Wednesday, September 2, 2020

In Defense of (Plot) Bunnies

As a farmer, I sort of suck, but that doesn't prevent me from planting things and watering things and talking to things. In a Texas summer that stands to go down as one of the hottest and driest on record, just keeping plants alive has been an time- and worry-consuming project. And the wildlife aren't helping. Early on in the Austin Oven Season, something ate all my Easter lilies. Then they ate my strawberry plants. Then, a couple weeks ago, I surprised a wild rabbit in my herb garden. It had damaged a sproutling and clearly nibbled on some other nearby leaves. But as I watched that rabbit hop away guiltily, I saw how thin it was. At 9 in the morning, we were already well into the 90s (F). That little fur-dude was just trying to survive. After that, I left a bowl of water out and am content with whatever happens to my plants.

I know what you're thinking: Um, Viv, you've gone off the deep end. This is not a gardening blog; it's a writing blog. Also, the topic this week is not wild herb-destroying bunnies; it's plot bunnies. You know, the nigh irresistible story ideas that bounce into writer brains unsolicited and sometimes damage whatever current story headspace we're in.

To you I say, I know.

Also, there's a reason why we call them bunnies. Those story ideas might not be the garden we're tending, but they deserve our attention nevertheless. Sometimes plot bunnies enhance a story I'm working on. Sometimes they take it in a new direction. Sometimes they give me a what-if scenario that doesn't pan out but at least made me think about a character or plot point differently.

It's okay to feed the bunnies. 

I write them in a notebook, and although I almost never go back and expand those stories, sometimes I re-read them and they remind me that once in a while a story hops into my brain fully formed, just waiting to wiggle itself all over the page. My brain can do that! How cool is that? Doesn't meant I need to feed the bunny, but it would be worse than a waste of time to chase it off screaming.

In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about books kind of as if they're free-floating spirits looking for a home. If a book idea (aka bunny) comes to a writer, that writer is not always in the right place to bring it to the page. The writer might be in the middle of another book or struggling with depression or contracted to write something completely different. The bunny, Gilbert says, doesn't cease to exist. It just goes on to the next writer. This is probably why that weird vegetarian vampire idea you had in seventh grade ended up making Stephenie Meyer a crudton of money. It moved on and found a home.

So I guess my take on bunnies is twofold: 

  1. It's okay to feed the bunnies. They might be a little annoying, but ultimately they don't hurt and can often help our creative adventures.

  2. Don't hoard bunnies that don't belong to you. They are wild and might be welcome in somebody else's garden.

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