Using MICE in Your Copywriting

By Carlos Luis Delgado

Write Label
5 min readOct 1, 2020
Are there mice in this book? Probably!
Are there mice in this book? Probably!

Today we’re going to apply a writing theory that is often used in Science Fiction but can be applied to all fiction, non-fiction, and even — as we’ll see momentarily — copywriting, as well.

Which theory?

Before we jump in, ask yourself these questions and keep them in mind while reading: when have you felt dissatisfied by a book, movie, or episode of a TV show? What about them dissatisfied you? Was it how they ended?

Alright. Let’s dive in! The MICE Quotient is an organizational theory — coined by Orson Scott Card and popularized by Mary Robinette Kowal, among other fantastic writers — proposing that every story consists of one, or a combination, of these four elements:

Milieu, Inquiry, Character, and Event.

Not only is it a way to organize stories, but the MICE Quotient serves as a loose guideline on where to start and end a story based on how the elements are organized, introduced, and concluded.

That’s all well and good, but what is MICE? Splendid question! You’re ready to start the investigation.

Below is a brief breakdown of the acronym, with examples.

Milieu (setting)

A milieu story focuses on a setting. Generally, the story begins when the characters leave a familiar world and enter a new, unfamiliar one, and ends when they again return home or decide to stay.

Examples: Despicable Me, The Hobbit.

Idea (question)

Idea stories are about the process of finding information. They begin with a question and end when that question is answered. Books in the mystery genre are often in this category.

Examples: Despicable Me, The Da Vinci Code.

Character (transformation)

Character-based stories center on character transformation. They begin with a character’s dissatisfaction with their own life or circumstances and end when that character either manages to change those circumstances or accepts them.

Example: Despicable Me, Garden State.

Event (catastrophe)

Event stories begin with a catastrophic event that threatens to totally destroy or alter the world and end either when the characters stop or overcome the catastrophe, or when everyone perishes.

Examples: Despicable Me, Independence Day.

If you noticed something in common with all these examples, you’re ready for a promotion at the detective agency! Okay, we know what MICE stands for and how each element works. But, how does it all come together? And how is Despicable Me a Character, Inquiry, Milieu, and Event story? The plot thickens!

It all has to do with nesting.

(I’m not referring to lining your mantle with tchotchkes or figurines, though I do champion this as a method of self-care. I’m looking at you Funko Pop!)

Every new element you add to a story — every character, setting, idea, or event — comes with a price, and that price is word count.

Word count! (Shakes fist into the air)

But not to worry! If you are using more than one MICE element, thinking about them as nested codes can help (as in HTML — fire up those Live Journals!). Every element you use must be introduced, and concluded, just like HTML codes. And, are organized by LIFO (last in, first out), just as with HTML. The various conflicts, subplots, etc., in your story or non-fiction writing — no matter its length or subject — need to wrap up your story elements in the reverse order that they were introduced. Last in, first out. Logical!

Let’s take a film as an example. How about, Despicable Me?

<Character> Gru feels irrelevant as a supervillain, so he decides to steal the moon.

<Event> Gru is foiled by a younger villain named Vector.

<Milieu> Gru enters the world of parenthood by adopting orphans.

<Idea> “How do I steal the moon now that I’ve been denied this loan?”


</Idea> “You had the power the whole time, and they’re called Minions.”

</Milieu> Gru realizes he loves his adopted daughters and stays in the world of parenthood.

</Event> Gru launches Vector and the moon into space (bye Felisha).

</Character> Gru learns that being a parent is more fulfilling than being a supervillain (aww!)

The conclusions of each element resolve relatively close together, at the end of the movie, but there is nonetheless a logic to the order in which they are resolved. If these elements are resolved out of order, it can lead to an unsatisfying ending. Remember those questions? Here’s a reminder.

Did the end of the third Lord of the Rings film feel like it had three endings? Sure did to this dork. That’s because the film’s nesting was done across the span of three films, instead of contained to each one. So, by the end of The Return of the Vigo, we were experiencing the conclusion to elements that were opened in the second film, leaving audiences rightly confused, even though most already watched the second film going in. That is the consequence of ineffective nesting.

(Still, great film, and I would love to work with you, Pete.)

Let’s wrap this up with the answer to the question we started with. How can this theory apply to copywriting?

The idea we want to take away from the MICE Quotient is the structural concept of nesting. This will help organize your thoughts, introduce topics or descriptions, and close a script satisfyingly, which is useful for longer copy — such as sixty-second radio ads. This can be especially powerful in endorsement-style ads, where a single speaker needs to get through multiple points for one subject in a logical and engaging manner.

Here’s a truncated example involving branded coffee:

<c> “Sigh. I’m so tired. I must be getting old… if only there was something that could get me going in the morning…?”

<i> “Comet Coffee? What is this and why should I drink it? Let’s find out!”

<e> “Oh no… only twenty-four hours to take advantage of this incredible offer? This is so sudden and unexpected, like a… meteor!”

</e> “Good news! Here’s a code to take advantage of the offer, so you can rest easy.”

</i> “Wow, I’m excited to drink Comet Coffee because of its rich flavor, dedication to sustainability, and eye-widening strength. I’m glad I got that discount code.”

</c> “You know what, I may be getting older but that just means I get to nap more. Before I have some Comet Coffee, of course!”

While non-fiction does not necessarily depend on narrative structure, it does rely on logical thought progression. Symmetry and parallelism click to readers and viewers. There is a sense of completeness and wholeness that comes with a closed-loop or topic or even a commercial. That’s why this theory is powerful when applied, whether to ad copy or Sci-Fi.

Which theory? The MICE Quotient!

If you’re looking for more examples of quality ad copy, you can always check out Write Label, which specializes in original creative content for scripts, social posts, and more!



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