Shiny plot squirrels

Just as the middles of humans contain the reproductive parts, I swear the middles of books procreate new story ideas. There is nothing like hitting Chapter 7 or 13 (depending on whether the story I’m writing at the time is a novella or a novel) to trigger all sorts of great ideas about something else I’d waaaay rather be working on.

But that way lies madness. And a whole bunch of incomplete manuscripts. So I try to stay focused. But I can’t focus around the shiny plot squirrels — so, so shiny! And squirrely! The only humane thing to do is catch them and release them in a safe place.

That place is the Ideers document. (I misspelled the doc name when I set it up and never got around to correcting it. Now I feel that this gives the doc some sort of talismanic power to prevent the ideas from escaping, so I leave it.) It’s a simple Word file where I release the story ideas I’ve captured from notebooks, random scraps of paper, stickies, backs of envelopes, other manuscripts where they don’t belong, etc. In the Ideers file, the ideas can run amok, grow strong, and breed.

And, wow, do they breed. The file is currently 23 single-spaced pages of:

  • Plot chunks
  • High concept loglines
  • Dialogue snippets
  • Potential titles
  • Dream fragments
  • Cool words and names (some actually in English!)
  • Character sketches
  • Genre mashups
  • Song lyrics
  • Factoids
  • Random randomness

Here’s a piece that I stuck in the Ideers file when I was frustrated by the shininess of some particular squirrels:

Ideas? Ideas are a dime a dozen, a 24-pack, a 36-case, a CostCo cart-full.  Ideas are air. Costless and formless, utterly vital. At tornadic speeds, their winds will drive a tiny bit of straw through your head. Then they’ll wing you out into the middle of the ocean and abandon you in the Doldrums.

Hey, I didn’t say the ideas had to be good or coherent. They just need to be captured and contained. Maybe for later, maybe for never. But safe for now. And getting bigger. When they are fully formed, maybe they will burst out of the Ideers file into their own folder.

Here are some tips for the care and feeding of captive ideas:

  1. Get them quick, throw them into the file, and don’t be squeamish about it. They will chew mercilessly through your Work In Progress if you let them distract you.
  2. Put a date on them and a quick note where they came from. Like a radio collar, it’s fun and sometimes useful to be able to track what inspired the idea.
  3. Let them loose and don’t be critical of them right now. I mean, seriously, they’re squirrels.

Do you have a special method for capturing plot squirrels? Please share in comments.


4 thoughts on “Shiny plot squirrels

  1. I agree that putting the ideas somewhere helps to make sure they don’t take over the current WIP. Though sometimes, I find those squirrels do appear in my current WIP at least for a draft or two. Then someone smart (like DH on his first read of my draft) gives me the raised eyebrow and please-tell-me-you-realize-how-stupid-this-is-here look and I capitulate. BUT…having the squirrel in that spot often makes me think of another crazy idea to put there that really works.

    As for where to save them. I started off saving them in a file, but then I’d forget the file name. Then I saved them on index cards in a box until I lost the box in one of our moves. Now I have a Super Notecard file/project called “ideas” and everything goes there with it’s own card.

  2. > having the squirrel in that spot often makes me think of another crazy idea to put there
    > that really works

    That’s a plot gopher (very closely related to a plot squirrel) that makes the hole. Despite being underground dwellers, strangely enough, plot gophers are also shiny. Nature is mysterious.

  3. Jessa! I think I need to copy your Ideers folder. I still have my plot squirrels all over the place which is fine currently because I’m working on waay too many projects right now; but someday I’ll need those damned shiny squirrels and I won’t know where to find them.

    I do have a folder of “unfinished novels” that has everything from a two-page beginning of a story to 35k of a story that I then abandoned….and there are a lot of them in there. But I don’t have anything for the stray bits that float around in my brain. Until now, that is! Thanks!

    One Ideers file coming up!


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