The MACE Quotient

Have you ever been overwhelmed by your story because there's seemingly too many things going on? Do you have trouble keeping your short stories short? Are you trying to write a novel but finding that you don't have enough material to make it to typical novel length? Try figuring out what the MACE quotient of your story is. The MACE quotient is Mary Robinette Kowal's variant of the MICE quotient used by Orson Scott Card. It breaks down stories into four typical elements mixed in varying proportion: millieu, inquiry (or ask/answer), character, or event.


Your character enters a new place, struggles to exit, struggles to survive, struggles to navigate, and eventually exits the space. An example is Gulliver's Travels.

Inquiry/Ask, Answer

Your character asks a question. They are lied to, have asked the wrong question, can't understand, or given red herrings. Eventually your character answers the question. An example is Sherlock Holmes.


Your character is unhappy with an aspect of self. They try to change themselves or break out of their role. The story concludes with a new understanding of self. This is all about internal conflict. Think Catcher in the Rye.


Something disrupts your character's status quo. They try to set things right. There are fights, chases, things explode and build. By the end, the status quo is solidifed. This can be the original or a new one. This is mostly about external conflict. Think Godzilla.

How can you use this tool?

These four elements of story come up in different mixtures and proportions depending on the thing you're trying to write. Generally, the shorter your piece of work, the fewer elements you should try to incorporate.

For example, if you are doing a flash fiction of, say 1000 words or less, you should probably focus on one element, be it millieu, inquiry/ask/answer, character, or event. If you are doing a short story, you can probably get away with focusing on two or three of these. For a full length novel, you have enough leeway to fit all four elements in. This is not to say that you should ONLY focus on one of the four elements. Stories typically are some mixture of all four, in varying proportion. If you are going for multiple elements, be sure to close the elements in the inverse order. In other words, if your story begins with as a millieu story, then opens up into a character story, you should wrap up the character story before wrapping up the millieu story. If you like, you can think of it like nested code in html.

<millieu> <character></character></millieu>