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.

(more…)

How Writing is Like Packing School Lunches

Writing, and packing school lunches. I realize the connection might not be immediately obvious. It wasn’t to me, either, until this morning, when I was going about the weekday business of–you guessed it–packing school lunches.

And I suddenly realized that this job (although I don’t consider it one of my more enjoyable tasks) is no longer the huge, pain-in-the-butt undertaking that I once considered it. It takes less time now, and the results are better.

To put it in context, it’s only the past few years that I’ve been packing lunches for both my kids every morning. For the first years of school they came home to lunch every day, but as schools and lunch hours changed, we eventually got around to the point where it made more sense for them both to take lunch with them. And I had to learn the necessary skills for making that happen.

I didn’t take to it very well at first. If you’ve ever packed school lunches, you might understand some of the variables that must be considered. Such as, what can I expect this child to eat (likes and dislikes)? The answers generate a list of possibilities, long or sadly short if your child is a so-called “picky” eater. Scratch off this list any foods verboten at School X, such as peanut butter, eggs, etc. The list is shorter. Scratch off foods that don’t meet microwaving criteria like times or days at School X. Shorter again. Eventually you will probably scratch off foods that the child has grown tired of. With the current brevity of the list, everything might fall into that category at some point. And if you have more than one child, it’s quite unlikely that their final lists are going to contain anything in common. Sigh, and hie yourself off to the grocery store.

So I remember a blur of many, many mornings of repeatedly opening and closing the refrigerator and cupboards, hoping to notice something that I’d missed when I looked ten seconds ago, trying to cobble together lunches while supervising wake-up calls, wardrobe calamities, homework emergencies, and any number of other morning trials.

The epiphany I had this morning was simple: it’s not like that anymore (most mornings, anyway). I’ve somehow become better at packing lunches. And I realize that this is not due as much to broadening palettes or relaxed school restrictions as it is to the plain fact of practice. I’m better at many of the elements of lunch-packing. I prepare better, making sure I have enough lunch supplies on hand at the beginning of the week. I monitor likes and dislikes better. I’m more organized in simply gathering everything up and doling it out. I’ve grown better at dealing with or pre-emptively avoiding morning emergencies.

And finally, here’s where I tie this whole strange musing into writing. Writing, too, is all about the practice, and getting better at all the myriad, interrelated skills one needs to become a better writer. Better planning, whether it’s outlining or cogitating or whatever method you use to work out the story idea rattling around in your head. Better time management, both in making time to write and juggling planning, research, and actual writing. Better execution, because the mere act of writing more words over and over improves the end result. Better troubleshooting, in noticing plot or character problems early and dealing with them before they run your whole story off the rails. And finally, better editing and revising, yielding a more polished, professional final draft.

So just as there’s more to packing school lunches than just sticking things in a lunch bag, there’s more to writing than just putting words on paper. Both tasks require several interrelated skills, and becoming proficient in all of them leads to both an easier process and a better end result. Like just about everything else, practice makes…if not perfect, than an enormous improvement.

And now I’m off to make myself a sandwich, feeling thankful that in my job, I don’t have to pack it…

(cross-posted from www.sherrydramsey.com)