Thursday, May 1, 2008

Patiently Writing Dreams

This week I started my final chapter, which opens with the main character dreaming. The novel is peppered with several dream sequences --- I might call them "semi-recurring," in that the dreams always take place in the same environment (a subway station) and he is always accompanied by, and conversing with, the same ambiguous "presence." In fact, the opening paragraphs of the novel --- those first torturous words I wrote down long ago --- describe one of these dreams

I've read plenty of fiction that depicts dreaming. Often it makes for interesting writing, but it rarely strikes me as similar to the way I experience dreams. When I set out to write my own fictional dreams, I pushed myself to articulate the characteristics that my own dreams have. Considering what an abstraction dreams are, this turned out to be very challenging, as you can imagine.

To offer just one example of the characteristics I'm talking about: I find that in my dreams a person, ability, location or object will change spontaneously, yet the functional or emotional significance of this changed thing remains exactly the same. Perhaps for that reason, I'm completely unaware of the change until I wake up (assuming I remember my dream at all). Let's say I dream that I have a magic finger, whereby touching objects causes them to float. It may happen that at some point in the dream, with no explanation or transition, the magic object is no longer my finger, but a wand. Later still, the magic of the wand is not that it makes objects float, but that it makes me invisible.

All the while in my dream the "plot" unfolds naturally, and I'm totally oblivious to any inconsistency. The significant element of this dream-story seems to be my possession of magic power; the details of said power can be adjusted without my knowing anything has changed. To suit what purpose? I rarely know. But ONLY when I wake up can I compare chronological points within the dream and realize, "Hey, when I started off I was carrying a signed baseball, not a talking frog."

Seems like I've given this a lot of thought, eh? So it should be easy enough to write... right?

Well, I've been trying to incorporate that characteristic, along with a few others, into my fictional dreams since back when I started writing the novel. Every time I wrote or re-wrote a sequence, I'd feel that I was getting a little closer, but ultimately, still missing the mark.

Then a few days ago I wrote the final dream sequence. I wrote it in one sitting, and it finally felt right. Perfect, even. It took numerous attempts and years of reflection to finally nail it. How vindicating!

The funny thing about setting these kinds of artistic goals is that no one else can tell really tell me whether I've accomplished them or not. Only I know when I've successfully depicted or expressed something in the way that I set out to. It's a unique sort of reward.

But enough gloating. Onward!


Amanda said...

Can you not just write the thing? I'm busting to read the sneaky peaks!

Stop thinking about it so much and write.

Ashley M. said...

Really like this post. Expresses a thought about about writing and dreams that rings very true, and yet I've never heard it said before.

Amanda said...

Well I've just read this post again (call me a glutton for punishment!) and I'm obviously coming at this from a totally different angle because I would say writing an imagined dream as a part of your novel would be just as much fun as the rest of it. You seem to be a very tortured soul writing wise - or am I just too laid back about it? I'm a kind of it's in my head and then out it comes kind of a gal - and yes I write and speak about the same. Do you think I shouldn't? Now I really am doubting my ability to produce a written work that would be worth a read. Is my thinking you think about it too much really a reflection of my not thinking about it enough?

jim cooney said...

I totally believe that the writing process should, on the whole, be a pleasant experience. It's the best reason to do it in the first place! And I was aiming for an encouraging tone with my post here, as when I describe my satisfaction with the final dream sequence as a "unique sort of reward."

I do also believe in challenging myself, which sometimes leads to a fair share of frustration and disappointment. But the rewards are worth it. I love feeling like I've expressed a complicated emotion or concept in a way that rings true for me. I also believe that practice, plus pushing myself, are the two ways I improve my "art."

And yes, in many cases I think writing should come out sounding like you talk. And articulating something in a way that sounds natural is often the biggest challenge of all!

If you're writing regularly and honestly, than you're pretty much doing everything correctly in my book (that's "my book" not my novel :) ). Everything else will take care of itself.