I’m in a place in my writing career where I’m spending a lot of time trying to understand exactly who I am as a writer. What genre do I write? Who is my audience? Am I writing to send a message or for entertainment? Maybe you’ve asked yourself these questions from time to time. I think we all have. But a couple of weeks ago, I came across a question I hadn’t even thought to ask.
When setting my goals at the beginning of this year, I decided to not only set productivity goals (write this, edit that), but to also set a goal to improve my writing craft. I’ve been writing for a while and though I’ve grown vastly simply by continuing to write, I also wanted to focus my attention on something I’d needed to improve for a long time: my character building.
To get the year started off right, I ordered the book Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card and had it in my mailbox before the first week of the year was over. I held it in my hands like it was paper gold and began to consume it with voraciousness. It was everything I needed to know about characterization but had never been able to find all in one place before. The way he writes, too, makes it all so easy to grasp.
And this is how I came across a concept Mr. Card introduced to the writing world: The MICE Quotient.
MICE stands for this–
M = Milieu (where the story takes place and the culture it includes)
I = Idea (the problem or question of the story)
C = Character (the person trying to change his/her role in life)
E = Event (restoring a world that is out of order or starting a new order)
He explains that every story has a balance of all four of these elements but that most novels are heavier on one while the other three factors supplement. He gives Lord of the Rings as an example of a Milieu-heavy story and murder mysteries as Idea-heavy.
Somehow this simple explanation reframed every major problem I’ve had since I started writing novels.
Because while I understood Card’s points in regard to story, they hit me on a deeper level. I also understood them in regard to who I was as a writer.
My new question? Which of the four elements of this quotient did my stories most often lean toward?
Since I began writing seriously in 2008, I’ve started 4 novels. Two of them I completed, two of them I didn’t. After reading about the MICE Quotient and giving it some serious thought, I now knew that two of them were Character-heavy and two of them were more about the Idea. Can you guess which two were the ones I finished and which two were the ones I didn’t?
Yes, it was an aha! moment. I always knew I had a knack for writing character-driven stories more than plot driven-stories but before reading this book, I didn’t fully understand why my other two novels fizzled out. The Character stories were the ones that motivated me to finish while the Idea stories left me wondering if I knew what I was doing at all.
The answer? Idea stories just aren’t my forte. And far from being upset by this (I really did love those ideas), I feel so relieved.
Now I can finally stop trying to force those stories into something they aren’t. And now I can hopefully prevent future fizzle novels by recognizing this quotient in my outlines—before I spend months on a first draft I’ll probably never finish.
So here’s the question I have for you: Do you tend to write stories that are heavier on one side of the quotient? Are others harder for you? Are there unfinished stories in your desk drawer that you could rework to better suit your forte? Or are there stories, like me, you might decide to set aside once and for all?
If you’d like to find out more about the MICE Quotient so you can apply it to your stories or your career, I highly recommend Characters & Viewpoint. Orson Scott Card does a beautiful job of explaining how much of each of the four factors to include in your novel based on which type of story you’re writing. And maybe somewhere within those pages, you’ll find your own aha! moment.