M.I.C.E. (Types of Stories)

I thought we’d talk about M.I.C.E. No, not the little furry creatures, but Orson Scott Card’s list of types of stories. In How to Write Science Fiction, he says there are 4 types of stories: Milieu, Idea, Character, Event. These are skewed toward Science Fiction, obviously, since he is a science fiction writer, but they seem fit with all stories/novels.

The Milieu is the world — the planet, the society, the weather, all the elements that come up during the world creation phase. Every story has a milieu, but in some stories, the milieu is the point of the story. It follows the basic structure of Gulliver’s Travels — an observer goes to the strange place, sees all the world has to offer, and comes back a new person. The Milieu story obviously starts when the stranger arrives in the world and end when he leaves (or decides to stay for good).

The Idea is about the new bits of information that are discovered in the process of the story by characters who did not previously know that information. Idea stories are about the process of finding the information. The Idea story begins by raising a question; it ends when the question is answered.

The Character story is about the character’s character. It’s about the transformation of the character and the character’s role in society. The attempt to change doesn’t have to be a conscious decision, it can be unconscious, a seizing of an opportunity that takes him in a new direction. The Character story begins when something happens to make the character so dissatisfied with his present role that he begins the process of change. It ends when the character settles into his new role (happily or not) or gives up the struggle and remains in the old role (happily or not).

The Event story is about a change in the universe, a disorder, and the story begins when a new order is about to be established. The Event story begins when when the world becomes disordered and ends when a new order has been established. (Or when the world descends into chaos).

So, are there other basic types of stories? Do your stories/novels fit one of these categories? What is your Milieu, Idea, Character, Event? Most stories have more than one of these elements, so how do they fit together in your stories?

3 Responses to “M.I.C.E. (Types of Stories)”

  1. Ann Says:

    I stopped by your blog today.

  2. anonymusbosch Says:

    It’s such a difficult topic, perhaps as difficult as speciation for a family of finches. There have been authors who claim there are seven major story types, one who claimed 24, I think one who claimed over 100, etc. etc. It ends up being a question of where to draw the line on difference, on whether the types are different enough to be called different types. I would argue that any good story contains at least two elements listed here, likely more. But I’m merely a greenhorn. How have you used these types?

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      To be honest, I use all these elements in equal measures. For me, the idea is important. I don’t like writing simply to entertain — I write to develop an idea, to gather information and prove a premise. But such a story would be very dry without characters. Characters make the ideas come to life. They desperately want to know the information, and so their quest (ideally) triggers a corresponding interest in the reader. In most of my books, there is an event where the world or the life of a character is about to devolve into chaos, and the characters need to either figure out a way to live in that world or figure out how to rebalance the world. And without a well-developed milieu, the story feels as if it is dangling in space. It needs to be grounded in a specific place, a specific time. In A Spark of Heavenly Fire particularly, the milieu is half the story. Without the red death, without the quarantine, there would be no impetus for my ordinary characters to become extraordinary.

      I know people who claim there are only two story types: a stranger knocks on the door and someone goes on a trip. Others say there is a single story — A wants B, C tries to stop A from getting B, and at the end, A either gets B or doesn’t.

      In the end, I don’t suppose it matters how many story types there are. Just write a good story.

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