The M.I.C.E. quotient…ummm…what?

The M.I.C.E. quotient…ummm…what?

By Dawn G. Sparrow

There are many ways to tell a story. There may even be many ways to tell a good story. However, when you break down a great story, you find it is some variation of the M.I.C.E. quotient.

Well, okay, then, what is it?

 Orson Scott Card created this useful way of dissecting a story.

I’m a horror writer, which, if you know me, makes no sense whatsoever. I am outgoing and fun, with bouts of sadness, yet horror and Dawn don’t seem to match up very well. The point of this tangent is to let you know, that I will be skewing the formula toward horror. I may not men it to, but it is who I am.

Anyway, back to the show!

Let’s start by breaking down what M.I.C.E. means.

M- Milieu – simply the world surrounding the characters, every part of the environment of the characters has a place here.

I- Idea – information that the reader is meant to learn or discover during the story.

C- Character – the nature of one or more of the people in the story, which generally arises from or leads to a conclusion on human nature.

E- Events – the events of the story are everything that happens and why.

So, what does this have to do with writing?

Well, each story contains different proportions of these four things.

In a MILIEU story, the story is about the setting and someone who moves through it. These are the Gulliver’s Travels and Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court stories. The thing of supreme importance is the setting, pure and simple. Time travel and space travel stories often fall more heavily in this group.

In an IDEA story, a question or problem is posed at the beginning of the work and answered at the end. Different levels of characterization are needed depending on the specific genre and book. Most murder mysteries, from Agatha Christie to Ross MacDonald fall into this category. Caper stories in particular need less characterization and are all about the idea.

In a CHARACTER story (my kind of story), the person attempts to change or is changed, usually by external forces forcing a re-evaluation of life. The protagonist MUST be changed in some way from the beginning of the story to the end.

As I said, this is my type of story so forgive me if I expound a little bit. The best thrillers and suspense novels are the ones where you fear for the protagonist and watch them change through the story. Horror simply can’t work without this. Some may try to argue that Lovecraft is not horror by this definition. Fine. Argue that. Look more closely and you will see that although the milieu is important, almost its own character in some stories, the descent into madness of the protagonist is the real focus. (Remember the protagonist may not be the narrator, and madness can also encompass the ‘strange disappearances’.) Take The Mist by Stephen King, the novella, NOT the movie which totally changed the ending and made it much less of a horror story. The story appears to be straightforward. A mist comes in and traps people in a supermarket after a big storm. The environment forms the story, right? No. The real story is about the interactions of the people in the market, not their encounters with the strange monsters in the mist. Look at other horror stories and think about why the scare you, or at least work as horror. You see? Character is the very essence of good horror.

Okay, enough of my celebration of horror, I will do more posts on that later, rest assured.

In an EVENT story, something happens and causes something else to happen. The world is thrown out of balance and the people in the story try to fix it. It ends when they succeed or fail. Oedipus Rex and The Count of Monte Cristo are great examples of this.

I think you can see how different stories use these four elements in different amounts to create a story of whole cloth. So, pick your story, try to figure out which one your story leans the most toward, and then decide if that is what you really want it to do.

I am indebted to Orson Scott Card’s writing books How to write Science Fiction & Fantasy and Characters and Viewpoint. Some of the examples used above come directly from those books, while others are my own.

Good writing!



Stay True to the Characters

By Dean C. Rich


Ruth, Bilbo, King Kelson, Katness, Sherlock Holmes, Conan, Princess Cimorene, Anita Blake, Robin Hood, and Eowyn.

Middle Earth, Pern, Enterprise, Narnia, Enchanted Forrest, and Panem. Locations that in their own right become characters as well.

For me the reason these names resonate so well, is because these characters were believable, flawed, and overcame major obstacles.

I asked some of my fellow writers who some of their favorite characters and why.  They told me it was hard to pick, but some of the names in my opening list came from my writing buddies.

Eli said, “I’d go with Princess Cimorene from Patricia Wrede’s “Enchanted Forest Chronicles”. I identified with her no-nonsense attitude a lot while I was growing up and, even now, I smile at the way she uses common sense to cut through all the B.S. ”

Fellow contributor Peter Burton had several.  Here is what he had to say, “Conan the Barbarian: The thing I found most interesting about Conan was the fact that his intelligence equaled his prowess with a blade. If you really pay attention to the tales, most of his victories were accomplished by his enemies underestimating his ability to think his way out of a situation.

Sherlock Holmes: Just the opposite. Most of Sherlock’s opponents considered him a weak intellectual. But more than once Doyle showed that the character possessed extraordinary physical abilities, which he put to very good use.

