Dreams teach us lots of things about ourselves, our daily lives, and what stresses us out. As a writer, I’ve learned one more crucial thing.
“Sweet dreams,” our mothers said while tucking us into bed.
Pshh! When was the last time you had a sweet dream? Do your dreams come true in your dreams? Are you accepting a Hugo or Edgar award for exceptional writing? If you do, I would love to live in your subconscious.
My dreams are nothing like that.
I look forward to going to sleep. It can be such a relief after a hectic day, but my dreams seldom are a place where I rest. I never, ever get what I want.
I am lost and hungry as I thrash my way through the jungle at night. Dirt clings to my body, slick with sweat. I’m tired and want to sit down to rest, but am desperate to find civilization. A warm light flickers through the dense understory. It’s a campfire. Relieved, I run toward the clearing.
A haggard man turns a spit. Other dirty campers lift their gaze as I approach them.
“What kind of meat is that?” I ask.
He looks up at me and says, “Human.”
Tuesday night, I dreamed of a lyrical stone village seen through a dark arched walkway. The contrast of cool and warm colors resembled a Maxfield Parrish painting. I pulled out my camera to capture this amazing sight. Then a huge sweaty man with camera bags dangling from his shoulders and a backpack full of supplies appeared. He stepped right in front of me. After he pulled out a tripod, he set up MY SHOT.
I’m in a big city and am shopping in a boutique when I realize I’ve been separated from my family. We’re on vacation and have no way of communicating. I hear a bus roar from the curb and see them through the back window.
Wait. That actually happened to me in Ireland fifteen years ago.
Do you see a pattern?
I want something, but can’t have it. BOOM! That’s conflict. It’s the basis for basic storytelling.
I’ve read so many books where terrible things ALMOST happen. WHY??? A fictional character is a figment of the writer’s imagination. She is NOT real. These terrible things are NOT happening in real life. They are NOT your younger siblings or your children.
If you let your subconscious take over, it will do a better job of creating conflict and writing a book.
I understand the need to keep a main character alive until the end, but let her make mistakes, get into trouble, get hurt, and humiliate herself. The idea is to think of the worst-case scenario. Too obvious? Then let your subconscious go wild. Consider all the directions and see where another path takes you. Is it uncomfortable? Good. You’re on the right track.
Nobody wants to read about a fun day at Disneyland. We have Facebook for that.
But imagine a babysitter is trying to reel in five kids at Disneyland. She’s not getting paid enough. The children have been fighting all morning. One gets sick on a ride, then another gets hurt on Space Mountain. A child-trafficker is on the loose and has been stalking them. While the kid is getting bandaged, the babysitter counts heads. One is missing.
Now you have a story.
Make your characters suffer. If you make their journey easy, it becomes a travelogue or yawnfest.
You say you aren’t built that way? Yes, you are. Your sub-conscious makes you suffer every night. Working out conflict in your dreams is your brain’s way of making sense of the world.
When reading, we slip into another world seen through the character’s eyes. Their world should change after overcoming conflict. In turn, the best books should also change our perspective of the world.
I woke up after the camper responded, “Human.” But, what if I hadn’t?
First thing to come to mind? “Pass the barbecue sauce.”
Blame it on my Wild sub-conscious.
Are your dreams full of conflict? Have you read a book that didn’t go far enough? Do you have your Hugo or Edgar Award acceptance speech prepared?