Okay, I admit it. I went back for more – and spent a second weekend in the Poconos, skiing. It was a lot less crowded this time. Less crowds means more runs and more time riding the chair lift – which is one of my favorite places to think about writing. Honestly, can you think of a prettier place to ponder your work than suspended above a snow-covered mountain, with all the tree branches around you encased in ice and sparkling like tinsel?

As I complete my latest round of revisions on a manuscript I’m almost ready to share with my agent, Sara, I realize I have to face that WIP I laid aside a few weeks ago. You know – the one where the characters failed to come to life.

I’ve come to understand the characters weren’t really the problem. It was the setting. This was supposed to be a steampunk story – centered somewhat around Nikola Tesla’s laboratory and his would-have, could-have, (did-he?) experiments involving electricity, magnetism, anti-gravity, and lasers. Before writing each chapter, I painstakingly researched the technology involved and talked over everything with my in-house engineer, Bob.

And then I carefully regurgitated what I’d learned onto the page.

Urgh. Who wants to read upchuck?

If I want to do this, the technology has to take a backseat to the story. Even in steampunk or science fiction, the setting is just a backdrop.

When I write historical novels set in the 19th century, the characters travel by train and carriage, communicate by letters and telegrams, and tell time with pocket watches. However, I don’t painstakingly describe the operation of these things or explain how they work. They’re just there. The same must hold true in any fantasy or science fiction story: start explaining the setting and you’re strangling the story.

I need to start over, and I think I need to throw away my outline. (I knew I wasn’t an outliner. Pantstering, here I come!)

And while I rethink the entire project, I’m going to play around with three other ideas I have – well, actually one idea, one scene, and one opening paragraph – all totally unrelated. But on the lift this weekend, I had an idea about how to tie them together into a single story …

Love the chair lift.