Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Any Job Is Easy, If You Have the Right Tools

"Any Job Is Easy, If You Have the Right Tools" by Joan Y. Edwards

My father, John B. Meyer, used to tell me, "Any job is easy, if you have the right tools." I have seen time after time that he was correct.
One day I had defeat simply because I didn't have the right tools for the job. The job at hand was to open a can of green beans.
Problem: none of my can openers opened the can.
I had three different types:
  1. An electric one (No picture. I recycled it.)
  2. A regular hand-powered one
  3. A hand-powered one with a stabber on it.
First Failure: The electric one. It was fully charged. It wouldn't open the can.  Perhaps the ridges on the cans were not as steep as they needed to be in order for it to cut.
Second Failure:  Hand-powered opener; broken, couldn't get it to turn.  
Third Failure: Hand-powered opener with stabber; rusty and old, wouldn't cut metal. 
Luckily for me, I found a can of green beans that had a flip-top lid or we wouldn't have had green beans that night.
The next time I went to the store, I examined closely the can openers available for purchase. Having a war with openers each night at supper time was getting the best of me. I discovered one that cuts the lids off at the top with rounded edges. Perhaps it would cut through no matter what. I've had it almost a year and it's never failed me, YET. Hip Hip Hooray!
Hand can opener; works great, cuts with rounded edges, It has never failed in almost a year.
Hm. Hm. Hm. Does the above remind you of anything?
Yes. I knew you would see it. It reminded you of the parts of a story where the main character has to go through two or three failures before they succeed. Didn't it?
To write a story, you have to have the right tools, too. In the words of Orson Scott Card, you must have Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event. You must have M.I.C.E. in your story.
EEK. You say. Even one mouse might send you to higher ground.
Oh not that kind of mice. Okay. You're all right now. Let's continue.
All stories contain these four elements that determine the structure of your story: Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event. Although each category is present in the story, one generally is more prominent than the others. One has more emphasis than the other three.
The one that dominates your story is the one that you, the author, care about most. Knowing the ingredient you care about the most, will enable you to structure your story effectively.  What is your purpose in writing this story? Knowing your purpose will also lead you to know which part to emphasize the most.
  • Milieu - The Milieu is the world--the planet, the society, the weather, the family--all the elements that went into creating that special world.

    In what world will your character be brought to the utmost edge of desperation and search from within him or around him for what he needs to succeed in his goals for what he wants or what he desperately needs. Science Fiction makes good use of different worlds with varying rules that only work in that world. But the emotions felt are the same no matter which world characters live.
  • Idea - Idea stories are about the process of finding information.

  • What information does your character need to learn to change? Mysteries have a big emphasis on finding information.

  • Character - The Character story is about the transformation of a character's role in the communities that matter most to him or her.

    A classy character one who will be remembered for what she could do or what she couldn't do. What does the character desperately want? What keeps them from getting it? You've got a neat idea for a character. That's good. What would force this character to do something he doesn't believe he can do or would be against his present belief system? Put him in that tight situation, make that event happen and this conflict will drive your story.
    Dr. John L. Flynn says the character's story is about the transformation of a character's role in his community.
    Crisis - Central character becomes so unhappy, impatient, or angry in his present role that he begins the process of change (either consciously or unconsciously).
    Conflict - Others resist the central character's change, and attempt to change him back.
    Climax - Character either settles into a new role (happily or not) or gives up the struggle and remains in the old role (happily or not).
  • Event - Event stories focus on events which rip the fabric of the universe or disrupt the natural order and cause the world to be in a state of flux.

    Perhaps the Plot figures in the event category. A plot - a series of events, cause and effect or coincidence, one after the other leads to a crisis situation and the ultimate win or loss by the main character.
I had never heard of the M.I.C.E. concept before I read Dr. John L. Flynn's work today. However, it makes sense.  The man who actually devised the M.I.C.E. concept was Orson Scott Card. He explains it in his book, Elements of Fiction Writing - Characters & Viewpoint.

Good luck with using these "tools" to create your top-notch story that will have a long-lasting life in the hearts of your readers. It might not make it easy, but it'll be easier because you know a little bit more of the ingredients needed. If these aren't the right tools for you, search for better ones, like I did with the can opener. There's one for you. It's waiting for you.
I'd love to hear about the tools you use to open your cans or to write your stories.

Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards


  1. Joan,
    Even opening a can can be a challenge without the right tools. In real life, we often say, "Three tries and you're out." In a story, I guess it's, "Three tries and you figure it out." Loved the connection to writing that you made. Great post!

  2. Such a good analogy for writers. Thanks.

  3. Dear Linda,
    Thanks for writing. You're right. In writing a story, we have 3 tries and the character figures it out. Good analogy. I'm glad you liked the post. Celebrate you today.

    Never Give Up
    Joan Y. Edwards

  4. Dear Vivian,
    You're welcome. I'm glad you think it's a good analogy for writers.
    Celebrate you today.

    Never Give Up
    Joan Y. Edwards

  5. I agree with Vivian, great analogies. My father was a contractor and and later owned a car repair shop. If he didn't have the right tools for each type of job . . . same with a writer.