MICE: The Idea

"idea" © 2005 by Tony Dowler

"idea" © 2005 by Tony Dowler

I was listening to a recent episode of the Writing Excuses podcast. It’s about Orson Scott Card’s M.I.C.E. quotient.

M = Milieu (Setting, but S.I.C.E. doesn’t spell anything useful.)
I = Idea
C = Character
E = Event

Good stories will have more than one of these present. Novels may have all four. But one will usually stand dominant above the rest.

I was thinking about this as I was driving to work the other day listening to a totally different podcast (Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing). They were talking on that podcast about whether published authors ever give negative book reviews.

And I got to thinking about what makes even a book I wasn’t overly enthused about worth reading all the way through.

I can forgive a lot of things, but I think Card’s M.I.C.E. quotient is a pretty good indicator of what I won’t forgive.

In this post, I’ll talk about Idea, because it’s what came to mind first, and I think it’s the most unforgivable deficiency in these genres when it’s not there. Subsequent posts will deal with the other three components.


Where’s Luta Challenge



The July challenge for The Quillians was to write 250 to 350 words inspired by a song. We had to postpone the ‘judging’ meeting twice because the first time, only two people had entered, and the second time, our Fearless Leader–Luta in-game–didn’t show up. Speculation about where she was ran rather rampant. I suggested that the only thing that could keep her from us was that she had been kidnapped by pirates. Or perhaps clowns.

Or pirate clowns.

One thing led to another, and the challenge for August was to write a 350 word story explaining just where Luta was. :)

As usual, I was given a word count, and I met said word count exactly. So here is my entry in the “Where’s Luta?” challenge.

Oh, I should mention something: Luta is Canadian. From Nova Scotia, specifically. That will make the story make more sense.

Stephen Harper, brows beetled, chewed his lower lip. “Are you sure it has to be her? She hates it every time she’s activated, and besides that, it’s Monday.”

“Oh, for the love of God, Steve. If you’re afraid to call her, just hand me the phone and I’ll do it! Canada could be on the brink of ruin, and you’d worry about one woman being irritated with you.”

Not just one woman, he thought.

His wife stood, hands on hips, glaring at him through narrowed eyes, her foot tapping soundlessly on the carpet. He supposed she was right. It wasn’t every day that an agent so deep undercover was activated, but this one was special. He picked up the phone.

* * *

Luta folded laundry with one hand while checking her daughter’s math homework with the other. “No, honey, you need to carry the two,” she said as she checked the clock again. Only a half hour to go.

The phone rang, interrupting her thoughts. Oh, for the love of…it’s nearly 10 on a Monday. What now?

She laid down the sheet she had been folding, and, dodging dogs and trailing a daughter with an open notebook and a pencil, she marched upstairs and into her office. The phone blared twice more. If I answer it, it’s going to be something bad, and I have a Quillians meeting on Second Life. I can’t let them down!

It rang twice more before she picked it up. With a heavy sigh, she said, “Hello?”

“Um…” came a harried, tentative voice, then a fumbling sound. She thought she heard someone say, “Really? This is the activation phrase?”

“Hel-lo?” she said, emphasizing each syllable.

“Yes, um…’Yo ho ho and a big red nose.'”

Luta’s face, which had been a mask of irritation and impatience, instantly relaxed into one of supreme calm, her eyes narrowed. “Prime Minister. This had better be damned good. Last time—”

“I-I know, Luta, but…it’s that situation in Moose Jaw.”

She closed her eyes. Crap. I thought I took care of that last time. “Tell me.”


I knew from the moment I came up with the idea that the last word of the story had to be [REDACTED]. :)

Anyway, I presume this will be judged toward the end of August, or possibly the first Monday in September. Wait. What is that in Canadian?



The Flash Form

"Lightning Over Midtown Atlanta" ©2010 by Brendan Lim

Flash! (AAH-aaaaaahhh!)

Last night on Second Life The Quillians had our weekly meeting and read everyone’s submissions for the July challenge. We each selected two favorites.

I came in first, with Ge3x and Mira tying for second. The hilarious thing about it is, of the five entries, all of them were dark. With all of music to choose from, all five of us picked “downer” songs.

