Fantasist's Scroll

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MICE or Authors?

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Dog which is in the evening time.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

What is MICE? Well, it’s an idea that Orson Scott Card talked about in his book How To Write Science-Fiction and Fantasy. So, what does it stand for? MICE stands for Milieu, Idea, Character or Event, and it describes the four basic kinds of stories that occur in speculative fiction. Let’s break them down!

Milieu stories are about the world the author has created. They’re all about exploration and seeing wonders. What matters is the journey through the world of wonders. Card gave the examples of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Clavell’s Shogun. What matters in both cases are what the main character sees and experiences and, to a certain degree, how that changes them. Remember, this story’s main focus is the world in which the characters exist. Other things are secondary to exploring that world. If you’ve built a really detailed world from the ground up and want to show it off, this may be the kind of story you want to tell.

Idea stories focus on a particular concept or question that the main character wants to solve. Notice, it’s about the main character, not the author. As an author you may have an idea that you want to get across or explore, but if you use the Idea story to do that, you have to make your characters care about the idea. A prime example would be the murder-mystery, where the main character is a detective trying to solve the question of “Who killed Mr. Body?” Characterization is not as important in Idea stories as it is in other kinds of stories. What matters is the Idea, or puzzle, to be solved. If you’re writing this kind of story, you might read up on mystery writing, as well as fantasy and sci-fi.

Character stories are about just that: the characters. But, more than that, character stories are also about the changes the characters go through during the course of the story. Putting an interesting character under some kind of pressure and watching them react can be both challenging and rewarding. These kinds of stories can generate some really touching tales. Coming of age stories fall under this category, but so do mid-life crisis stories. Think Death of a Salesman or, for a fantasy example, Lawrence Watt-Evans’ With a Single Spell. Remember, the Character story is about character. By that I mean that the story is driven by the characters and how they grow and change. A character must change in some way during the course of a Character story.

Event stories are about some great and earth-shattering event. They quite often include Character stories or Idea stories as sub-plots. These stories are about a big event of some kind that changes the world. The story, then, is about what happens leading up to the event, or how the world changes after the event. A science-fiction example is the “Wild Cards” series of shared world books edited by George R.R. Martin. In those stories, the Event was the release of a micro-organism that changes a significant number of the population into super-powered beings. Another example might be The Day After, which is a movie about what might happen after World War III.

So, in a nutshell, any good speculative fiction story should fit into one of these categories. If you’re writing a story and can’t figure out where it fits, you might need to re-think how you’re telling the story.

Until next time, keep writing!

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