Or: How The Plot Bunnies Stole My Life
The inside of a writer’s head is a scary place to be. Whether focussed upon the current Work In Progress (WIP) or planning a future project, the corridors of the mind can be overrun by that ubiquitous creature, the plot bunny. Definitions for the term are many and varied, but it is most commonly used by writers to refer to that state of mind where they have more plot ideas than they can use. It can also refer to that condition where your characters or your plot have taken on a life of its own and refuse to bend to your will. More of that later.
The term plot bunny has really been popularised by the NANORIMO movement. I’ve even seen it claimed that the term originated here, but there is clear evidence that it was in use long before the writers claimed November. In fact most people now believe the term to have its origins in the famous John Stienbeck quote : Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them and pretty soon you have a dozen.
Some writers see the wild plot bunny as a plague. It’s true that untamed and undirected they can drain a writers energy and clog up the creative flow to the point where Work In Progress can become Work With No Progress.
Personally I love my plot bunnies. They are a valuable resource which, with the application of a bit of careful animal husbandry, can fuel creativity enormously. Bunnies like attention and when they wander, all cute and fluffy into your brain you must welcome them lovingly. Provide a home for these little friends and nourish them, but then allow them to do what they know best, grow, find mates and multiply. If you are dismissive, unwelcoming or just careless, you will scare them away. Plot bunnies are timid creatures who are easily scared off and are very hard to entice back again.
For me, the plot bunny comes in as many forms as there are breeds of pet rabbit. One might be a song, a phrase or a quote. Another might be a person who I have seen or met. Buildings, places and events also inspire me. It may be that none of these can be used in the current WIP but it is essential not to discard or lose them.
Plot bunnies by their very nature will stroll into you headspace at the most inconvenient moments. You may be busy writing, eating dinner, out with friends or even sleeping. It is all too easy to tell yourself that you will remember this new idea later, but in my experience that rarely happens. You need to record every fluffy friend the moment it appears, or risk losing it for ever.
Personally I find a notebook to be the easiest way to store all these random thoughts and I dip into it frequently. This notebook has proven to be a treasure chest for plot ideas and there is great joy to be had from introducing two or more disparate plot bunnies and watching them breed. Do beware of sharing this behaviour with the uninitiated unless you are prepared for the pitying looks and confused responses. The brain of the writer is someplace akin to that part of town you don’t venture into after dark, or if you do it is with the car windows wound up and the doors locked!
How can you expect your nearest and dearest to understand your mood when your characters have stopped talking to you? Have you ever tried to explain to your Significant Other how your story is not progressing because your main character is refusing to do what you want them to? This is the plot bunny reverting to its skittish wild rabbit origins.
Of course it’s not all so stressful. I clearly remember a new character walked on to the page while I was writing my first novel. I hadn’t planned Mrs Perkins in any way at all, but suddenly she opened the front door and there she was, a named and fully formed character who I had never met before! Mrs. P. remains one of my best loved plot bunnies and I thank the goddess of the burrows for delivering her to me.
I know that bunnies in pots are not a popular image but let me suggest a way to overcome that view. How about having a Plot Bunny Pot? Write down all your plot bunnies on pieces of paper and put them in a pot or box of some sort. When you’re in need of inspiration, start pulling out the ideas and arrange them in front of you. Unexpected matchings will breed new ideas. New characters and settings will be born and the writing will flow.
Be kind to your bunnies. Give them a good home but don’t fence them in. Let them run free and make friends with each other. Care for your plot bunnies and they will reward you with a constant flow of new ideas to feed your stories. Just remember that when you are chatting with your plot bunnies, do make sure that you’re alone.