Sunday, April 24, 2011

This Dream I Had

Dreams are funny things. Sometimes, they make perfect sense and give you clarity you wouldn't have attained during the waking hours. Sometimes, they can be your subconscious warning you about something, that the path you're on could use some attention.

Sometimes, they're just plain weird.

Some people keep a dream journal. I'm not one of those. I remember some of my dreams, forget most of them, and scratch my head at the really strange ones. I think it would be a good creative exercise to write about the strange and interesting dreams like they're a scene (or scenes) unfolding in a story.

Info about this dream: Rutherford B. Hayes is the President of the US. The historical veracity ends there, I'm sure. I'm there, along with several of President Hayes' advisers. I presume the setting is the White House.

The dream itself:

We were sitting around a table in what looks like a kitchen. A white counter is attached to a wall behind our table. President Hayes sat at the table, along with a few of his advisers. I was talking to everyone when someone came in carrying a package. He said the package was for the President and looked excited. I got suspicious.

The package looked large enough to hold two phone books stacked atop one another. The man who carried the package -- I didn't know who he was -- used a kitchen knife to cut the tape holding it shut. One of the flaps opened a little, just wide enough for me to see the darkness within the box. In the light of the kitchen, I swore I saw something move inside the box. I told everyone not to open the box because I saw something moving inside. They all laughed.

President Hayes scoffed at the idea that something in the box could have moved. He stood up, walked over to the counter, and opened the box. One look at the contents of the box caused him to drop it in surprise. The box landed on its side with the flaps open. A rattlesnake slithered out. All the advisers scurried away. I started moving toward the counter, but the rattlesnake struck.It uncoiled faster than I could follow and bit President Hayes on the forearm. He shouted and recoiled from the bite. I swatted the snake off the counter with a stick.

The area of the bite started to swell right away. The White House doctor came in carrying his camouflage-green medical bag. He took out a bottle of rattlesnake venom and left. I looked at the bottle and focused on the word "ion." I then said we couldn't give the antivenom to President Hayes because he had an ion deficiency, and a warning label on the antivenom said it couldn't be given to people with ion deficiencies. Everyone looked mortified. I saw a roomful of long faces. President Hayes clutched his forearm and winced.

Then the dream ended.

I don't know why I dreamed any of that, of course. It's not like Rutherford B. Hayes occupies a lot of my waking thoughts. I distinctly remember seeing "ion" and "ion deficiency," not "iron" in either case. This gives my dream a random sci-fi element to go along with its dubious take on history.

I'll come back and revisit strange dreams like this when I remember them. I think doing this can be a good creative exercise. If you're looking at your work in progress and wondering where to go with it next, take a break for a little while and do something like this. Maybe it'll be just what you need to get you back on track.

Keep dreaming, and keep writing.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Moving Forward in Reverse

My writing group is doing a short story anthology for April. Our theme is "the cruelest month," which is worlds better than anything else associated with the month of April. Thank you, T.S. Eliot.

I decided to write a short story, using my favorite detective protagonist, C.T. Ferguson. When I first devised the character, I wrote 12-15 short stories, finding the voice, establishing secondary characters, etc. Then, for National Novel Writing Month 2009, I decided I would try to stretch Mr. Ferguson out to a novel-length work. It was easier than I thought, and I've since written two others.

But I hadn't done a short story with this character since 2009. It felt like being home, but not the home I remembered. I had to rein in my desire for longer scenes, chapters, slower exposition, and all the trappings of a novel. I wanted to come in under 5000 words. Hell, I had written some 15 short stories with this character. It should heave been easy.

In the end, it was easy-ish. I wonder if other writers have this problem. Once you've written a book or three with a certain protagonist, is it harder to go back and feature him or her in a short story? Novels give us a lot more room and time to explore things, break out fancy subplots, develop characters, and flex our writer muscles. Short stories have to be more compact. We don't have time for all the things novels allow us to do.

The result was a story that I like, featuring a character whom I know much better than I did when I started down this road. I think I'll continue to write books featuring C.T., but scaling back to a short story here and there is a good challenge. And what's life--especially life as a writer--without a few challenges?

Have fun putting pen to paper.