What kind of a story are you telling?     

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“Those who tell stories, rule the world,” said the great philosopher Plato. Well, in the land of films, it couldn’t have been said rightly so! Everybody likes stories, either listening to them, watching them or reading them. But not everybody can create, rather, tell them, the way it is supposed to be told!

Whatever kind of a story you are telling, if you can do it the right way, then you know you are heading in the right direction. Follow the M.I.C.E. method and be rest assured that you have got it right.

M.I.C.E. stands for Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event, and can serve as a way to identify what kind of story you are telling and which elements you might need to spend more time fleshing out. Well-known American novelist, critic, public speaker, essayist and columnist, Orson Scott Card, wrote about the M.I.C.E. quotient in his books. It is a great way to categorize stories and is also a loose guideline on where to start and end a story based on how it is categorized; and is especially useful for writers who are tired of the traditional three-act structure.

All stories contain four elements that determine structure: Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event. While each is present in the story, one generally dominates the others.

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Which one dominates? The one that the author cares the most about. This is why we often consider the process of discovering the structure of a story as a process of self-discovery: What is your story about? Who is the central or viewpoint character? Where is your story set? What is the purpose of your story? Once you have considered each of those questions, then you can ask, which aspect of the story matters most to you? That is the aspect that will give you your story’s structure.

Let’s take each element in turn and look at the structure that would be required if that is the dominant element in the story.

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The Milieu Story
The whole point of the story is to discover this strange, new world.

Arrival – A stranger from the outside arrives (by purpose or accident); he is unwelcomed and imprisoned, but gradually proves his worthiness.

Initiation – Stranger is formally welcomed into the society; taught the culture and language; shown sharp contrast between stranger’s world and present one which challenges the stranger’s own belief system.

Departure – Stranger rejects or is torn away from society and returns home with greater self-awareness.

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The Idea Story

The whole point of the story is the process of discovering information by those who do not know.

A Question – The idea story begins with a question; and a scientist, a detective, or some other inquisitive character seeks to find an answer.

Quest for Knowledge – Central character(s) gathers information from a variety of sources; he may even employ the scientific method or a form of deduction to reduce the number of variables, but attempts to find an answer are complicated by many failures.

The Answer – Gradually, repented failure leads to vindication and the question is answered.

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The Character Story
The whole point is about the transformation of a character’s role in his community.

Crisis – Central character becomes so unhappy, impatient, or angry in his present role that he begins the process of change (either consciously or unconsciously).

Conflict – Others resist the central character’s change and attempt to change him back.

Climax – Character either settles into a new role (happily or not) or gives up the struggle and remains in the old role (happily or not).

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The Event Story
The whole point of the story is about the restoration of the proper order of the universe.

Departure – Heroic figure hears the call to adventure (and sometimes refuses call): he is called to restore order to the universe; he receives aid from a wizard, an elder, or supernatural force (usually in form of a magical weapon) and undergoes first trial by fire.

Initiation – Hero undergoes more trials; he falls for a goddess and is tempted by a temptress; he meets his dark father and is wounded; he finds great riches.

Return – Hero restores order by defeating evil king and returns home, older and wiser to empower others.

Sometimes, any given story can belong to more than one of the four categories; for example, The Wizard of Oz can be considered both a Character story and a Milieu story. Usually, the longer the story, more categories it belongs to. Short stories generally belong to one category. It all depends on how you take it forward.

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