Monday, April 2, 2012

Plot Bunny Proliferation: Working With Our Imaginations

by Cat Woods

Ask nearly any writer and you'll hear complaints about the distracting qualities of plot bunnies.  Current WIPs often get left by the wayside as brand new plot bunnies entice writers away from one project after another, leaving a wake of half-realized manuscripts.  Plot bunnies can be dangerous to the unsuspecting.  Just like their counterparts are in my garden.

My back yard is a bunny haven.  While we have two dogs, neither of them are interested in chasing bunnies away from my flowers.  We also have a fence that should keep the bunnies out.  Instead, it seems to keep them in.  I think they like the safety and the ready to eat treats.  We've tried... eliminating them in the kindest way possible to no avail.  So, after years of fighting them, I've gotten to the point of working with them.

I've allowed them unlimited winter access to my landscaping smorgasboard as long as they turn tail in the spring.  It seems to work for both of us.  They prune my lilac tree, and every spring it fills out beautifully.  They sheer off my perennials so I have less winter yuck to clean up.  And the babies are just too dang cute as they romp around in the melting snow.

Plot bunnies are no different than real bunnies.  They feed off the delicate blooms of our imaginations, yet can be nearly impossible to capture. They also multiply at the same rate—which is to say writers typically have far more of them at any given point than they know what to do with—and the babies are especially cute and compelling.

If left unchecked, both plot bunnies and their real life companions can destroy the best-laid plans.

While I haven't quite mastered corraling all my plot bunnies, I've found that treating them the same as my backyard bunnies helps keep my writing on track.

I allow them unlimited access during certain seasons. 

Seriously, in between projects I allow myself the freedom to explore any idea that pops into my head.  I have dozens of started projects.  These projects run about 1,200 words and capture the essence of my ideas.  I don't consider these failures or unfinished projects.  I consider them practice.  They also become a part of my writing file that I can pick through at other times.  By giving them page space, the plot bunnies settle down and allow me to funnel my attention on my WIPs.

I feed them.

Strange, but true.  I figure if I ever trap and kill off the rabbits in my mind, I'll have nothing left to work with, so I encourage them to multiply as needed.  I always carry a notebook with me.  It's filled with hundreds of mini-outlines, names, places, spaces and character sketches.  Whenever a new thought strikes, I jot it down and play with it.

What I find most often is that the plot bunny isn't fully formed—and likely never will be.  Rather, it is just a shiny, new idea that looks as cute and cuddly as the baby Easter Bunny.  It's exciting for a moment, but once it's placed in the notebook among the other bunnies, it loses some of its appeal.  It's underdeveloped and malnourished.  At least for the time being.

Rarely, the idea solidifies.  It gels, either on its own merit or within the context of other ideas.  Eventually, a few bunnies band together and prune back the winter detritus, leaving room for spring's new blooms.  Whenever I see or hear something I think my plot bunnies would like to eat, I add it to the notbeook.  As time goes on, these ideas become new WIPs. 

And the best part about feeding ideas this way: it takes virtually no time.  Once I pen my plot bunny in ink, I'm freed to think about other things.  Namely my current writing project.

So, the idea behind plot bunnies is to corral them, not eliminate them.  If we embrace our fertile imaginations and provide some boundaries for dealing with new ideas, we will be less tempted to leave our current WIPs whenever a new bunny hops by.

How do you wrangle your plot bunnies into submission?  Do you allow new ideas to take over current projects?  If so, how does that work out?

Curious minds want to know.

This weekend, Cat Woods started spring cleaning her garden.  Thanks to the backyard bunnies, she has more time to spend with her plot bunnies.  You can find her wrangling both rabbits on her blog: Words from the Woods.


Michael Horvath said...

My blog consists mostly of posts of short scenes that could take off into full blown stories. I just leave them as they are and don't look back. If I desire I can always go back.

Cat Woods said...


Great idea. There's something soothing about putting ideas into words and letting them go, freeing time for other things of value.

Like working on that WIP!

Blogging is a great place for releasing those snippets of creativity.

Thanks for commenting!

R.C. Lewis said...

