The Idea Morph

Ninja goats.

You’re in-between projects, reading a couple books as a break after your last magnum opus; or maybe you haven’t written in a while, but you have other things to focus on.  Your writer mind, however, is always working, and out of the blue you get this idea.  Ninja goats.  Some people might have questions about this, but there’s no question in your mind.  You need to write this.  You need to write it like you need an actual ninja goat in your life.

But this idea needs a little bit of fleshing out first.  Whatever your pre-writing strategy is, whether it’s deep thought or encyclopedia-writing, you start working.  What would make ninja goats possible?  What would make them effective?  What would make them become a conflict, and who would be a good main character in the center of this conflict?  All your thinking leads you to great places, where you’re excited about the story and can’t wait to actually write it.  If you’re a pantser, you probably already started writing, but now you’re even more excited.

As you progress, whether in thinking or in writing, you come to a sticky place.  Everything you’ve worldbuilt thus far has been great-- the characters are going to be tested, the plot is going to flow, and you’re going to have a blast.  But… it isn’t working completely.  It isn’t working the way you expected it all to work.

Horror of horrors, the ninja goats are being pushed out of the story.

See, in order to have ninja goats, you had to uplift their psyches so they could actually think instead of becoming highly-trained eaters.  In order to do an uplift, scientists would need sufficient technology, and the process requires a zero-gravity workspace.  You could accomplish this by dropping the lab from a great height (Thor knows what I’m saying here-- that cage Loki trapped him in started falling and he lost all sense of up or down), but the easiest and coolest way to do it is space.  You shoot the lab into space.  The main characters are on a space station lab, but they’re a botanist and an archaeologist-- they have no reason to be on the specific goat-uplift-centered space lab.  They’re on an offshoot lab dedicated to botany-archaeology in space.

Are you seeing the problem?  If they’re on an offshoot lab, and ninja goats are uplifted elsewhere, the main characters will never see a ninja goat.  Which is a problem.

Oh, that’s easy to fix, you say, and suggest putting all the different labs into the same space station.  But that’s bad for two reasons: one, on the practical side for the scientists, archaeologist-botanists don’t want ninja goats running through their literally dirty work.  On the writing side, though, you have an enormous plot twist planned for halfway through the book where the life support starts killing people (I’ve researched long and hard and know for a fact that that is ironic).  The life support on ninjagoat!Station is an older model than on the archaeologybotany!Station, and thus wouldn’t fail that way.  It’s only because of science and funding and weird politics and media that the newer life support ever existed.

Anyway, Stark is feeding me all this science and I’m doing my best to explain it all, but it’s not really working.  The point is, your main characters will never see ninja goats in their lifetime.  Thus, your readers will never see ninja goats.

Your initial idea has failed.

I’ll let you blink at that for a little while.  Ninja goats thrilled you.  They made you get off your rear and start working on a new story, when you hadn’t written in a while or you were still tired out from the last story.  Ninja goats burst from your mind fully-formed like some Athena of the imagination, the perfect idea ready for battle.  You needed to write ninja goats.  You needed to write ninja goats like you needed to write a good story.

There’s the tipping point.  No, ninja goats are not greater than a good story.  They aren’t even equal.  If you tell a bad story about ninja goats, it’s worthless.  A good story is so much better than ninja goats.

Look at your archaeology-botany-space-station-life-support story.  Look at those well-rounded characters in their vivid world, thrown about by the twisty plot.  That’s a good story.  Even if the first draft turns out like trash, as first drafts do, there’s a lot to love in there.  You could make this work.
What price glory?  If it means giving up your ninja goats, your muse’s once-in-a-lifetime gift, is this really worth it?  It’s sacrilege even to consider giving up the ninja goats, but…  Well, choosing between the idea of the century and a genius story is always tough.  But this is one facet of killing one’s darlings, as they say.  In order to tell a great story, you have to sacrifice a couple ninja goats.

This happens all the time.  You get a great idea, you begin fleshing it out, and the story you create has no place for the original story.  It’s always annoying when it happens, but here’s the thing about ideas: they aren’t time-sensitive.  Write down the ninja goats.  Put that idea somewhere you’ll find it in the future.  Maybe there will be a great story that features ninja goats-- for now, you have the opportunity to say that ninja goats inspired your archaeology-botany space story.  Which is not something many people can say.

Thanks to Stark for helping me figure out the science stuff, and for letting me post this without describing everything perfectly.  Apparently brain chemistry has some extra facets that I didn’t mention.  Which is probably wise because I’m still trying to figure out the zero-gravity stuff.  If I ever write this story, I’ll get it all straight.

Don’t worry if your idea morphs into something unrecognizable.  You have the last word on what this story will be, and you’ll choose the idea that gives the best story.  I have confidence in you.

~Captain America

1 comment:

  1. STEVE STEVE STEVE ARE YOU OKAY!? That looks like it hurt. Wait a minute, let me call Baymax...
    And I wouldn't worry too much about brain chemistry. Humans are exceptionally adaptable. That's their (inevitable) advantage over other species in science fiction stories. ;-) But then again, you are talking to the person who tries to reason out all the science in Doctor Who...