Monthly Archives: October 2012

MICE and outlining

This last weekend, I went to the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. There are so many great things to say about this conference it’s hard to know where to start. It’s four days (three days of conference plus a day of pre-conference workshops) surrounded by writers talking about writing. Exhausting and overwhelming, but also exhilarating and inspiring.

For me, one of the best parts is the Presenter Lunch. A presenter (author, editor, agent) sits at each table, but who sits where is a mystery until we all sit down. This year I was lucky enough to be sitting at a table with Mary Robinette Kowal, an author and professional puppeteer. She was so personable and entertaining, I decided to go to her outlining session later that afternoon, which turned out to be the best decision because it was the session I found the most valuable over the weekend. Here are my notes:


  1. Write a list of your plot events in order.
  2. Decide where the story starts – any events that occur before the start are backstory.
  3. Use chapters to control pacing and keep readers reading. Occasionally you can take the first line of one chapter and use it as the last line of the previous chapter so that the reader is forced to turn the page.
  4. Use a series of questions to keep the story moving forward. If a question has a “Yes” or “No” answer, the story stops. If a question has a “Yes, but” or “No, and” answer, the story carries on.
  5. If you’re using multiple points of view (POV), for each scene, decide which character has the most at stake. That character should be your POV character for the scene. (Although later when you look at your entire story, you might need to change scene POVs to adjust the balance if some characters have too many or not enough scenes.)
  6. Consider what type of story you’re telling, using the MICE quotient (from Orson Scott Card’s Characters and Viewpoint).


  • Milieu – a story that starts and ends in a place, often with a journey such as the traditional hero’s journey
  • Idea – a story that starts with a question and ends when the question is answered
  • Character – a story that starts when a character is dissatisfied and ends when the character is satisfied, resigned, or dead
  • Event – a story that starts with an event that disrupts the status quo and ends when the status quo is reinstated

In short stories, you will probably find only one of these story types, but in longer stories, it’s common to see several types nested. The trick when you use more than one is to nest them like you would with code. The first story type to start is the last to finish. The second type to start is the second-to-last to finish.

For further reading, here’s a blogpost by another conference attendee, or you can listen to Mary herself in a Writing Excuses podcast (scroll down to beneath the sharing buttons and click the circle button with the Play icon).

And to finish up, here’s a picture of me with a couple of writing friends at the conference. Maybe I’ll see you there next year!



This last weekend, Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, Patrick and I decided to rent a Westfalia Vanagon camper. We’ve been toying with the idea of buying one, but every time it comes up in conversation, we can’t justify having two cars (we don’t have a lot of parking space, and Patrick bikes to work, so it’s not like we really need two cars). But when we found out that there’s a rental company in Sidney, it seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. We could try it out, and see if it was just something fun to dream about, or something we’d really love.

We picked the camper van up on Friday evening, and were given a quick demonstration of how everything worked – folding down the bed, pulling out the table, lighting the stove, getting water in the sink, pushing open the pop-top, hooking it up to power, filling up the gas tank, and swiveling the front seats. There was so much to learn, I admit I was a bit intimidated. But we hit the road, headed for Saltspring Island.


The ferry trip was uneventful and then we joined the stream of cars heading up the main road to Ganges (note to self, next time just pull over and let everyone else go ahead!). In the dark, we pulled into our campsite, a secluded spot in the trees with a picnic table and an quick walk to the bathrooms. We’d forgotten there’s a light in the back of the van, so we used our headlamps to pull the bed out and get everything organized for sleeping. I can’t imagine what that looked like – two headlamps bobbing up and down as we puzzled out how to make it all work. But we were soon cozy in bed with our own feather duvet from home, propped up reading our books, and grinning at each other like mad things. This was exactly as we imagined it would be!

Next morning I woke up with the birds and Patrick muttered and grumbled at me to go back to sleep, which of course I couldn’t because we were on holiday. Eventually he allowed that it was time to get up. By now, the sun was shining through the trees and I was ready for coffee. Together we figured out how to get water out of the tap, I put it on to boil, and Patrick ground the beans, and then we waited for it to brew. Some days, three minutes seems like a long time. As I poured the coffee, I got my first hint of…something foul. I’m sure my nose twitched. That smell, it couldn’t be the coffee could it? I took a sip, and another. Ewww! Sure enough, it was the water from the tank (second note to self – don’t use the water in the tank for drinking!)

Following a quick breakfast of tuna and salad (yeah, I know we’re strange), we drove into Ganges village to check out the Saturday market and pick up some fresh vegetables. And a decent cup of coffee!


On Saturday afternoon, we drove north, took the ferry back to Crofton, drove north to Nanaimo, and then took the ferry to Gabriola, where we spent the rest of the weekend, following much the same pattern. Waking up early, making coffee (not using water from the tank), eating breakfast, cooking, eating, cooking, eating, making cups of tea and reading, reading, reading, with the odd stroll down to the marina to gaze at the boats.

Memorable moments included walking to the bathrooms in the dark with our headlamps on and seeing several sets of deer eyes peering back at us, picking apples and pears off the trees at the campground (delicious!), and cooking yam fries on the camp stove.


Would we rent a camper again? Yes! Might we buy one? Yes, yes, YES! So if you have one for sale, or know someone with one for sale, please contact me ASAP.

The call

It starts with an email: “I’ve tried calling …”

Instantly I recall all the times the phone rang, when I didn’t pick up because I didn’t recognize the number. “Just another crank call,” I’d thought.

I shoot back an email. “Is it okay if I call you right back?” and then I have second thoughts. As if I’ll be able to think about anything else until I hear what she has to say.

I dig out the cell phone and find the last Missed call. Holding my breath, I call back. The wheelbarrow man in my stomach is doing a jig.

She picks up right away. “Jenny?”

“I’m so sorry…”

“I’ve been trying to call you…”

“I thought you were the Microsoft Service Desk…” I’m giggling nervously.

We talk for a few minutes about how we both don’t like to use the phone, which is why she hasn’t left me a message. And then we get down to it.

“I read your story and I really liked it.”

I’m waiting for the BUT.

“And we’d like to publish it.”

I don’t do any of those things I’ve heard writers do – scream, yell, drop the phone. “Really?” I must have misunderstood.


The rest of the conversation is a blur. I make frantic notes as she tells me about the editing process, how I should start thinking about what types of covers I like because I can have some input into the cover design, and how she’ll send me a contract the next day.

After we hang up, I jump up and down like a five year old. I skype Patrick, but he’s already left. I pace for a few minutes. I give up and run next door to tell my neighbor. When Patrick finally gets home, I can’t even wait for him to put his bike away. “Guess what, guess what, guess what!”

He refuses to guess.

So I tell him. And then we both jump up and down and hug.

For the next few days I can’t sleep. My brain is going a million miles an hour thinking about all the things I need to do (Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, a website, EDITING!) Even though I’m not sleeping, I keep expecting to wake up.

And then the contract arrives and it’s official! My book is going to be published by
Sono Nis Press.