Sunday, January 6, 2013

Musings on Plot Bunnies

If you like to write, you've probably heard the term "plot bunny."

For the benefit of those who don't know the term, a plot bunny, simply put, is an idea for a story that sticks persistently in your mind until you write it.

Sometimes the plot bunnies are great, sometimes they're not-so-great. Sometimes they're the genius-inventive-stunning kind, and sometimes they're the "Let's take 'The Great Gatsby' and put more zombies, vampires and werewolves in it" kind. Either way, until you get it out of your system, plot bunnies are stubborn. They're practically indestructible.

Whether or not they're stupid, I LOVE plot bunnies.

See, I have a lot of ideas. Some of them are pretty good. Some of them aren't. But even if it's a really good idea, unless it's an honest-to-god plot bunny, I won't write it well. I sometimes write stories from ideas that aren't plot bunnies, but the writing is, more often than not, sketchy, weak, forced, uninventive, and generally awful. Maybe that's just the part of me that's childish/inexperienced shining through, or maybe it's something all writers struggle with (I honestly don't know!)

For me, it doesn't matter how cool or stunning the idea may be unless it's a true plot bunny. One of my problems, though, is that it's sometimes hard to tell whether or not an idea is going to be persistent. When I first think of an idea, it occupies my mind nearly completely; but I'm never sure if it's really going to stick around or flash and fade like a pretty but short-lived firework. So, it's become a habit to give each idea an approximately week-long "waiting period" before I actually begin to plot it out and write it. If the idea sticks with me for that long, then I can almost always write the story with some success.

I probably get about a hundred full-fledged ideas a year, most of them during the hiatuses between writing books, when I'm trying to figure out what to write next. Only one or two stick with me long enough to get written. There's a big junk pile of ideas I've written down and discarded. Some of them still sound cool to me... but there's no spark with them, no idea of where I want the story to go. And that's a shame! I would love to write all these crazy worlds, people and adventures that I've dreamed up at one time or another. But I simply can't. It usually ends up that I have something to another to write at all times, so I don't feel like my writing productivity is being stunted in any way by this unfortunate phenomenon, but it is really very very frustrating.

Peter De Vries, a novelist best known for his satiric wit, once said this: "I write when I'm inspired, and I see to it that I'm inspired at nine O'clock every morning." I envy him his flexible inspiration. I would love to be able to write anything well at any time. I would love to be able to do something other than stare at my list of discarded ideas and sigh wistfully, thinking of all the things that might have been.

But then again, maybe all that will come with time. I sure hope so.

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