explaining the concept succinctly. Also pick up Card’s Characters and Viewpoint and How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy from your library.

As for me, well, it’s 11 AM and my eyelids are so heavy I can barely keep them at half-mast (jet-lag is awesome.) I’ll do my best to get this posted before I pass out drooling on my keyboard, but I make no promises.

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H. Duke
H. Duke writes contemporary fantasy, horror, and more. She currently lives in Tempe, Arizona with her husband, Giru, and a shiny black dog named Jupiter. Her weird west serial Jeremiah Jones Cowboy Sorcerer is being released in eight episodes (sort of like a TV show, but for your e-reader!). you can get the first four episodes here.

5 comments for “Orson Scott Card’s MICE Quotient

  1. Ariana Klassen-Glanzer
    May 12, 2016 at 5:16 PM

    “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was not about being dissatisfied and wishing to go somewhere else. Dorothy didn’t complain about anything in Kansas, was intrigued but often frightened about what she saw in Oz, and spent the book trying to get home. Unless you meant she started being dissatisfied with life once she got to Oz.

  2. hdziuk
    May 12, 2016 at 5:45 PM

    Hi, Ariana. Thanks for the comment!
    I must point out that I am not referring to the book, but to the movie. I have never read the book, so I can’t say for sure if any of this applies there.
    In the beginning of the movie, Dorothy is very dissatisfied with life in Kansas – Miss Gulch wants to take away her dog, Toto, and more than that, she is fascinated by the exoticism of ‘elsewhere’, and is yearning for adventure, as is shown in the song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.
    She runs away and meets Professor Marvel, a psychic. He says:
    “…you want to travel to other lands, see cities, big mountains…”
    She replies, “Why, it’s like you can read my mind!”
    At the end of the movie, this is what Dorothy says of what she’s learned: “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard…”
    So she’s arced from thinking that she wants to visit exotic lands and adventure to realizing that what she really wants is to be with her family and friends.
    Though they never do clear up what’s going to happen to Toto. Unless Miss Gulch really did get crushed by a house? Loose plot thread!

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