by Barbara A. Barnett
If you're a writer, you've likely encountered the term "plot bunnies"—those pesky little story ideas that suddenly spring up and nibble at your brain until you finally write them. I find the bunny metaphor apt. My ideas certainly reproduce like bunnies. That's where the wrangling comes in.
For much of what I write, going from idea to story is a fairly straightforward process. First, I spew out words and see what happens. I try not to overthink things at that stage; the first draft is playtime, when I can let the plot bunny run wild. Then, once I have a crappy first draft, I put on my editorial hat and try to figure out where the story is. Revision is when I consider voice, structure, characterization, style, and all of those other elements that will help turn my crappy first draft into something potentially publishable. Of course, that's assuming there's a story there worth telling. Not all plot bunnies are created equal. Some are worth prettying up to send hopping through editors' slush piles; others are better off staying home in their burrows. How one tells the difference between the idea worth pursuing and the one best left in the trunk is tricky business that I have no good answer for other than this: go with what feels right. If still in doubt, talk it out with other writers, then go with what feels right.
That's my usual process, but some plot bunnies are more easily wrangled than others. Sometimes I need to set the bunny aside and let my subconscious figure out what the heck to do with it. Days, weeks, or even months later, I'll be doing something inane like brushing my teeth when poof! There's the bunny again, letting me know which direction he wants to go hopping in.
Some plot bunnies require research. And often, a cool detail uncovered in that research will help me figure out what the story is. For "Ghost Writer to the Dead" (Penumbra, October 2012), I knew I wanted to set a story at the Edgar Allan Poe house in Philadelphia, but that was all I had: the setting. So I researched. A lot of tidbits from my research ended up in the story, but one particular detail—that a woman named Lizzie Doten had published what she claimed were new works channeled to her by Poe's spirit—led to my plot in which Poe's ghost tries to dictate a new story to a psychic.
Finally, there are the plot bunnies that go hopping in so many directions that I become overwhelmed trying to catch the little buggers. Or, the bunny just kind of sits there, threatening to do something interesting, but mostly it just nibbles at the grass. That's when I find brainstorming with other bunny wranglers (aka writers) helpful. It's not their bunny, so they can look at it a bit more objectively, or at least from a different angle that I hadn't considered.
Barbara A. Barnett is an avid rejection letter collector, musician, MLIS student, Odyssey Writing Workshop graduate, coffee addict, wine lover, bad movie mocker, and all-around geek. Her fiction has appeared in publications such as Fantasy Magazine, Shimmer, Daily Science Fiction, Black Static, and Wilde Stories 2011: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction. In addition to writing, she has worked in the performing arts world for several years.
Learn more about Barbara on her website.