It’s one of the most common questions you’ll hear a writer asked at a convention panel or other public appearance: “Where do you get your ideas?”
And it’s one of the most common opinions amongst writers that this question is both pointless and silly. Neil Gaiman has been one of many to articulate why. Or as one of my friends likes to boil it down: “Ideas are easy. Execution is hard.”
I would suppose it’s not universally true or the question wouldn’t be so persistent and pervasive, but I have the same damn predicament as most writers I know: we are overflowing with ideas. It’s sitting down and forming a cohesive and entertaining story involving them that’s the difficult part. It’s chopping away unmercifully at all your cool ideas until there’s nothing left but a lean, mean tale-tellin’ machine. First drafts tend to have a lot more ideas spelled out in them — or at least mine sure do — but if you leave them as-is your story is in danger of turning into nothing but an infodump. And although Zombie Ranch does have its share of infodumps, the trick for me is always trying to walk the line of making them entertaining, and, in the cases where a character is involved, making sure what they’re saying sounds like something that would actually be coming out of their mouths. You should see some of the first-draft Suzie speeches in my notes. Or, well, no, you really shouldn’t. Even Frank has had times he waxed eloquent before I slapped at my typing hands and thought, “Yes, this is an awesome and informative speech, but realistically all Frank would say here is ‘Yup’.”
Well, anyhow, the point I’m attempting to meander my way towards is that there are cuts, and there are ideas that won’t fit, but it’s a rare case that I would advocate getting rid of them entirely. There’s a reason you thought they were awesome enough to bring down out of your head, right? Yeah, you looked back at it later and it didn’t work for the narrative, or the timing wasn’t right, or it was some seriously tin-eared dialogue to be trying to stuff into a character’s mouth. All of these are excellent signs they need to be altered or removed, so get rid of ’em — but then, I say keep ’em around somewhere. In a notebook, or an old version file. An idea junkyard. Some sort of fixed form record that’s not just careening around in your brain, even if it’s just to occasionally glance over them in the future and cringe in shame.
These are your outtakes, to use a film or television analogy. Sometimes they might even be complete enough to quality as “deleted scenes.” Have you ever checked out the extras on a DVD/Blu-Ray and watched the deleted scenes, or read an early draft script? Most of the time they’re not that great, but they can have interesting ideas in them, and sometimes a director or writer will take stuff from those scenes and use them in another installment of a franchise, or even a different story altogether.
I won’t claim that’s always a great thing, because Prometheus. But still, especially when you’re working with on ongoing setting and characters, keep your notes and your drafts around. With Zombie Ranch I’ve got that problem where I have more ideas for what to do and what to communicate than I may ever get around to having the opportunity to present, but occasionally it helps to go look through the junkyard and see if there are things from the past that might be able to have their turn in the sun.