Monday, September 10, 2012

Idea overloaditis

As I mentioned last month, I worked on the outline for my cyberpunk series. I spent the entire month doing research, brainstorming, and establishing cannon just so I could throw out half of my outline at the end of it. That's bad enough, but it gets worse. It wasn't the original outline that I threw out, that's still there, it's the new half of the outline that I had to throw out. Some of my friends and Facebook followers already know a bit about this but I'll explain for the rest of you. You see, after a month of deep immersion, I had a bad case of idea overloaditis. I was so distracted and wowed by the cool world I was creating that I had too many ideas and I couldn't tell the difference between the good and the mediocre.

 I've suffered from idea overloaditis before but not quite to this extent. The last time I had it I was writing the YA novel and it set me back six months. That's why I intentionally gave myself the entire month of August to contract and recover from it. Plus, since I was just outlining, the damage was negligible. It's much easier to cut three pages of an outline than 30K of a novel.

So, how did I separate the wheat from the chaff? Simple. I wrote the back copy.

I know a few of you raised your eyebrows at that, but you should know by now that there's always a method to the madness.In the back copy you have to boil down that pot of cool ideas to a teaspoon of awesome.  I know that most authors save that for last, but by writing the back copy while I'm outlining, I can focus on the best ideas and discard the rest. It also gives me a great opportunity to get potential reader feedback. My original outline boiled down to this:

"Badger used to be one of the best Ghost hackers around. People paid her millions to hack into corporate and government systems and make their dirty little secrets public. But after a routine job that nearly took her life, she turned her back on the business and people she loved, and disappeared. 

Now as Mara Jeffries, s

he has a carefully constructed life in Seattle. Life is peaceful and she wants to keep it that way. But a desperate message from an old friend threatens to destroy that.

Mara has to make a choice. She can keep her peaceful existence, but at the cost of her best friend’s life. However, if she steps in to help, not only will she have to don the mantle of Badger once more, but the web of secrets she’ll have to unravel may kill her.

It was a lot of blah and "I've seen that before", which was exactly the feedback I got. The above story was going to turn the glorified lovechild of "The Amazing Race" and "Alias". Not cool. However, since I finally had a clue (thanks to the feedback) as to which ideas were mediocre, I went back and tweaked it into this:

"When Kai Tanabe was invited to join The Nexus, he accepted without hesitation. But, the cost of enlisting was much greater than he could have anticipated. He needs to get out fast and only one person can help him do that…

Badger used to be one of the best 

Ghost hackers around. After a routine hack went horribly wrong she turned her back on the business and people she loved. Six years later, as Mara Jeffries, she has a carefully constructed life in Seattle. However, a desperate call from an old friend forces her to return to the life she left behind.

The only way she can get to Kai is to join the Nexus herself. However, once inside, she quickly discovers that the only one of them will be able to get out

This wasn't much of a tweak -- the second paragraph was from the original -- and the bit about Kai, while not mentioned in the first draft of the back copy, was in the original outline. The last paragraph is what caused me to throw out half of my outline because it completely changed the direction of the story. No more "Alias Race". I ended up moving events from book 1 (the best parts of the global journey) to book 2 and my entire outline for book 2 to book 1. The resulting story is one that I'm pretty proud of and am excited to write. The best part of this experience was that not only did I get a stronger book, but all of the changes were still within my overall arc for the series. (I didn't have to alter cannon! Huzzah!) Plus, I was able to keep my whiz-bang finish.

Speaking of which, I should go write so I can get to said whiz-bang finish sooner rather than later.

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