I can reveal now that the title of my piece was “Nothing Lasts Forever” and it was inspired by “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas. It’s my favorite song of all time.

I didn’t even know most of the songs by the others, so there was no hope of winning the extra prize money. Ah, well. I had guesses. Oddly enough, all my guesses were kind of cheerful. I guess I’m warped that way.

What I’m learning from these monthly challenges is that I kind of like the flash form. Less than 1000 words—our challenges run way less than 1000, usually from 250 to 350—makes you really think about what you want to say, and eliminate needless words and extraneous ideas.

At my Tuesday night writers group (The Forum Writers), we have new writers join us all the time. Some stay, some come and go. But whenever we have a newbie, we make them introduce themselves, tell us what they write, and what they want out of our group. Then we all introduce ourselves in turn, explaining what we write. I usually say some variation of this:

My name is Gary, and I’m currently working on an urban fantasy novel. It’s set in modern Atlanta where magic works, but there are no sexy vampires or werewolves. <insert pause for expected ‘yay’ reaction> I also write science fiction, epic fantasy, dark fiction, and a little horror. I used to do short stories, but my short stuff seems to have developed a pituitary problem.

What can I say? It usually elicits at least a smile. :)

That last part about the pituitary problem, though…I may have to change that. The more I try this extremely short form, the more I like the sense of freedom it gives me. Write 350 words and tell a whole story…then move to the next one. Be done with something instead of incessantly writing it or thinking about it night and day (and night) for months.

Maybe it’s an escapist thing. <shrug> Whatever. I just know that I an enjoying the instant gratification.

As an aside…am I the only person who always adds the “AAH-aaaaaahhh!” in my head every time I hear or see the word “flash” (AAH-aaaaaahhh!)? Surely not. Surely not.


Why Do I Do This To Myself?

"Torture Chair in the Fortress of San Leo, Italy" © 2009 by Anguskirk


I’ve been so busy with The Project that Ate the Summer™ at work that I’ve had little time to write for the past few weeks. I’ve written some, but not a lot. Most of what I’ve written has been ideas, of which I’ve had a plethora.

Yesterday, after a meeting of the Lawrenceville Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Group, I sat down to work on my novel, and discovered that this was the sentence I had left for myself a couple of weeks ago when I stopped.

Chuck could see [Nick’s] jaw clenching and unclenching, and she realized he was angry. But angry at whom?

Now, I’m sure that when I wrote that, I had some idea who Nick was mad at, and probably even why.

BUT I HAVE NO IDEA, TODAY. None. Zip. Nada. Zilch.


In fact, I have no idea where the 621 words of these scene were headed.

When, when, WHEN am I going to learn to make notes to myself when I stop in the middle of a scene?

In other news, though, I read back over the entire story (54,710 words so far) and was surprised at how much of it I liked. Sure, I’ll have to gut sections of it, and I have several new characters that will have to be inserted into the first part, and I have to give them some side plots and such, but on the whole, I’m still fairly happy with the writing.

And that’s actually a pretty good feeling. Several times I’d find something I wanted to fix and start to edit only to find out that I’d already written myself a note to edit that same section in the same way. So at least I’m consistent.

Now that the æstivorous1 project has been turned over to the capable hands of the QA department, maybe I can concentrate on making some headway in this novel.

And on some other things I’ve got planned, as well.

  1. One of these day I’m going to coin a word that sticks (alas, ‘grammudgeon’ has as yet gained no real foothold), but this is not the time. In Google books, there’s a discussion about primate behavior that uses the word, although spelled without the ‘æ’. Theirs probably means feeding during the summer, while I’m using it in the sense of actually devouring summer itself.


Repeat © 2006, Thomas Hawk

Yeah, so . . . a bunch of us showed up on Monday night and waited, but the group leader/moderator didn’t show up. There was wild speculation, but we finally determined that the most reasonable explanation was that she had been kidnapped by pirates, or maybe clowns. Or perhaps clown pirates. Or pirate clowns.

Either way, there was no judging this week, either. So . . . I guess the July challenge is now officially the August challenge. :)

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