No, this is not a story about those little critters that some consider cute while others think of as a carrier of the worst diseases to haunt humanity. This is about what motivates people, and how it can apply to the characters we create as writers. Some fall solidly into one category or other. Most don’t. They’ll be in several.
So, here we go.
I first heard of the acronym “MICE” when I was in the Army. A couple of friends in Military Intelligence (the ultimate oxymoron, or so some say), were tossing it about. I’d never heard it, and when they explained it, all I could do was shake my head and say, “I guess Freud was wrong. It isn’t all about sex.”
MICE stands for some of the big motivators in our world. “M” stands for money, “I” for ideology, “C” for conscience, and “E” for Ego. Most everything, with the possibility of love and sheer stupidity, fits nicely into it.
So, let me take a couple of characters from my novels The Lawman and Family Secrets and see how it applies.
M is for money. It’s safe to say that isn’t a significant motivator for Will Diaz. He realized a long time ago that there was no money to made in Law Enforcement. But is for several others, one of them being David Wheaton, it is. Wheaton is a guy who came into town, and real outsider. Almost right away he started having the most interesting accidents in various businesses. He’d sue, make money, and then just keep going. Now he owns several businesses, and buys up property every chance he gets. On the outside, it looks like his only motivator is money. BUT, that’s not all there is to him. Money is a means to an end, and he’ll do whatever it takes to get the resources he needs to reach that end. That means some of the later pieces of MICE apply to him entirely.
I is for ideology. This is what we hold to be true above all else. For most of us that begins and ends with our flag and religion. For Will Diaz, both are big motivators. Indeed, he might go so far as to say they’re the most important motivators to him. Examination of the character will reveal that they aren’t so much motivators as the guidelines he lives his life within. It’s where he gets the moral strength to do what he has to do. He’s a patriot and a Christian and both form who he is. This is where he gets the understanding and wisdom to be a great husband, father, and community leader. But it’s a long ways from his primary motivation.
But “I” can apply to his nemesis, David Wheaton. Betrayal figures a lot in his version of “I,” and is a powerful motivator for what he wants to do.
C is for conscience. If Will Diaz has a motivator, that’s it. In later books, we come to learn he knows injustice. He’s seen terrible things happen while people who could have done something stood by and wrung their hands. Without knowing it, it’s these injustices that push him to be a good, honest cop and detective. It’s also a problem for him in that he has a standard as a peace officer that few can live up to. That standard has also caused him to look at his failures and beat himself up over them.
It’s the most powerful motivator in his life. So powerful in fact that in Family Secrets he puts his life, career, and the lives of several friends on the line to pursue it. What he does is questionable at best, and illegal at worst. The difference between him and David Wheaton is that Will does it knowing he isn’t going to get away with it, but if he stands and does nothing and stays within the boundaries of the law, he’ll lose his soul.
This leads to an interesting question: Why do his friends choose to go with him on what can only be termed a way one mission? Money certainly doesn’t fit into it, but to a large degree, “ICE” does. For most, it boils down to pure friendship. Something covered under Ideology perfectly. They do because Will has always had their back. Now it’s their turn to pay him back. There’s also a streak of guilt that if they don’t help him and he dies, they’ll forever feel guilty about it. And that brings us to the last piece in MICE.
E is for Ego. First, let me tell you something about cops. Cops are some of the most egotistical people in the world. An outstanding police officer is cut from the same cloth a fighter pilot or an astronaut. They can be the humblest person the world has ever known, but give them a badge, a uniform, and send them out to do a job, and they’ll get it done, no matter what. Plain and simple, if they didn’t have an ego, they’d never do the job.
Ego may not be Will Diaz’s biggest motivation. At least he’d never admit it, but it’s there. But it motivates not only Will but his friends. They see themselves as the best of the best, and by God, they’ll prove it. That’s part of what motivates his friends to join him on his mission. The people around them are Brothers and Sisters, and they will not show weakness or fear in front of them. That’s what helps them get the job done.
David Wheaton also has an ego. A huge one. He thinks he smarter than everyone else around. He’s built layer after layer of defense to create a criminal enterprise with him in the middle carefully protected. The Bible tells us that “Pride goes before the fall.” He’s perfectly aware of that. The problem is, he thinks himself so smart and skilled that he can even defeat God.
MICE doesn’t cover the whole gauntlet of human motivation. It doesn’t include love, and so on, but I think it includes most it.
So think about what seriously motivates your character. They’ll become a lot more interesting.