Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Milieu Story

**The ideas here come from Orson Scott Card in How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. This is my take on them.**

The milieu story is about the setting. It's the world surrounding your character, the weather, the family, the society, the pantheon. Everything you bring out during world building. These stories are often about travellers stuck in a distant land. Can the character return home safely? Will he choose to live in this new place?

A lot of fantasy is in this category. Any story about a character going through a portal and discovering a wild, strange land is a milieu story. Say hi to Alice in Wonderland, everyone. Unless I'm mistaken, Narnia also falls into this category.

If your main concern is the discovery of a world (through a series of other events, of course), then you are writing a milieu story. Chances are, your POV character is the stranger, who'll experience the wonders of your setting at the same time as your reader.

Other examples given by Orson Scott Cards are Gulliver's Travels and Shogun.

My original ideas for Edingher were of a milieu story. Most of the plotline happened at sea or on a small archipelago, whose culture and magic differed from everything the MC had seen before. There is still some of this discovery plotline in Edingher, but it now serves another type of story.

I'm curious, is anyone writing a milieu story? Can you think of any others?


  1. Hmmm, interesting. I could actually interpret both of my most recent projects as milieu stories, but from a bit of a strange angle. In one case, the character is discovering there is a great deal about the world around her that has always been hidden from her and now the blinders are off and she has to learn to navigate through a new culture and through places that hold different significance than they once did. The other character is coming home to find it drastically changed. In learning about the place and people (or creatures) there now, she also learns it hasn't changed as much as she thought. Some of what she is now seeing has always been there. Hmm, I see a common theme.

    1. Both are excellent variations on the milieu story structure. They hold to the familiar path, but also enlighten in ways that are relevant to the reader, offers nuggets of wisdom that the reader can pocket along the way and put to use in the real world.

  2. I am writing one but I never thought of it as a Milieu Story. My characters are forced out of the protected city they had been living in into "The Wilds" (hence the title of my book). In this sense it is also a travel story as the point is to get from A (their previous home) to point B (a hopeful new home). The conflicts that raise to knot up the progression is at the heart of the story, but a part of that heart is discovery of the world and the path and how the path ultimately changes the characters before they can reach the final end point.

    I'm glad to know there is a name for the type of story I am writing. Thank you!!

  3. Oh! I'm about to embark on a Milieu Story, although I never really thought of it that way. Cool. I'm actually doing an alternating POV, where each one is a fish out of water. :)

  4. Wow, I never thought so many of you would have a Milieu story. Glad all of this is helpful. :)

    I'm a big worldbuilding and setting fan, so there's always something of the milieu story in my novels, but it's never been predominant. It's great to know the three of you are giving it its rightful place!

  5. Mine may be, but with an odd twist -- the characters that arrive on the world are dumbfounded not by how strange the planet is but rather by how similar it is to Earth. Since they know evolution shouldn't work that way, they are at a loss as to how it happened.

  6. Never thought a particular type of story would have it's own name. A few years ago I got an idea that is a milieu story. It starts out in a fantasy world and the characters find a portal to another fantasy world. It's actually a really good story idea that I think I may come back to one day.

    Anyway's! That's one, and a story I'm working on right now, The Journalist, is probably a milieu story too. That's all that comes to mind at the moment.

  7. Ted: Unless I'm mistaken, the Shard doesn't start with the discovery of this planet, right? I'd think you follow another story structure but have a strong emphasis on setting. Which in my mind is obviously great, as we're writing fantasy and the world plays an incredibly important part whether or not it is what the story is about.

    BookOwl: Yep, changing world is a typical milieu story, especially if the characters are trying to return to their original setting.