Plotbunnies 101: A Care Guide


Vision 69


Plotbunnies 101: A Care Guide


Simon Batt

Simon Batt's Hidden Den

Copyright © 2012, Simon Batt, All Rights Reserved


Do you know what a 'plotbunny' is? Amongst writers, a plotbunny is the terminology for an idea that creeps into your brain, gives you a fantastic story idea, and doesn't let go until dealt with. Depending on the writer, plotbunnies can be a blessing or a curse. Either way, they're present, have large teeth, and need proper care and love in order to get the most from them.

Usually, people fit into one of two categories; either they sit in a storyless void calling out for help, or start nailing boards to the windows as the plotbunny pile starts going above the first storey of their house. With a few pointers from this article, hopefully you and your bunnies will get along a lot better with one another.


What to do when ideas dry up


  • Take in the world. The world is the basis for stories. From the obvious examples such as contemporary fiction, to the bigger stretches of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, a lot of stories have a basis on the world we live in now. Take some of the aspects of your everyday life and imagine how it'd go about in another world entirely. What would it be like? What effect would it have on the rest of the world?
  • Be a people person. I've discovered that when you begin a craft, you start developing a third-eye in accordance to the craft. Learning how to code will get you frustrated every time software coughs and splutters, causing you to yell "I could code this better!" Getting into digital art allowed me to see techniques and methods used in other people's art, which I'd miss without the knowledge. For me, novel writing has given me a third-eye for the entire world, where everything becomes an "Oh, that'd be nice to go in my novel" moment. One of the best examples of this is talking to other people and genuinely being interested in them. Verbal ticks, styles of speech and personalities can all be learnt from engaging with others and taking note of how they work. If you like someone's personality, consider basing a character on them. What kind of person would your neighbour be if he was in Middle Earth? A space ship? A crusader?
  • Engage in other's stories. Watch movies, play video games, settle down with a TV show, and – most importantly – read books! If one really resonates with you, consider why it did so. Did you like The Dark Knight Rises for its characters? If so, which characters stood out, and why? Really break down your reasons until you have the very foundation of what you liked about it, and then use that foundation for your own work. The more you bend it and twist it to make it 'yours', the better. Also consider doing further research on your foundation – what aspects of life does the foundation represent? Is it about struggle, love, or vengeance? What other things in life come to mind when you think of those topics, and how can they make your idea even more awesome?


What to do when drowning in ideas


  • Carry something to write notes on everywhere you go. Inspiration hits everywhere. On the bus, in a museum, talking to friends – everywhere. As soon as that sucker strikes, you need to be ready and waiting for it with a note-taker of your choice. You could go for the trusty pen and notepad, but there are other examples you can use – I personally use my smart phone with the ColorNote app to note down any ambush-bunnies that prowl on the rooftops. Get them down before they escape! Doing so also goes a long way to silencing the bunny, content that their idea has been validated by their victim.
  • Interview them. If your bunnies are anything like mine, they all want your time and attention at the same time. When you ask them "Okay, so which one wants to go first?" they all respond with a loud "Me!" In this case – much like in real-world examples where several people fight for a single spot – it's worth sitting each one down and saying to it "Well, go on then. Impress me."

The problem with bunnies is that some of them are foundations for great novels, and some of them are 'cool ideas'. Not to say that cool ideas can't grow into novels, but it's vital to find out which ideas actually will grow into novels before you write it. Plot idea about alien space pirates that plunder gold because it's food for their race? Great idea – but can it become a fully-fledged novel? You could make it a short story if it can't, but does it have the substance to provide a worthwhile reading experience?

I had an issue while doing the FM Writers May Short Story Challenge, where I had to write 15 short stories in a month. I used Dreamerscove's Title Generator for this challenge, and a lot of them gave me the 'cool ideas' I needed to work from. "Excellent," I said, "let's write it straight away." While the beginning and middle of these shorts were generally solid, I had no idea how it ended. Each and every short in that challenge fell flat in the final act, and I realised just how fatal working on a cool idea can be.

When several bunnies are vying for your attention, ask them this:


  1. Do you have a solid beginning? How do you start? Where will you start? Who will be there?
  2. Do you have a solid middle? After the beginning has been told, is there enough meat on you to make a good story? Do you contain any points which I could put conflict into to really spice up the action?
  3. Do you have a solid end? How will it end, and why? Given that this one is my personal weakness, I also use the question 'can you produce the exact last line for this story?'


A few extra questions, depending on your bunny:


  1. Who is the hero and villain? What are their goals? Who wins?
  2. How many plot points do you already have? Are they really fun and original?
  3. Are the characters engaging? Will they be fun to write?


Is the world you've built for this novel vivid? If the plot goes a bit awry, is there more to this world which your characters can explore? If so, what specific areas can they go to? What would they do?

Another tactic I use is to enter all the story names into a spread sheet, and then make several categories to rank them by. Feel free to make categories that mean a lot to you when it comes to writing a story; as for me, I use categories such as Story (how much story does this plotbunny already contain, and how much more do I need to brainstorm?), Premise (is this idea new and original?) and Confidence (if I was told to write this story right now and finish it within a month, would I be able to do it, and would I be confident in the final product?). For each story, give them a rank as you would if they were a race -- for example, if I had five ideas duking it out, the idea with the best story will get five points in that category. The second-best story will get four, the third best three, the fourth gets two, and the worst story of them all goes home with one point. Once you have ranked them all, do a simple addition function to find the one that scores the highest total. This not only helps identify which bunny is worthy of writing next, but can also identify flaws in your other stories, which you can work on to help bring the idea to fruition.


So there you have it. Hopefully now you'll be better equipped for plotbunnies, and can go on to get writing. Always remember to have fun!