Classifying Stories

According to Orson Scott Card, there are four types of stories: milieu, idea, character, and event.  This is called his MICE quotient.  When reading books, sometimes it’s helpful to get yourself in the right mindset.

Milieu is setting.  As far as I can see, the only reason Card didn’t use the word setting instead of milieu is that he wanted MICE, not SICE.  Milieu stories are mainly concerned with showing the reader the setting.  The Lord of the Rings is a milieu story.  Social commentaries are milieu stories.  You can tell by the in-depth description of just about everything.

Idea stories are about single ideas and finding out everything about them.  Mysteries are idea stories.  Not much character development goes on in an idea story.

Character stories are about characters (gasp!).  The story begins when the main character decides her life is unbearable and sets out to change it.  Lots of character development goes on.

Event stories are about the world in general.  Usually, something is wrong with the world and the main character tries to change it.  Potential exists for character development.

I don’t think analyzing every story this way is crucial to enjoying the story, but it can be.  If you’re reading a milieu story, isn’t it nice to know that and pay attention to the scenery?  Otherwise, you get bogged down by explanation that you don’t think should exist.  Similarly, if you’re reading an idea story, isn’t it nice to know not to look for character development that won’t come?

Sometimes, we classify stories unconsciously.  I’ve never read Agatha Christie waiting for Poirot to suddenly pity the killer.  Nor have I read The Silmarillion (milieu) for story alone.  I rarely succeed at classifying the other kinds of books consciously, and I don’t know what I’d do if I knew how.

So my point here is, I’m brain dead and in need of a post.  So sorry!  But I have a challenge for you: classify your favorite books according to the MICE quotient, and give me an example of character and event stories.

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72 Comments

  1. Robyn Hoode

     /  March 13, 2013

    How is LOTR not an event story?
    I’d say the The Ranger’s Apprentice:The Ruins of Gorlan is probably a character story.

    Reply
    • LOTR is a milieu story because it’s so concerned with the setting, but there are aspects of everything else included in it. You’re right, it’s heavily event, but it’s more heavily set in milieu.

      True, but character stories end when the life is changed or accepted. In that case, the story would end when Will becomes an apprentice.

      Reply
      • Robyn Hoode

         /  March 13, 2013

        Okay… I don’t know where the Ruins of Gorlan fit. I haven’t read the whole series, so please don’t spoil it, but is it an event story?

      • It’s an awesome story, and I don’t think you can classify entire series’ that way.

      • Robyn Hoode

         /  March 13, 2013

        *shrugs* Okay.

      • Robyn Hoode

         /  March 13, 2013

        I know how to help your dead-brain!!!
        Well, you see, a long time ago, if you had a headache, they would drill a hole in your head to release the demons (and cure the headache)! I bet if we drilled a hole in your head (headache or not), it would help immensely and you could come up with a post! Now… where did I put my drill…

      • Eh, no thanks, Robyn.

      • Robyn Hoode

         /  March 13, 2013

        Oh, come on! I’ve been wanting to do it for years! I’m sure the high fatality rate for this is a myth! Ooh! I found my drill! *drill whirs*

      • Legolas volunteers!

      • Robyn Hoode

         /  March 13, 2013

        Legolas isn’t the one who is brain dead…
        Where is Charley when I need her? I’m sure she’d help me.

      • I’m not brain dead anymore, thankfully.

      • Robyn Hoode

         /  March 13, 2013

        Oh, excuses! Now, stay still while I come after you with this drill! (Ah! It rhymed!)

      • Bad meter, oh so bad meter!

      • Robyn Hoode

         /  March 13, 2013

        Now, you’re stalling…
        I said it rhymed! Meter doesn’t enter into it. There are reasons I don’t write good poetry.

      • I love the Ranger’s Apprentice! *sighs* Such lovely books…

        Has anyone read Flanagan’s other series (that is sort of connected to Ranger’s Apprentice) the Brotherband Chronicles ?

      • I’m trying to get a hold of the second and third books.

    • Why Robyn, you look exactly like this lady I’ve seen before… how strange. 😛

      Reply
      • Robyn Hoode

         /  March 14, 2013

        Hmm… really? What do you think, Celeborn? Mithrandir? Do I look like someone Engie would have seen before?

      • She was called – oh, I can’t remember her name. Guinevere?

      • Robyn Hoode

         /  March 14, 2013

        Galadriel?

      • Oh yes, that was it! You have awesome treehouses in Lothlorien, my Lady.

      • Robyn Hoode

         /  March 14, 2013

        Thank you. I’ve always liked them myself.

      • Are they magic treehouses, too?

      • Robyn Hoode

         /  March 14, 2013

        *speaks mentally, you can hear me in your head* Well, the lights are magic, but not really anything else.

      • I can’t hear you. Too much static. Perhaps Elrond is attempting to use this channel? Is that even how telepathy works – like a radio?

      • Robyn Hoode

         /  March 14, 2013

        No, that’s not Elrond. That’s my fault. *starts mental speech again* Is that better?
        It involves feeling around for the other person’s signal and then talking. More like a telephone, only they don’t have to pick up. But it’s bad when they have a barrier up in front of their mind and thoughts. That’s like running into a brick wall head-first.

      • Oh. Yes. I guess I did have a barrier – I’d blocked 1-800-GOT-ELFS from the telephone.

  2. Robyn Hoode

     /  March 13, 2013

    An event story– The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Cathrynne M. Valente.
    A Wrinkle in Time– either character or event.
    Now… what good books has Orson Scott Card wrote?

