Friday, 10 December 2010


I would like to direct my fellow authors to this excellent blog posting from D J Manly.

I am not terribly 'au fait' with the jargon writers use to define themselves. Recently I have started saying I write Romantica (Romantic Erotica), I write M/M Romance. I write smut. I write soft porn. I write not-so-soft porn. I write Romance, I write Love Stories. I write Science-Fiction. I write Fan Fiction. I write Historical Romance. I write Fantasy. I write Horror. I write Adventure Stories. I write Thrillers. I wish to hell I could write a good Police Procedural (Ed McBain is my hero). I WRITE. Don't care what your opinion is of the genres I write in, I just care about the quality, content and ethics of what I produce. I like to see the English language used well, correctly, expressively, thought-provokingly. I'm a spelling, grammar, punctuation and proof-reading hard-liner.

Just me off on a little rant, because I hate people who point at others and sneer in order to inflate their own egos. Grow up and get over yourselves, cos you aint all that honeys!

Thanks to D J Manly for voicing what quite a few authors have been thinking and feeling lately.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

MICE: Milieu, Idea, Character and Event

According to Orson Scott Card (1988:48) every story comprises four basic factors: Milieu, Idea, Character and Event.
"The milieu is the world surrounding the characters...The idea is the information that the reader is meant to discover or learn...Character is the nature of one or more of the people in the story--what they do and why they do it. The events of the story are everything that happens and why."
The manner and intesity with which each of these four aspects is addressed determines the style of story telling and influences the readers expectations or the tale. (See also Contracts and Fingerposts).

Card (1988:49) says:
The structure of the pure milieu story is simple: Get a character to the setting the story is about,and then devise reasons for her to move through the world of the story, showing the reader all the interesting physical and social details of the milieu...In a pure milieu story the less you characterize the main character, the better. Her job is to stand in the place of all the readers."
Card (1988:50) suggests that science-fiction and fantasy stories are often of the milieu type.

Card (1988:51) cites the 'Detective' novel as an examples of the 'idea' type of story, saying:
[It too] has a simple structure. A problem or question is posed st the beginning of the story, and at the end of the tale the answer is revealed... most authors use only a few eccentricities to 'sweeten' the characters, particularly the detective...In fact, it is the very lack of change in the characters in mystery, detectove and caper stories that allows writers to use the same characters over and over again, to the delight of their readers."

Card (1988:52) tells us:
"The 'character' story is about a person trying to change his role in life. It begins at the point when the main character finds his present situation intollerable and sets out th change; it ends when the character either finds a new roile, willingly returns to the old one, or despairs of improving his lot."

Of 'event' stories, Card (1988:53f) says:
"...the story in which the events are the central concern follows a particular patter: The world is somehow out of order--call it imbalance, injustice, breakdown, evil, decay, disease--and the story is about the effort to restore the old order or to establish a new one.

"The event story structure is simple: It begins when the main characters become involved in the effort to heal the world's disease, and ends when they either accomplish their goal or utterly fail to do so...

"How important is characterization in the event story? most of the time, it's up to the author. It's possible to tell a ppwerful events story in which the characters are nothing more than what they do and why they do it... Yet bit is also possible to characterize several people in the story without at all interfering with the forward movement of the tale."

My personal feeling is that, rather than 'plumping' for one particular aspect of storytelling, there may be some value in determining how these different aspects of story are weighted in relationship to each other. One way to describe this would be to use a Venn diagram or other form of pictorial representation of the relative values of each element and degree of the inter-relationships thereof.

In considering Card's theory, I am prompted to try and determine the balance each of these four elements has in my own stories.

Character is almost always foremost in my mind when a story begins to form in my mind. I get an idea for a character, they tell me their name and then they begin to relate their biography, experiences and feelings to me.

Milieu is important in some of my writing, as I like writing science-fiction and fantasy stories. Also, taking the reader into my character's 'landscape' is important to me. To empathise with a character, I feel, the reader needs to understand the physical and social aspects of their world and their place within it.

My characters often express themselves using 'thought bubbles' and 'internal dialogue' and I think this is suggestive of Idea being relatively important versus events too.

Events tend, presently, to take a back seat when I write. I admit freely that "I am not good at 'Plot'". I am less interested by changes in the world than by changes in my character.

Approaching this from another angle, that of roleplaying, one might consider creating a 'Venue Style Sheet' for each story. In this exercise one rates how important certain 'ingredients' are to you in your story 'recipe'. My own version of this document is modelled on that devised by the Camarilla(TM) gaming group.

If using this tool, one would rate the importance each of the following, using the scale below:


Action (Combat and physical challenges
Character Development (Personal dilemmas and choices)
Darkness (Character death or corruption)
Drama (Ceremony and grand story)
Intrigue (Politics and negotiation)
Manners (Social etiquette and peer pressure)
Mystery (Enigmas and investigation)
Pace (How fast stories emerge, develop, and resolve)


1 Never present
2 Sometimes present
3 Often present
4 Usually present
5 Always present


'Camarilla Storytellers Guide: Venue Style Sheet Format',, accessed 12/9/2010.

Card, O.S., (1988), 'Characters and Viewpoint', Ohio: Writer's Digest Books

Contracts and Fingerposts

We're told right from the beginning that our stories need a beginning, a middle and an end. Our tales need 'fingerposts', too, so that our readers can hook into what our tale is telling them and how.

Orson Scott Card (1988:54):
"Whenever you tell a story, you make an implicit contract with the reader. Within the first few paragraphs or pages you tell the reader implicitly what kind of story this is going to be; the reader then knows what to expect, and holds the thread of that structure throughout the tale"

Orson Scott Card (1988:55):
"The rule of thumb is this: Readers will expect a story to end when the first major source of structural tension is resolved. If the story begins as an idea story, the reader expects it to end when the idea is discovered, the plan unfolded. If the story begins as a milieu story, readers will gladly follow any number of story lines of every type, letting them be resolved here and there as needed, continuing to read in porder to discover more of the milieu. A story that begins with a character in an intollerable situation will not feel finished until the character is fully content or finally resigned. A story that begins with an unbalanced world will not end until the world is balanced, purified, reordered, healed--or utterly destroyed beyond hope or restoration."

See also: MICE: Milieu, Idea, Character and Event


Card, O.S., (1988), 'Characters and Viewpoint', Ohio: Writer's Digest Books