Actually this isn’t a post about writing your dreams. Or dreaming about writing. It’s about what dreams can teach you about writing. (But that seemed like too long of a title.)
First, let me tell you about a dream I had this morning. I usually don’t remember dreams, but this one I do because I woke up during it.
I’m in my car, driving. The sun is high and bright. Heat radiates off the hood, causing me to squint. Despite the air conditioning, my left arm is hot from the sun glaring in the side window. I’m alone and headed back to the house. My husband is at home with the kids. As I turn into the neighborhood, I know this is not where I live now. It is not even where I lived when the kids were babies. It is the neighborhood where I lived as a child from one month to ten years old. Even though I know the way, I take a wrong turn. A car in front of me turns down a side street and I follow. At the first driveway, I u-turn and backtrack, until I get to our street. I roll down the windows and the sharp scent of the pine trees lining both sides of the road floats in. I pass the persimmon tree that has stood there forever, since I was a child and snitched persimmons on my walk home from school. I smile.
I approach the driveway. The house is the same as from my childhood. Except instead of a front yard, there is a small pond. The ground around the pond is wet, soupy, as if there had been a big rain. The mud lies between the water and the green grass that encircles it like a bright emerald picture frame. As I get closer to the house, I wonder about the lake. Will it stay against the hot sun? Will it be overtaken by the grass? What will the fish do if it dries up? Before I reach the house, I spot something lying in the mud, next to the brown water.
A child. A very young child in diapers. Face down.
I slam on the brakes and fly out of the car. Screaming for my husband.
A baby. My daughter.
I run toward her. The mud slows me, but I push through it, gunk caked over my shoes, sucking my feet down. I must lift my right foot high, shove it forward, then drag the left. Lift, shove, drag. Lift, shove, drag. She is still too far to reach.
And then I wake.
Lisa Logan could interpret the dream for me, I’m sure. But I really don’t need her to since I know why I dreamed it. The dream itself and the purpose behind the dream isn’t particularly important. What it says about writing is.
I tried to write this dream as I experienced it, as I felt it. Notice the flow. I’m driving. I’m aware of the sun and the heat. The smells and the memories. My sentences are long, languid.
Then something goes wrong. In a flash I know what it is and I react. My sentences (and the scenes in my dream) become short, broken, fast, choppy.
I can’t reach my daughter. My sentences reflect that. They become complicated, as weighted down as my feet. Repetitive and laborious, as I slog through the mud. I’m no longer using words like “emerald,” “bright,” or “float.” Now, it’s “gunk,” “sucking,” and “drag.”
The last sentence is two words. A cry.
As you write, look at your sentences. Make them reflect, support, become the actions. When your scene becomes tense or hurried, your writing should make your readers’ hearts beat faster, not slower. As this dream became tense, I (in the dream) no longer notice the trees or the grass. If your character is about to get shot or is the one aiming his gun at someone, he’s not likely to admire the lone petunia in a pot. He may have seen it earlier, but now his focus, his life, has narrowed to one moment, one thought. And your writing should be just as focused.
As you edit your work, look at the different scenes in your book, whether they’re tense or funny, and make your words and sentences not just fit the mood, but establish the mood.
Is this something you’re aware of as you write and edit?
5 months ago