Anita Blake: Here is a very deep character. A more than capable woman who can stand on her own with any male protagonist. Deep emotions, yet can still hold them back and get the job done with both mental ability and physical prowess. If she can’t out think you, she can usually out fight you, and vice versa.

Eowyn: The shieldmaiden of Rohan. Fierce, loyal, independent, and as willing to stand up against the best Mordor can throw at her as any man. Although her part in LOR is relatively small she stands out as everything a warrior should be. And she did do what no man could do: Killed the Witch King of Angmar.

No need to put up a spoiler warning, but I wanted to touch on the current king of the summer movies, The Avengers.  I took my kids to see it, and I must say the characters were true all the way through the movie.  My son and I discussed the characters later and decided that it was like a family.  Sibling rivalry ratcheted up a lot of notches.

Why the movie worked so well for me was each character, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Hawkeye, and Black Widow all stayed in character and interacted so well, and not so well.  However, the characters were true, and very entertaining to watch because of that.

So, when you are working on your characters, make them flawed, make them believable, but most important, stay true to the character.  In theater we always talk about staying in character, the same is true in writing; keep your characters in character.  And a lesson I’ve learned from some of the writing folks who have critiqued some of my work, don’t be nice to your characters.

So, who are some of your favorite characters, and why?


Introducing our group of contributing authors.

In no particular order, here is a brief bio and photo of each contributing author.

Michelle Hauck

Michelle Hauck lives in the bustling metropolis of Mishawaka, Indiana with her hubby, two teenagers, and two dogs to balance out the drama from the teenagers.  Besides working with special needs children by day, she writes fantasy and is currently waiting news on submissions of her second manuscript.  She passes up the darker vices in favor of chocolate and looks for any excuse to reward herself, finishing this bio being a great reason for a snack.  She blogs over at It’s In the Details

Rick Pieters

Rick Pieters is from Dayton, Ohio and blogs at Room to Wonder.

“Sometimes we write to illuminate those shadows in the dark corners of our rooms, sometimes to tease them and play with them, sometimes to revel in them. Welcome to the funhouse.”

Dawn G. Sparrow

I am a mother, workat Toys R Us, which I adore! I love children and animals and consider myself a conservationist. I am learning how to make every minute count when it comes to writing, since I have precious few of those.

I am working on a novel tentatively called THE GREEN ONES, though I am thinking about calling it GREEN ONE’S PROPHECY, we’ll see. I am also rewriting the prequel, INFECTED.

I love doing critiques, but hate doing edits, even though I am constantly doing them!

Writing is my passion and joy.

“Continuous effort—not strength or intelligence—is the key to unlocking our potential.” ~Winston Churchill

You can find me on Twitter @DawnGSparrow.  She blogs at Write Away

Peter Burton

Peter Burton is currently a self-published author living in the rural mountains of West Virginia with his wife Tammie, two dogs, and numerous cats.

Formerly a graphic artist who has worked for several companies in the t-shirt and cosmetic industry, he recently returned to his first love, writing stories.

Always a bit of an extrovert, his sidelines included being a professional wrestler on the independent circuit in Tennessee, an amateur magician who entertained for parties, and a tattoo artist.

Currently he is working hard at writing in the Speculative Fiction genre, and hopes to either have a traditional publisher, or to be able to develop and reach many readers via the self-publishing market.

Peter blogs at A Storyteller’s Musing

E.F. Jace

E.F. Jace is an aspiring writer that thinks it’s incredibly awkward to write about oneself in third person. Jace’s concept of a perfect world is where one can curl up in their pajamas with a hot cup of coffee, listen to favorite soundtracks with their two cats and just type away, stepping out into sunlight to visit family and friends when the circles under their eyes get a bit hard to ignore.

Jace’s primary interest is anything fantasy. High/Epic fantasy, dark fantasy, supernatural or modern fantasy. Favorite subgenres being horror and an element, of romance. When Jace can manage to walk away from the keyboard, it is to spend time doing some traditional painting, playing some good ol’ video games or terrorizing the cats. And every so often a trip out to Starbucks to try and look important.

Jace blogs at Verbose Veracity

Dean C. Rich

Dean C. Rich currently lives in southern Mississippi with his wife, Lynda and two of his five children.  Currently he is a General Manager of a quick service food chain.  When he can spare a moment he is works on his Epic Fantasy story.  The story is currently in major rewrite, including the title.   Once the story is put back together he will pursue publication.

Besides writing he enjoys his family, grandson, camping, outdoors, photography, and model building.  He blogs at The Write Time

E.M. LaBonte

Lives in Rhode Island.  I’m a Mom, wife and writer among other things. I love the imagination and enjoy exploring my own as I let it flow to paper. For in all the world there is much to be seen, but much more lies in the imagination.

Em blogs at The Realms of a Fantastical Mind