Plot Bunnies; Friend or Foe?

Firstly, what the heck is a plot bunny? According to Urban Dictionary, a plot bunny is “An idea for a story (usually used to refer 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 new 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 in everywhere and no one knows what I’m 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 by 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 in our heads, 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.

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 and 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 so they’ll stop leading you astray while you’re trying to focus.

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 for 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 I have at 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 such a fountain of 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 sludgeing your way through a movie you’ve seen 8 million times. (There are many days I fervently wish that 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.

So 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 buggers 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, let them rule the creative half of my brain, until eventually they run themselves into exhaustion and shut up. Sometimes it only requires me to give 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 of the new story 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 piece of 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 one of my methods, or, as I’ve seen suggested by other authors, writing a short story/synopsis of the premise, or something else completely 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