Featured From the Archives: Plot Bunnies; Friend or Foe?

Now that we’re officially into the second year of Nightwolf’s Corner shenanigans, I think it’s time to dredge up another post from the archives. And since last week’s stats rundown showed this fluffy little guy was languishing in the Basket of the Unwanted, I thought, why not dust it off and let it hop its way back up the popularity charts. (Yikes, could I have stuffed any more rabbit puns into that sentence? Clearly, my snark-fund is running low this week.)

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this sarcasm-fueled look at a plague writers know all too well,  complete with my somewhat lame strategy for how to deal with them.
 

Plot Bunnies; Friend or Foe?

By Kisa Whipkey

(Originally Posted on 5/18/12)

 

Firstly, what the heck is a plot bunny? According to Urban Dictionary, it’s “an idea for a story (usually referring to Fanfiction [writing your own version of someone else’s story]) that gnaws at the brain until written.”

I stumbled upon this amusing little moniker while reading through the blog of one of my favorite authors, Maggie Stiefvater (check her out, she’s very entertaining). I’d never heard the term before, not being prone to write stories featuring other people’s characters/worlds. I mean, really, why would I want to mooch off someone else’s ideas when I’m drowning in hundreds of my own? Literally, hundreds. But anyway, I found the term endearing and adopted it. So you’ll hear me refer to plot bunnies quite a bit. Which prompted this post. Before I started throwing that term around and no one would know what I was talking about, I figured I’d better explain it.

Despite their adorable name, I actually define plot bunnies as procrastination and fear-of-failure personified. Every writer suffers from them. Usually, when you least want them around. And if you aren’t graced with their obnoxious presence, well, then, good for you. You’re one of the lucky few, and probably a bit inspirationally challenged. The rest of us carry around overflowing cages, bursting to the brim with plot bunnies that breed like, well, bunnies. Every so often, a few will make a run for it, escaping from their confinement to wreak havoc in whatever project we’re currently bordering on boredom with, and completely distracting us from anything productive until we wrangle them back into a newly-constructed, extra cage, and the process starts all over again. (Whew! That was a long one. Is there some kind of award for that?)

So, are they friend, or foe? I’ve found that it really depends on the day. Some days, (like those rare moments between projects when you can step away from your computer and realize the world actually still exists), they can be your best friend, bringing you bright, shiny paths of freshly minted inspiration and leading you ever closer to the coveted title of “prolific.” Other days, (like when you’re in the middle of an important, complex, pulling-teeth kind of scene that you’d rather jump in front of a bus than write), you really just want to take them out back and shoot them in the head.

This week, they’re heading toward being on my kill list. They’ve gotten decidedly more rampant since I finally figured out where my aimless work-in-progress (aptly and ironically titled Unmoving) was going. In the past two months alone, I’ve had 8 of the little buggers spring up . . . oh, nope, better make that 9. (Stupid radio, playing random-song-I’ve-never-heard-before and spawning yet another plot bunny.) Some are more demanding than others, requiring my complete attention and blocking out any hope of moving Unmoving forward. Others are just a tiny glimmer of an idea, a baby bunny shyly showing its whiskers for the first time. But all of them are extremely annoying.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to be drowning in overflowing inspiration. But when you suffer from a distinct lack of ability to finish anything, prolific ideas only get you so far. Maybe I have writer’s ADD, growing bored with projects well before they’re done and becoming easily distracted by the shiny new fur and whispered promises of plot bunnies. Or maybe I just have a hard time sticking with something that, for me, has been finished for months, and continuing to write it feels like sludging my way through a movie I’ve seen 8 million times. (There are many days I fervently wish my brain had a USB port and a download button. That would make life so much easier! Wouldn’t it?) Or maybe I’m just lazy, and completing a story on paper, to the level my perfectionist side demands, requires far more work than I really want to expend. Whatever my problem, plot bunnies equal bad news.

How do I deal with them? Since they’re a figment of my imagination, I can’t really take them out back and kill them. Well, I could, but that might make me a candidate for the title of Schizophrenic Bunny Murderer. Besides, I’ll need those shiny new ideas when I finally finish my current project, (or when I can’t stand it anymore and move on, adding yet another unfinished story to my Drawer of Fragments). You never know, one of those cute little fur-balls driving me insane might just land me on the NY Times Bestseller List. Eventually. Someday. If I can ever finish something again.

No, my strategy for dealing with plot bunnies isn’t violent at all. I actually humor them. I give them their moment in the spotlight and let them rule the creative half of my brain, until eventually, they run themselves into exhaustion and shut up. Sometimes, it only requires giving the new idea a title, solidifying it into existence by the sheer power of naming it. Other times, I have to write the whole plot in my head, complete with character bios, description and dialogue. And recently, one super annoying bunny decided I had to pinpoint the exact, and very real, setting before it’d leave me in peace.

Eventually though, they do all quiet down. I can then add them to my ever-growing to-do list of ideas (seriously, at last count I had 164 potential stories, including the 9 that just popped up) and return to the task at hand — the grueling process of moving Unmoving closer to completion.

So my advice to writers debating whether or not to turn their plot bunnies into new fur coats is this; try giving them the reins for just a short period of time. Do whatever it is that will satisfy that insatiable urge to follow them down the rabbit hole. Whether it be my method, or (as I’ve seen suggested by other authors) writing a short story/synopsis of the premise, or something else of your own creation, I promise, they do eventually shut up and let you work.

And let’s face it, until you learn what your particular method for dealing with them is, you’re probably going to find yourself as unmoving as my current project.

"Bunny--Better Quality" by Vic-the-Raccon

Bunny–Better Quality” by Vic-The-Raccoon

Copyright 2012

5 thoughts on “Featured From the Archives: Plot Bunnies; Friend or Foe?

  1. Bunnies are cute, fluffy…we don’t kill them! 😀
    But the plot bunnies are like double edged swords, I think. I like both sides. You can have an idea about a fanfiction, for example, which will make you a better writer, BUT the work will never considered yours since you borrow the characters/worlds of another author. In some cases I’ve heard that plot bunnies are similar to plagiarism.
    I’ve tried myself on fanfiction (I admit it wasn’t on book characters….it was on Disney ones) and when it was posted many laughed, others spoke about rights.

    But, only as a writting exercise, aren’t the bunnies helpful? 🙂

    • I think in its original form (as in referring to Fanfiction) I completely agree. There are definite copyright concerns, but if you’re not working on them for profit, but more as an exercise to help hone your craft, I think they’re generally viewed as all right. It’s like the way artists will mimic the styles of more established artists to try and learn. So, personally, I don’t see Fanfiction as a bad thing. As long as it’s for personal use and the original work is treated with respect.

      I think the term has taken on a second meaning though, and a lot of people (myself included) use “plot bunny” for any idea (original or not) that pulls at you incessantly. That’s what mine are–original ideas that try to distract me from the project I should be focused on. So they’re definitely still a double-edged sword, (you’re completely right about that) but the copyright concerns aren’t there. 🙂

    • How many of them has your friend finished, though? Plot bunnies are great, but don’t necessarily equal accomplishment, at least in my book. I view those who have completed their projects as more accomplished than I, regardless of how many bunnies I have running around. 😉

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