    Reply
    • Ender’s Game.

      Reply
      • Robyn Hoode

         /  March 13, 2013

        So… when I get around to a library (or Mom goes) get Ender’s Game, the first Artemis Fowl book, Reckless, The Count of Monte Cristo (because I still can’t get it for free on Kindle), Savvy, The Hidden Gallery … why do I have the feeling that I cannot read all of this in two weeks?

      • Because you can’t?

      • Robyn Hoode

         /  March 13, 2013

        What an logical answer! And you’re right. I’ve gotten to the point where it’s proabaly best for me to only check out one book at a time… and that is heart-wrenching! *cries*

      • Indeed, indeed.

      • Robyn Hoode

         /  March 13, 2013

        *sniffs* Thank you.

      • Don’t bother reading Orson Scott Card’s Pathfinder . It’s not all that great.

      • Oh, I tried. I couldn’t finish it.

  3. magicandwriting583

     /  March 13, 2013

    I can’t think of anything off the top of my head, but I feel the need to comment….Random comment?

    Well, okay, let me try to think….The book I’m reading right now, called Dragon Castle or something like that, I think has got to be an event book.

    Lovely. Now I’m trying to classify the book I’m writing in one of those. I’m messing around a lot with setting and character development and plot AND random ideas……..Actually, I’m going to have to say that what I have in mind is more of a character story. What’s actually on paper, though, is an entirely different story.

    This is the longest comment I’ve ever written.

    Reply
    • It isn’t the longest I’ve seen, though– no worries!

      I have a milieu story that I’m editing, though for a certain character it’s more of an event story.

      Reply
      • magicandwriting583

         /  March 14, 2013

        Actually, I think I might be having trouble classifying it because I’m telling two different stories at the same time. One character is narrating a character story, and the other narrator is telling an event story.

        Now, strangely enough, that gives me an idea.

      • Robyn Hoode

         /  March 14, 2013

        Hooray for ideas from strange sources!

  4. Ah, so THAT’S what MICE is! I’ve been wondering about that, heh heh.

    Would you say, though, that some books can fit into more than one category? Just thinking back to a comment you made a while ago that “How To Train Your Dragon” (admittedly a film, but it’s based EXCEEDINGLY loosely on a book of the same name) didn’t want to fit into any particular criteria. Would you say that can be true for books too?

    Reply
    • With How To Train Your Dragon, I was mainly talking about the Hollywood Formula. I think the movie is actually a character story– he doesn’t like his lot in life, so he sets out to change it.

      But I understand what you’re getting at, and I’ve heard theories about it. Someone said that short stories usually only have one aspect of the MICE quotient, but novels have all four. However, most books have one aspect that dominates the story. I don’t think there’s one that is none of these.

      Reply
  5. Alyssa

     /  March 14, 2013

    Almost all of James Patterson’s books are character books. But that’s just the thing; his teen books are rarely about anything else…and I’ve only read his books geared towards my age group.

    Reply
  6. Let’s see. Favorite books and MICE.

    All Men of Genius is definitely a character book. I love how all the characters are somehow connected to one another.

    I can’t figure out what The Hunger Games would be.

    Which one do you think HP is?

    Reply
    • Robyn Hoode

       /  March 14, 2013

      I’d say HP is probably an event story.

      Reply
      • I wasn’t sure if it was more about the characters. Thanks!

      • No, it isn’t an event story; the story doesn’t begin with Harry setting out to slay Voldemort. He’s pushed into that. I’d say you’re right, Engie– it’s a character story, since Harry is trying to change his status with the Dursleys.

      • Robyn Hoode

         /  March 14, 2013

        Never read HP. Never watched the movies. Hazarding a guess from what I know.

      • Take that, Engie! You believed someone who hadn’t even read the books!

        No offense, Robyn.

      • Robyn Hoode

         /  March 14, 2013

        None taken. I could probably run a Jeopardy category with the HP info I know. 🙂

  7. Lisette Cando

     /  March 14, 2013

    I believe that The Wizard of Oz is milieu. It’s fun to do this with movies as well. For example Inception is an idea story. They try to develop characters, but it just doesn’t work that well.

    Reply
    • Well, I’m not saying that stories in which little-to-no character development goes on are necessarily idea stories. Idea stories have little character development, but not every story with bad development is an idea story. For instance, Captain America is a character/event story and its characters were flat as pancakes.

      Reply
      • Lisette Cando

         /  March 16, 2013

        I see your point. I was primarily thinking of the idea as opposed to the characterization (which wasn’t great). The incredible dream-inside-a-dream idea was what brought it to mind!

      • Yes, idea stories aren’t necessarily about great ideas, which makes them confusing.

  8. Great post! Plenty of discussion too, I see. 😉 I was thinking The Hunger Games…is Event, but maybe a little crossover to Character?

    Reply
    • The Hunger Games is hard because Katniss was forced into things. Technically, since she doesn’t set out to right a terrible wrong, it isn’t Event. Since she doesn’t set out to change the conditions of her life, it isn’t Character. Since she isn’t trying to solve a murder or find out a specific thing, it isn’t Idea. When you eliminate the impossible, whatever is left, however improbable, must be the truth. (Quote from Spock.) Therefore, it must be Milieu.

      Reply
  9. This seems like a helpful way of looking at stories – to do a quick look at how to write the story. It can also be helpful at breaking down a single book as you are writing – this chapter is about character, this about milieu/setting, etc.

    Reply
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