Like a lot of writers, the ideas are the things that get me excited. I get partway through a project and one, two, or ten new ideas pop into my nogging begging for attention. The crazier and more cosmically weird, the better.
This creates two frequent problems for me. The first is that I struggle against rewriting, because I want to move on to the Next New Idea. The second is that I get wrapped up in my idea and wander around in a landscape of pretty colors but little substance. I’ll save the first problem for another post, and talk about how I try to keep myself grounded through a story.
Don’t get lost in the backdrop
Your story rides on the backs of your characters, and the rest is window dressing. Science-fiction is misunderstood by a lot of people who seem to mistake it for an end unto itself. If you look at truly good Sci-Fi (Firefly, new Battlestar Galactica, original Star Wars) you see that the future is secondary to the tales being told. The original Star Trek was pitched at a “wagon train to the stars” to sell it to executives, because the producers knew the backdrop didn’t matter. Kirk would be Kirk in any time period.
Turn your characters loose
I’ve become a huge fan of Y: The Last Man. It’s a 60 comic series with the incredible premise of every male mammal on the planet has died except for one young man and his monkey. It’s a wild idea that could easily run in a billion different directions, but the author keeps it tight by focusing on the characters. They are far more than 2-D caricatures, with clear perspectives and goals. They keep the story grounded.
Don’t tell everything
In Y: The Last Man, you often get glimpses of other stories going on. Some come from incidental characters the protagonist and friends run into, and others are just glimpsed in the background. The author gives a taste to remind you there is a whole world at work, but rarely does he go off on a tangent. There are still a ton of other tales to tell in this incredible world, but we’re not here to read about those right now.
This is a tough area for me, but one I love to explore. Hopefully I will develop enough skill to be able to harness my ideas into something valuable on a regular, or even occasional, basis!