Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Lesson in Story Structure or A Book Review of Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy

Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy isn't only for science fiction and fantasy writers. It's the go-to book for learning about story structure.

You probably have heard/read about his MICE quotient. They talked about it on Writing Excuses podcast-found here.

The MICE quotient states that there are basically four story types: Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event. Most stories, especially novel length, have more than one element, but one will dominate.


Milieu stories, such as Alice in Wonderland and Gulliver's Travels, are mostly concerned about the setting.

Idea stories are about finding out information, such as in a mystery.

Character stories follow the transformation of a character.

Event stories are about a world out of order, such as a monster's appearance, as in Beowulf.

Decide which kind of story you're writing, and you'll know at what points to begin and end that story. The guidance O.S.C. gives in this area is what makes the book remarkable. Here's a brief rundown:

The milieu story begins when the character arrives in the new place and ends when he leaves or decides to make his home there.

Idea stories begin close to the point where the big question is raised and end right after it's answered.

A character story begins when the main character becomes so unhappy in his present role that he begins to change. It ends when he settles into his new role or gives up the struggle and remains in the old role.

The Event story begins when the important character (the one whose actions are most crucial to establishing the new order) gets involved in the struggle. It ends when new order is established, or less often, when the old order is restored or the world descends into chaos.

O.S.C. details these all out, of course. So, you best grab a copy of the book. On a side note, I think it's an important part of the writing process to write yourself into a story, get to know the characters and setting. But as I've heard it said many times, you'll probably want to cut your first chapter. It wasn't a waste. You needed to write it, but the reader wants to get right into the important bits. Remember, "late in-early out." In my WIP I chopped off the beginning scene of my MC doing laundry and contemplating her life. That scene was a darling of mine, but it wasn't doing enough. Information I needed to convey, I put someplace else.

O.S.C. also wrote tips on viewpoint character, hero, and main character (which may be three separate characters!) and so much more. But this post is getting long. I encourage you to read How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy even if you write some other genre. This book holds amazing advice for every fiction writer.


Nissa Annakindt said...

Great post. I owned that book a few years back and read it a few times. It's worth a look.

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Thanks! :) Oh yeah, it is!

Anonymous said...

MICE is all wrong. M=the world, I=the learning, C=transformation and E-monsters. But they all are part of the same story! In all stories! See and the wrap around the hero's journey paradigm.

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Well, obviously all stories can have all of these elements. A novel length would certainly have all to one degree or another. But every story mainly focuses on one in particular. Knowing where your fucus is helps your story construction.

Thanks for the link. I'll check it out. :)

You can toss out MICE if you don't like it. For me, it works. Orson Scott Card is kinda smart, ya know? ;)

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I also like the process of combining two or more, as in idea and character. Or even three or more. Heck, I just love the process period. Great post, Amanda.

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Thanks, Joylene! :)

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