I spent most of the weekend, and most of last night, with machete in hand, hacking my way through the second half of the storyline for Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned. A couple of things snapped into place, but one thing that became quite clear is a tension I've seen within myself before when working on these projects: the urge to be cool vs. the urge to be real.
Most any SF&F story these days has a hook of some kind — an idea, a way in, a twist in the setting or what have you, something to give people an excuse to give the creator a few bucks of their money and give the work a few hours of their time. The hook usually has a gimmicky quality to it, and I won't lie: AONO has a fairly gimmicky hook attached to it. (I'm holding back on talking about details until I feel like the story is no longer just shifting sand under my feet.)
The problem I face is that too often I'm tempted to just take the hook and run with it, and forget about everything else: relationships, human behavior, etc. Reason being an excuse, or justification (whatever term seems most fitting), I see in too many other places: This is what everyone else does anyway, and they don't seem to be any the poorer for it — why not li'l ol' me? Why not just go for the Rule of Cool?
I also confess I did a lot of this in the outline for the last third or so of the story — kicking open the floodgates and allowing all the really crazy, uninhibited, uncontained, and undisciplined ideas to come out. The hard part is to figure out what of this coolness actually fits the story, and what of it just rides on top of it without contributing anything. I know better than to think I can get away with it, if only because I know the story isn't really about coolness. The coolness can be there, but only because it's pointing at the things that really matter.
For a long time, I was fond of books where the gimmick, the sly stunt, the snazzy authorial showing-off, was the prime part of the appeal. It seemed dull to "just tell a story", so I gravitated to authors who were determined to do more than "just" that. Later on, I found out that "just" telling a story was bloody difficult work, and that anyone who could do it well -- and combine it with larger concerns — was on a higher plane than I had given them credit for.