This is fascinating ... because it's something I've yet to face. My ideas come slowly, usually as I'm finishing off one ms. So far it's been a good thing, as far as not distracting me, but I always get to a point of panic that I'll never come up with a decent idea again. :-X

Cat Woods said...

RC, I have a few bunnies you can borrow. I'll pop them in the mail. By the time they arrive on your doorstep, they should have multiplied!

Seriously, though, I don't think it's a bad thing not to be overtaken by plot ideas. It can be hard to sort out sometimes, and I know many a writer who has struggled to finish one manuscript because other projects look so compelling they get sucked away before any of their WIPs reach maturity.

Not to mention, I've read your amazing ideas. Their uniqueness certainly outweighs your lack of plot bunny litters. As I said before, an idea doesn't isn't necessarily a good idea.


Jean Oram said...

Oh dear lord. My bunnies are out of control. I have way more plot bunnies and other bunnies romping around than I have time to corral. It's driving me nuts. Help!

Cat Woods said...

*sends rabbit trap to canada*

Rick Pieters said...

My bunnies must be at your house. Like RC, a proliferation of plot ideas has never been a problem. I feed the ones that venture near, enough to keep them alive until I can give them full attention, but no herds. I'd open the garden gate.

Suzi said...

I only have a few that got left behind and they didn't get far. But those better ideas just took hold.

Mostly though, I'll finish a project once started, especially if I've gotten past 5,000 words. (By finish, I mean the rough draft, not editing.) I only started writing over two years ago, but I have a ton of projects waiting to go back to when I have time.

I just had a new idea pop up, but I'll write the ideas down until I ready to get to it--which isn't now since I'm 21,000 words into my new WIP.

Jemi Fraser said...

Mine are definite multiplier! I used to force them away and try desperately to ignore them. But, as you say, they are tough to ignore! Now I have a computer file when I jot down the most persistent. :)

E.B. Black said...

Usually, I'm just content with writing them down as outlines (that I might later develop more) and not writing any of the actual scenes out when they come to me. Almost always, my plot bunnies while writing one book form a full outline of another book, so I'm ready to write my next book once I'm done with my current one.

Charmaine Clancy said...

Aww plot bunnies are adorable! I keep a notebook just for 'ideas' and I can ignore my plot bunny as long as I've 'put a pin in it' for later.
Wagging Tales

Susan Roebuck said...

I never really knew what a "plot bunny" was until now!!! I thought they were related to dust bunnies - well, they do lurk beneath the bed, don't they? And dash out in the middle of the night to keep me awake. I tend to suppress them while I'm on a WIP but they keep bouncing around...

Josh Hoyt said...

Nice post. Thanks for the explanation.

Munir said...

Are you kidding ? Is there really something called plot bunny. I am learning new things from blogging. Thanks:)

Munir said...

Are you kidding ? Is there really something called plot bunny. I am learning new things from blogging. Thanks:)

Ishta Mercurio said...

Yeah, I have some bunnies. I like your idea of giving them some space, though - I usually write ideas down, but don't get farther than that. The problem with that is that I still can't get them out of my head after that. Maybe I should let a few of them take a bit more shape before I rest them.

Cat Woods said...

Rick~ I have plenty to spare if ever you need one...

Suzi~ I find that's my magic number as well. Once I'm 5k in, I'm fairly committed. I hope you someday find the time to revisit some of your earlier plots and starts. But if not, it's fun to read through them at various stages of your writing journey.

Jemi~ It's nice to have a place to stash them until you need them, isn't it? Sometimes I wonder how many we will actually go back as the years keep piling them up.

Cat Woods said...

EB and Charmaine~ it sounds like you two have it all figured out. It's nice when ideas fall into place like that.

Susan, Josh and Munir~ oh yes, those little devils are very real! Sometimes fun and other times extremely irritating. If someone walked behind me and swept up my plot bunnies as they fell out of my ears, they could probably piece together an entire novel.

Ishta~ they can be noisy at times. That's usually when I bang out the first 2,500 words to give them some space.

Best luck to all in keeping your bunnies in order.