What Did You Do With the Plot Bunnies?

I stumbled across a discussion elsewhere about being attacked by plot bunnies: new story ideas that are unconnected (or only tenuously connected) to what you are currently working on. If you pause the current project and try to start this new one, the new one will usually peter out quickly, leaving you with two unfinished projects instead of just one.

I used to do this a lot, myself. I think it was either in 2014 or 2015 when I was bound and determined to do CampNaNoWriMo in the spring. I ended up starting three different versions of  “and then the princess walks into the space cantina and tries to hire the psychic smuggler who will later end up being her love interest.” I stalled out on all of them, in between coming up with some very weird outlines for related ideas. I’m not having a lot of trouble with “plot bunnies” right now, and I’d like to take stock of why that is, so that I can refer back to this post if they ever come back. To my mind, the main factors are these:

1. Stories don’t usually start with a scene or a specific image for me. (“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…”) People whose stories originate like that, work hard to capture that scene or image, in the same way that a nature photographer must work quickly to capture a particular moment. My own ideas tend to be more abstract: “fixes” or “mashups” of stories (films, historical events, sometimes anime) that interested me but didn’t satisfy me.

2. This makes some aspects of storytelling more difficult for me, but it also makes “capturing” a plot bunny easier. I get out a notebook, and write out the basics in long hand. I number the page, turn to the back of the notebook where I have a kind of table of contents, and add a note with the page number and some kind of label for the concept, even if the label is just X Meets Y, or extremely literal (“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”). If I think of something more that relates to a particular plot bunny, which last showed up in the notebook fifty pages ago, I write it down in the notebook, number the page etc. And that’s how I find out which plot bunnies might grow into actual plots.

3. Another advantage, kind of a mixed blessing for me, is that there are no major pop culture distractions going on right now. I do watch a moderate number of movies and follow a couple of tv shows, but they don’t matter to me at the level that my old favorites did. Since those favorites inspired a lot of plot bunnies, total volume of plot bunnies is currently down.

4. Something else that seems to reduce the number of really insistent plot bunnies is writing in series. It’s much easier for me to put them in a mental holding pen, when I can tell myself that this cool guy I just invented is the grandfather of the main characters in the series I’m working on right now, and I can write his story after I finish telling the story of his descendants.

5. One more unlikely mixed blessing: my own laziness. If a plot bunny catches my attention briefly, and then goes away again, and stays away, well, laziness makes it easy for me to shrug and say that it was never meant to be. If it keeps coming back and getting bigger, maybe it’s worth trying to write it. Sometimes a failed plot bunny will achieve full size long after you’ve given up on it. I just realized the space opera I am currently writing, (almost 65,000 words on out of a projected 100,000!) doesn’t start with a princess who walks into a space cantina and tries to hire a psychic smuggler. It starts with a lady of rank who walks into a starport and trying to hire a smuggler, after talking to her future love interest, the psychic pilot who works for the smuggler. The more things change….

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