MICE: living in and writing about Milieu…and other things

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When teaching science fiction, I, and many others, use the MICE quotient to help my students focus on the type of story they are creating. Once an author knows what type of story they have, it’s easier to craft it into something that their readers will enjoy and appreciate. All stories are a blend of all of these categories. The question is, what letter dominates.

The MICE quotient was popularized by Orson Scott Card. Briefly, MICE is an acronym for these common categories of science fiction:

Milieu. The milieu novel focuses on a place and community. Most often, society itself is the antagonist. A stranger comes to town and is transformed by being in this milieu. The Wizard of Oz and Gulliver’s Travels are classic examples. The tale begins when the stranger comes to the place and ends when she leaves.  Mixed In is clearly such a novel. Without the dreary world of Cochtonville, none of the events would have taken place. All good science fiction has more than aliens and robots. It has metaphorical implications. That is, it says something about society and this is clearly evident in any milieu novel. The metaphorical implication of Mixed In is that the Midwest could become Cochtonville. In fact, it’s inched closer to the dystopia since the novel was written. Sometimes I worry I am living in my own Milieu.

Idea. The idea story is based on a question and ends when it is answered, as in a mystery novel. It begins when the mystery is introduced and ends when it is solved. Wolves and Deer: A Tale Based on Fact is an idea novel, beginning when Grace Clare learns of the death of Dora Jordan and ending close to when the mystery is solved.

Character novels are often the stuff of both high literature and romance. They start with a character with a clear problem and desire and end when the character is transformed for better or worse or accepts her fate for better or worse. An example of a character novel is The Color Purple or in the case of science fiction, Frankenstein. Natural Attraction is a character driven novel moved forward by Clementine’s desire to be taken seriously as a scientist.

Event stories are based on an interruption to a normal way of life and follow what happens as characters try to bring life back in order. A classic example is The Lord of the Rings series which begin when Bilbo discovers the ring and ends when order is restored. Most science fiction and fantasy stories are event based and my next novel will be such a novel. Then I will have a quartet of books each representing one letter of the MICE quotient.

Do you have a favorite letter in the MICE quotient? Every novel I write has a huge dose of place and time in it so perhaps I lean towards the M.

I’m excited to say that Mixed In is in contention for a Rone Award for Science Fiction. If you’re looking for a Milieu novel with a touch of romance, a dash of absurdity, and a pinch of naughtiness, check out Mixed In.

 

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5 thoughts on “MICE: living in and writing about Milieu…and other things

  1. I am a cousin of yours and enjoyed reading the MICE article. Most of my writing in the past several years has been genealogical in nature, Now that I’m expanding my genres of interest, MICE should be helpful. Thanks!

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      1. Nice to “meet” you, too. Yes, your great-grandmother and her sister, my grandmother Nellie, were of a much different time and value system. So was my mother, who had to isolate herself more and more over the years from what was unacceptable to watch on TV and at the movies. Even Disney material is becoming adult. I haven’t read any of your books yet but hope to in future.

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      2. Aunt Etta and Uncle Will Kendrick were of great inspiration and early assistance to my sister Charlene and her pastor husband Bob., who followed Will into the Methodist ministry. Interestingly, the first name of one of Charlene’s great-grandkids is Kendric. Bob is now gone and Charlene lives at a care center in Cass City.

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