A great line I read in a Goodreads review: "There is a threshold of awesomeness beyond which I stop caring about a story." The term threshold of awesomeness is a great one, and it immediately got my gears spinning.
Further explanation, from the quoted one: "About halfway the story starts trying too hard to surpass itself in scale and grandioseness, going so over the top that it totally shattered my immersion and quickly became boring. If it had stayed more grounded maybe I'd have liked it more, but it got lost in a melange of cosmic events and godlike characters until I lost interest."
I have a line I come back to often to describe this issue: When everything is possible, nothing makes any difference. A story where there are no real limits or rules, or where any such rules exist merely to be mocked in short order, is as bad as a story where nothing happens, because the stakes are meaningless.
When I first set out to work on something, I feel obliged (I guess that's the closest word) to follow Stockhausen's maxim about the two things he demands from a composer: invention, and that he astonish me. I want to create something wildly new, and I want it to produce an emotional reaction in the reader. And I want that emotional reaction to be more than just gaping awe, because that's only one possible note that the orchestra can put out. Just trying to boggle the mind of the reader over and over is its own dead end.
Invention is only one of the things that goes into a story. It's a good place to start, and it's a vital ingredient to have. But it requires other things to complement it and expand it -- compassion, humanity, humor, grace. Dazzle alone is hard to make into the prime mover of a story. Few can sustain it exclusively.
It's also worth touching on what kind of invention is at work. I'm no better than most people in this respect, in that I keep thinking it's cool just to come up with all the ways a particular setting's premise can be exhaustively explored. I have to constantly remind myself that other kinds of invention matter as much, if not more. E.g.: What kinds of personalities and worldviews would we find in this setting? Not just things, or ideas, but people and persuasions? That sort of thing. That's the kind of awesomeness we need most of.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind