The seemingly innocent-looking plot bunny
(Cuniculus ex machina).
Before we get to plot bunnies, let’s talk about creative insecurities for a minute. Many people worry to the point of paranoia about having their ideas stolen. This notion isn’t specific to any one industry either. Movies, music, writing, game design, car makers, electronics, everyone’s got something they’re afraid someone is going to overhear and take off with it and make their millions with it.
Unfortunately, ideas are cheap. Ideas are the easy part! It’s the execution of those ideas that are the equivalent of the MultiMillions Lotto ticket. Or not.
So… what’s a writer to do?
If you’ve ever heard the term plot bunny, you already know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, a plot bunny is an innocent looking idea that hops up to you, nibbles at the carrot you’ve been dangling in front of your muse’s cave, and promptly scampers off in completely unpredictable zig-zags only to disappear down some plot hole, dragging you and your work-in-progress (WIP) with it because you refuse to let go of the string tied to the carrot. Way to go!
Today, we’re going to talk about what we can do to harness these wild critters and tamer, more domesticated story ideas and put them to work for us when we need them. Generating ideas, once you start is easy… you play the “What If…” game enough and the ideas start breeding like… well,… bunnies.
How to keep track of story ideas?
You need a way to corral these pesky varmints! Whether you use a notebook, a scrapbook, a WORD document, some other fancy piece of software on your computer or a combination of all of the above really doesn’t matter. The important thing is that your system works for you and that you can periodically retrieve and review your ideas.
Personally, I keep a set of nested folders on my computer for projects I’d like to one day write. Several have simple notes, others are more detailed, complete with pictures and outlines. Others have exploratory writing where a character, a voice, or other aspect captured.
How to decide if an idea goes into the story idea file?
The middle of a brainstorming session is NOT the time to let internal editors out of their box. Leave the censoring until later. Ideas shouldn’t be tossed before they’ve had adequate time to ripen. Some will definitely be “off” when you look at them again. Toss them then. It really doesn’t cost anything in the meantime, and luckily there’s no physical mess or smell to deal with. The ones that only seem a bit stale? Let them percolate a while longer. They’ll either bloom given more time, or prove rotten later.
Yep, I periodically review my idea file (not just when I’m bored or procrastinating) looking to see what’s interesting, might spark other ideas, or just to see which ones need a little air and attention. This is all part of the next section…
How to decide if an idea will make a good story? If it won’t?
Some ideas won’t let go. Like earworms, they’ll keep coming back. Often when you least expect it. These plot bunnies are more like the vorpal rabbit of Monty Python fame. They’re the kind that leap up and grab you by the throat and refuse to let go. These shouldn’t be ignored, but carefully explored and exercised regularly. They can be tamed, although some may take longer than others. If it holds your attention over time, it probably has some merit.
Many people talk about the “Book of your Heart” and “commercial ready” fiction. Only you can decide if an idea contains a story you want to tell.
Take your plot bunnies to the equivalent of a county fair. Talk about them with other writers and readers. If they get excited about a story idea, it probably has some merit.
My biggest problem is identifying story ideas that are with the range of my technical capabilities. I often feel like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. Practice and patience are probably the best tools to use in this situation. I keep telling myself that anyway.
How to choose which story idea to work on?
The one that won’t go away. That’s easy for me to say, because I don’t have any external deadlines yet. I’m free to pick and choose between which characters are vying most loudly for my attention. Shiny New Project Syndrome (SNPS) is a valid concern. This is when anything new looks more interesting than what you SHOULD be working on. Set a limit on how long you’ll allow the new idea out to play. Use it as a reward for progress toward completion on the dreaded old project.
How to take an idea and form it into a plot?
Once I have an idea selected, I play with it for quite some time before I ever try to begin putting together a plot. I have to know the characters first. I have to know what drives them and how they’ll react to certain things. Don’t get me wrong, I like to be surprised along the way too, but I need to know the lay of the land first.
What to do when a story idea hits while working on another WIP?
First, make sure it’s not just SNPS rearing it’s ugly head. If it is, feel free to set aside 5-15 minutes to jot down everything you can think of about it. Remember, at this point the idea is probably not ripe. You can’t judge its merit yet. Let you muse play with it for a bit, then let it sit. Of course, I’ve also taken ideas like this and run with them and I think it shows that they weren’t quite ready to go because there are either gaping holes or I run out of steam after a certain point with them. They’re still in my folder, waiting for more information.
What kinds of ideas are in my story file?
Regency Romance Ideas: Beyond my big three projects (BHT, Revealed, and a new one I just started writing, but have been playing around with since last summer), I have 2 sequel ideas for BHT, a sequel to Revealed, a story about horse breeding and bloodlines in the nobility that’s based on a folktale at the same time, a Regency-set romcom involving mistaken identity and gender role reversals.
Other ideas: contemporaries: chef & foodie/reviewer/blogger, Holiday story with two blizzard-grounded travelers paired up in hotel because the airline assumes she’s male because of her name, then there’s the game developer heroine who finds true love online.
Also, before I go, I’ll apologize for any mixed metaphors or even abandoned ones above. I’ll blame it on the free-ranging wild bunnies and not on distractions or the lateness of the hour.
YOUR TURN: How do you keep track of your ideas? Do you have a wishlist of things you want to work on (feel free to talk about artistic projects, or any other projects around the house, the organization methods are likely similar)?
And if you’d like to read about what the rest of my group suggests for ways to deepen characters, you can find their blogs here:
* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney