of MICE and men

I’m sensitive to reviews.

I don’t mean I’m fawning for affirmation or cringing at criticism.

I mean as a consumer, I rely heavily on them to scope out potential purchases or rentals. I love a good story told well, and hate wasting my time. Reviews allow me to make some sort of determination on a novel or film’s quality. As a writer, I’m waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop regarding my debut novel. Someone ain’t gonna like it and that’s just the way it is.

One of the things I notice regarding book reviews on Amazon – aside from the occasional punk on a one-star spree – is negative or low ratings due not to poor quality of the product itself but based on the reader’s personal preferences for the type of product. Statements like “This is so lame. No action – just a buncha people and their feelings.” or “WTF?! The writer droned on and on about minute details of the society and ancient history of their fantasy world. Where’s the sword fights?” or “All style and no substance. These characters are two dimensional cutouts set against a backdrop of corporate conspiracy.”

Orsen Scott Card in his book “Characters and Viewpoint” posited the MICE quotient for stories: Milieu, Ideas, Characters, Events. These are the four essential engines to a story. Obviously they overlap and blend, but these denote distinct categories or foundations for fictional plots. Does your story have a deeply conceived fictional world and/or environment? Is it about Ideas or a Puzzle? Does it delve into the struggles and triumphs of human nature? Or does it revolve around the dynamic of dramatic events pushing or pulling people along?

The review problems occur when readers weigh in not with assessments on the intrinsic qualities, but reactions to their personal preferences being denied. But complaining that Andy Remic isn’t like Tolkien is sort of like walking into a Thai restaurant and complaining there’s no pizza. They don’t serve that here.

So not only do Mr. Card’s delineations force me to evaluate what kind of story I’m writing, (very important, focus is) but they help me read between the lines in other folks recommendations, and fortify me against the day someone does that with my work.

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