Saturday, October 6, 2007

Exercise: Perchance To Dream

One of the freest forms of storytelling takes place not between two friends or a couple of snuggling lovers. It takes place within our own minds. It is our psyche relaying a tale to us. We call it a dream.

Recall for an instance a dream you have had--any dream, ever. If you're like most people, you found that the dream was rich in imagery, sometimes in color, that the dialogue, if any, was sharp and to the point, free-flowing, unstilted. The imagery was fantastic, often including flying stairs and headless children who suddenly sprout eyes and mouths and ears when it is convenient in the dream for them to have them. In short, the way our dreams unfold is natural, realistic, and believable because, within them, we suspend the constraints of reality.

Imagine what it would be like if you could write so wonderfully freely. Imagine if you could create a world unfettered by conventions. Not only would your story lines, your plots, be wild and free, but your characters would be believable and really, really, real. Their dialogue would wound unstilted. Their relationships would be as natural and unquestioned as the figurines in your nocturnal fantasies. Imagine if you could write like that.

What's that you say? You're not into fantasy writing? You want to write the great American tragedy or the last lasting literary tome of the new millennium? Yes, but if you could incorporate into your writing the same wild freeness that takes place in your dreams, the same believability, even a book solidly based on reality could sing!

Think about this sentence: "Donnie was so angry, he wanted to kill him."

Now think about Donnie, his image, what he looks like, how he's dressed, how he smells, looks, moves, sounds. Think about his quirks, his shortcomings, what sets him off, moves him apart. Those are all the things you would experience if you had a dream about a Donnie who was so angry that he wanted to kill someone. If you could relay some of those dream images, you could capture the scene and start a book that or a short story that just might be a new classic.

Of course, one way to learn to write in such a way--a way similar to that in which we dream--is to write out your dreams. But we only dream so much and often remember so little. Besides, there is a better way.

Write out a dream image. Not one that you have actually experience, but one that you are making up. You are the dream factory. Now, doctor, create the dream.

As you do so, remember a couple of points.

1.) Start your dream image anywhere. As in a dream, you don't need a beginning, a middle, and an end. Sometimes thinking in linear terms stifles our creativity. By picking up with an image and then letting the story unfold, we loosen our creative bindings.

2.) Place no restrictions on your image or characters. Just as the human mind doesn't limit what it conjures up during that beautiful REM time, you, too, should let yourself go. Flying donkeys? Talking birds? Hey, it's your dream.

3.) Include all the senses. Don't tell us something smells beautiful, describe it. Your mind doesn't explain that something smells beautiful in a dream, why do so in your real-time writing? Do the same with the other senses--describe the site, the feel, the sound the way it's unfolding in your dream image.

Follow that advice, and you'll be amazed at just how creative you really are ... and how unnecessary it is to rely on those old stand-by literary conventions to get your image across.

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