MICE with PIES in the Toolbox

Sounds intimidating, or worse, doesn’t it?

It isn’t. Promise. There are no beasties in the following words. And sorry, but no lunch either.

MICE refers to storytelling.

M is for Milieu

and although every story has a setting, a Milieu story is more than a story based mostly on setting. It’s also a tool to determine how to open and close a Milieu story (and how to recognise a story as a Milieu-based story).

This type of story is the thing that matters most. It’s about the places explored, even though it’s usually shown through the stranger’s eyes as the milieu is explored. (Gulliver’s Travels would be an example.)

To recognise the Milieu story, find the observer, travel with them to the strange place, explore the new and interesting with that character, and then return home with the main character transformed by what is seen and understood from the travels. (Does anyone think this might be a Tolkien tag? Or is it Shogun? Yes to both, in my opinion.)

The beginning of the story is usually indicated when the stranger arrives in a strange land, and the end is when he leaves.

I is for Idea/Inquiry

and usually begins with a question in the foreground. It ends when the question is answered. Mysteries, police, detective, cozies, etc. are the most common form of Idea stories. Something has happened, and it raises a question that needs an answer to the who or why or how.

And once again, every story contains some form of question, but if the question is the main aim of the progress of the story, it’s an Idea story.

The pointy end of an Idea story is that it starts as close to the point where the question is raised and ends as close as possible after the question is answered.

C is for Character

Every story has a character in some form or another, but a Character story is identified by, and is about, the transformation of a character and their role in the community/ies in their world. At the end of the story, the main character is not who they were at the start. A character transformation has taken place.

It’s not only about the interesting characters that every story needs, it’s about the transformation of the character and their role in their community.

It begins when the main character recognises the present role needs to change (the moment of change that triggers transformation). The change process always begins with recognition of the need to change, and it ends when the new role fits like a suit or the character gives up and stays as they were before the story began. The happy/not happy dichotomy isn’t relevant, but the transformation is — either accept the role as it is, or the new role, and the transformation is complete. The struggle ends with a definite position — change, or change attitude, and accept role.

The plot surrounding the Character story is how other characters resist change, or refuse to allow the character to change and the final showdown is to establish who wins the battle for self-confidence/identification.

E is for Event

The sky has fallen, the world is wrong, the fabric of the universe is torn.

The Event story begins when the character who is most critical to establishing the new order becomes involved in the story (or, more accurately, the fight to establish order).

It ends where one of the following happen:
The old order is restored;
A new order is established; or
The world as we know it is destroyed, chaos descends, darkness reigns.

Even in the Event story, the perspective of the main character is our guide through the world, which is why the story begins with their involvement in the world and spreads out to encompass the whole event, seeing only as much as the character does, knowing only what they know, understanding the world through their interactions and progress, learning more with each stage the character traverses.

The event may be big, but is presented through a character to show the way. It helps open the perspective by starting small and expanding slowly (or as actions and events happen) as the main character becomes involved because they care what happens. Through the character caring, the story unfolds and grows, and is seen through their senses and hopes.


That’s the MICE explanation. There are probably many more explanations out there, so read around to find an explanation that’s clear and precise.


Now for the PIES.

This is something you may not find in other places. I’ve seen bits and pieces where an acronym is used to show the character’s stakes in the story, but none of them felt like the right fit for me, and as I do these posts to reinforce my path through the writerly struggle to fill my toolbox, I created PIES.

P is for Physical

The physical stakes are about the body, life and death, pain and suffering on a physical level. Simple enough for me to understand: if I do this, the consequence is that I hurt my physical body.

I is for Intellectual

These stakes involve the matters of the mind: the job, the career, the things the character worked hard to achieve. This is about losing livelihood and self-identification through that role.

E is for Emotional

Emotional stakes are the true internal pains of the character. Loss of sanity, or the concept of it, would be the highest ranked stakes here, but also relationships and identity. A lot of research goes into these stakes, finding a personality, reading up on the stages of grief, psychology, etc. In a story with an emotional level of stakes, it’s important to get it right so it’s recognised (by the reader, even if not by the character until the final stages).

S is for Spiritual.

Sometimes, the highest stakes are for the spiritual side of the character. I’m not sure what more to say about this, because each person will have their own take on what is spiritual. I’m not a person who follows a religion, but I have a spiritual side, so I write about the cost of those spiritual matters that I understand — or want to understand. The character is the one who suffers for the lesson in their spiritual journey.


The PIES is basic at the moment — still learning — but the tool, and explaining it, has helped me understand why stakes matter, at this moment, to this character. Regardless of the MICE background, the PIES stakes are what makes it all matter.

Because …

A story is a character who struggles through obstacles to find a resolution to a problem.

The underlying reason they do that is the stakes that matter most to them at this moment in time, and for this journey. Knowing why the problem is important to the character, and how best to display the search against a MICE background, is important to me.


I’m doing all this in preparation for the start of a course in a couple of weeks, so sharpening my tools beforehand to make sure I’m in the right frame, and not still teasing out threads.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my spouting, and hope you add your ideas to the comments.


Can’t wait for 2021.

5 thoughts on “MICE with PIES in the Toolbox

  1. I think that my second book may be a Milieu story as my character returns home somewhat transformed by his trip. however there is no resisting as he simply flows along with the other stories that are being told. Several events take place and he is the guide for the reader to know what is taking place. There may also be some PIES in my book, thanks for explaining all of this Cage.

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  2. Pingback: The Story Process Posts – Again | Cage Dunn – Writer/Author

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