A bunny, for those of you unfamiliar with the technical jargon of the literary world (ahem) is an idea for a story. The very earliest form of the idea. It can be a “what if?” Like “What if the A-Team were dogs?” (You think I’m kidding, don’t you?) It could be a coming together of two other ideas. (You know, like those movie pitches “It’s Aliens meets Legally Blonde!”) It could be a character who has nowhere to go yet, but who you just know is going to cause sparks to fly when they do.
Bunnies come from all kinds of places too. I’ve had them from Live Journal comments, Tweets (the Reclaiming Territory short story grew out of an exchange on Twitter), dreams (Higher Ground was from a dream), newspaper stories, things you see around you, pictures, story particles sleeting through the universe and lodging in the receptive brain (as postulated by Sir Terry Pratchett in Wyrd Sisters.)
So how do these bunnies turn into books that people can buy and read and sneer at and spill coffee on and stuff? Well many of them don’t. If there’s one thing most writers have, it’s a corral full of bunnies. (Which is why no, we’re not interested in collaborating with those people who claim they have a great idea they want us to write and then we can share the millions of dollars sure to roll in.) An idea occurs, I note it down, and sometimes…that’s it. It just lies there. Now and again I look at the notes and think, oh, hey, yeah, that idea…and go away again. But that doesn’t mean it will never come to anything. Some bunnies lie dormant for years and then suddenly spring to life, perhaps in combination with something else.
It’s good to have many, many bunnies. They aren’t wasted, even if they never go anywhere. A writer is a bit like the Special Operations Executive – a part of British Intelligence during WWII, which sent agents into Europe to help the resistance, to carry out sabotage and assassinations. Their archives are full of ideas for projects that are basically completely nuts—especially ones for assassinating Hitler. But they needed to have lots and lots of crazy ideas to winnow out the ones that might just work. A writer does the same. Ideas begat ideas. When you’re open to and thinking about ideas, new ones are more likely to show up. Creativity feeds on creative energy generated by creative thinking. It’s like perpetual motion. A never ending stream of bunnies.
Sometimes the lying dormant stage is important for a bunny. Usually I don’t have an idea and start developing it right away. (There are exceptions. I’m developing one right now to write in November that I only had a couple of weeks ago!) Usually the idea pops up, I think about it for a bit, write some notes, maybe run up against issues, and drop it again for a while. Later I go back to it and find my unconscious has been hard at work on it in the meantime, and when I start thinking about it again, a lot of new ideas come rushing out. Stephen King calls this letting “the boys in the basement” work on it. One piece of advice is to send the story away like this three times and after the third it will come back ready to write. I don’t know about the three times (probably only chosen because of the power and magic of the number three) but I’m definitely a great believer in letting my unconscious work on the idea. My unconscious is way smarter than my conscious mind. Or rather it can hold more information, so things that don’t make immediate sense to my conscious mind make total sense to my unconscious.
So, what comes next? How do I get from a bunny that’s now grown fat on more ideas, but is generally pretty chaotic at that point, to an actual written story ready to sweat blood over in the editing phase? Come back next week to find out.