Analysis, process, Reading, Reviews, Writing Exercises

MICE Quotient

TLDR: Writers can keep readers engaged by looking for MICE: settings that need restored, questions that need answered, character desires that need resolved, and problems that need fixed.

…but first I digress.

I read Ender’s Game at a formative age and loved it. I read the sequels and felt bored and disappointed so I was reluctant to read Ender’s Shadow. Twenty years later I finally picked it up and rediscovered the magic of battle school and precocious child geniuses with their unique perspective on the mismanaged, myopic, adult world.

Ender’s Shadow is infused with the same magic that made Ender’s Game so touching, but it’s told through a different perspective with a distinct and interesting voice. At this point I don’t know why Card writes anything other than tales of children in military school.

Also, I read Ender’s Shadow shortly after learning about the MICE Quotient from this excellent writing video. The MICE Quotient, attributed to Orson Scott Card, is a tool for developing stories.

The MICE acronym stands for

    • Milieu – A change of setting, resolved when setting changes back.
    • Idea – A question, resolved when it’s answered.
    • Character – A character wants something, resolved when they get it (or realize they don’t need it).
    • Event – A problem (like an asteroid headed toward earth), resolved when a solution is found.

I find the MICE acronym needless and confusing, but my acronym would be SQDP (which is terrible) standing for: Setting, Question, Desire, Problem.

These are all types of tension that arise in a story and should be resolved eventually. There is even a theory of how to organize them.

  • Raise a number of MICE (or SQDP) issues as appropriate for the length of the story (more for a novel, fewer for a short story).
  • Treat all MICE issues like brackets or parentheses, pairing up issues and resolutions ([([[]{[]}]())]). The first issue introduced should be the last one resolved.
  • Introduce the biggest issues first.
  • Resolve as many issues as possible as close together as possible at the climax.

Ender’s Shadow, much like Ender’s Game, is highly cerebral, which is only natural since both novels’ main characters are thinkers. It’s very easy to write a boring story that spends too much time in its characters minds. One of the ways Card avoids this is by constantly raising and resolving issues, even within individual paragraphs.

Example: Bean wants to find out more about the layout of battle school. This is a Desire (or C for Character issue). Bean notices an air vent and wonders if he can sneak inside it. Thus arises a Question (or Idea) nesting inside the character desire. As bean investigates a mechanical Problem (Event) arises.

Then the layers of the onion get peeled off one by one with the mechanical issue first resolved, then the question of whether or not Bean can sneak inside is resolved, and finally the desire for knowledge.

This is a very basic example of the MICE Quotient in action and I think MICE is better as a theory to keep in the back of a writer’s mind than it is as a guideline for outlining a story, but it does serve as a useful tool for keeping the story moving. Recently I read through a novella of my own and used a spreadsheet to track MICE. The main problem I face is making sure all raised issues actually get resolved. I don’t know if the spreadsheet was helpful. Only time will tell, but if nothing else it served as a new perspective on my story and pushed the problems in writing it into my subconscious for the brain gnomes to work on.

Goals and problems are the fuel that propel a story. Hopefully the MICE Quotient has broadened your thinking about the goals and problems in your own writing.


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