July 14, 2020

Of M.I.C.E. & Writers

Amazing artwork by j.Dickenson

As mentioned in a previous post, I've been listening to a lot of podcasts lately, and recently listened to Writing Excuse's Season 6 episode 10 on Orson Scott Card's M.I.C.E. Quotient. According to the

According to Orson Scott Card, as depicted in his books Characters & Viewpoints and How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, every story revolves around the following 4 concepts, with one of these taking precedence over the other three:


  1. Milieu - the setting of the story is the main ingredient. It usually starts when you enter a new place (ex: Narnia), and ends when you finally leave it again.
  2. Idea - where the story starts off with a question (who committed this atrocious murder?) and ends with the answer (the vicar).
  3. Character - where the story is driven by a character who's unsatisfied with her/his life, and it ends when that character's gotten his/her desired goal, or simply accepts their initial lot (farm boy wants to become a Jedi like his father)
  4. Event - something awful happens that changes everything, and the story ends with either a solution to the problem...or everyone dies (the volcano erupted!)
Art by Terese Nielsen
Not only can you use this Quotient to devise your entire story, but you can also use it to shape each of your scenes and chapters. You can therefore explore all of these concepts throughout the book. 

But whenever you use one, you need to make sure you finish it (for proper closure), and this should normally be done in a Last-In-First-Out way. I.e., if you introduced an idea, then later an event, the problem of that event will be solved before you get the answer to your idea's question.

The podcast episodes also brings up another very crucial point: the way you use this Quotient is also a way for you to set your readers' expectations. If your story is a mystery (and therefore follows mostly the Idea concept), you can't have a large question at the start of your novel...only to end the book without ever answering that question (the detective decides to never solve the case, nooooo!!!).

You can listen to the full podcast episode here, and get great examples from the hosts for all of these points!

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