12.32: Structuring a Short Piece

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard

We begin our exploration of short story structure with a re-cap of the MACE quotient (Milieu, Ask/Answer, Character, Event). Then we apply that tool to how we structure the pieces we write—specifically the short ones.

Liner Notes: Here’s “Evil Robot Monkey” by Mary Robinette Kowal

And here’s a handy MICE quotient chart!


Credits: this episode was recorded in Cosmere House Studios by Dan Dan the Audioman Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson



  1. Pick one of the MACE elements (Milieu, Ask/Answer, Character, or Event)
  2. Describe, in three sentences, how your story’s primary plot will use that element.
  3. Pick a second element.
  4. Describe, in three sentences, how your story’s sub-plot will use that element.
  5. Nest these sentences, creating a six-sentence outline for your story.
  6. Nest the sentences in a different order, outlining your story with the sub-plot’s element now functioning as the primary plot

The 2017 Hugo nominees for Best Short Story:

¹ Available in the Hugo Voter packet

6 thoughts on “12.32: Structuring a Short Piece”

  1. Swing the MACE, hit them in the knee… No, no, it’s an acronym! Milieu, Ask/Answer, Character, and Event! And the original quartet, Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard, walk us through the four different elements, with their twists. A place, a question, what’s wrong with me, what’s wrong with the world? And how do you use those four threads to make short stories? Read the transcript, over in the archives or here


    and find out!

  2. This one helps me greatly! I struggle with short stories and shorter works in general as I’m inclined towards novels. Whenever I try shorter works, I discover more stuff that intrigues me going on and design a larger story to capture it. With M.I.C.E., I think I can rein myself in. Plus I like limitations as I feel they force me to think more creative to get what I seek within the guidelines.

  3. Hey guys, great podcast. I wrote a short story trying to use the MACE quotient, it’s still a weird story, but my mom said it was cool. That’s a big step up.

  4. I think that I am so lucky to get this information, education via podcasts and charts. Thank you.
    I write at home, non fiction books and I gain such insight on how to apply your ideas and experience to my work

  5. I just realized how one of my favorite short stories is a pure idea story! The Escape of Arsene Lupin, which starts with Lupin declaring that he won’t be at his trial and he’ll escape prison. The entire story focuses purely on that idea it introduces at the beginning. Everything which goes on centers around that alone, with it using Lupin’s audacity for the characterization while not getting too close in POV. It starts with that declaration and it ends after Lupin’s escape and he explains the trick to Ganimard.

    Yeah, this episode helped in more ways than I thought as now that I have this as my frame of reference, I actually feel up for writing short stories. I’m going to give one a try this week. Thanks Writing Excuses!

  6. Do you think it’s too simplistic to have a short story that has mostly just one MACE quotient? (Perhaps a second, more tertiary one, but really just one primary.)


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