Work In Progress: Short Stories and MICE

The past two weeks, I’ve worked on several short stories as a break from working on novels. I love writing them, as you can see with Tales of Lunis Aquaria, and I want to release a second volume of short stories from Lunis Aquaria soon. Next year maybe? Who knows. All I can say for now, is hang back I might have good news soon.


One thing I wanted to do before getting started on them, was to learn more about short stories and get better at writing then. Mary Robinette Kowal did a guest lecture on short stories in Brandon Sanderson’s class and I watched the lecture on Youtube as preparation. She talks about her MICE (Milieu, Inquiry, Character, Event) theory and how she uses that in a short story, but the idea could work in a story for any length. During the class, she asks the students to write a flash fiction story of only a few lines long, and it’s a great exercise. For a full explanation of what MICE means and how you use it, I suggest you check the video. Leave a comment if you want to see everything broken down, using one of my short stories as an example.

I used her theory of the MICE-threads to plan these short stories, adapting my initial idea to something that would leave the reader satisfied. The trickiest thing about a short story is to not make them too long or complex. It’s a snapshot, a scene, just one moment in a bigger story. And still, it needs to be a full story in itself, with conflict and resolution. With the MICE-threads you can easily identify what kind of conflicts and resolutions you need, and you’ll know soon enough when you have unresolved plot points.

Using Code To Write

I think what I like best about this theory is how it uses code. I’m not a programmer, but I’m familiar with HTML and very light coding, so her examples of nesting make sense to me. Sometimes it’s necessary to reduce a story to a single string for it to make sense. One of the short stories I had already outlined and written partially before I used the MICE-theory and I rearranged it after analysing it because there were a few threads that weren’t resolved or would have led me to cross the maximum amount of words for this particular piece.

Mary Robinette Kowal also uses a mathematic formula to calculate the rough word count of what your story would end up with if you used this theory. This is useful if you write a short story for submission like I did, so you know if you can add more threads or have to cut something. The number she uses to multiply is too high for me as an underwriter. I’m always below what they expect, so I adjusted it for me after testing it with these short stories. With the new number, the formula is pretty accurate.

If you want to write more short stories to submit and have to work with word count limits, I highly suggest using this formula and the MICE-threads. So far, it’s been a great experience and it’s so much easier to outline my stories.

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