Scribbler’s Saga #53 – Glued Triggers: Dreams and Writers

Posted: December 27, 2017 in Uncategorized

Shhh! Q-bear is sleeping dreaming of mayhem to inflict upon his nemesis, Jean-Bear-Luc Picard…

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

Somewhere along the line I read an interesting tidbit about Robert Louis Stevenson during the writing of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that he’d had a nightmare with a lot of apparent entertainment value that told him the story that he then copied verbatim onto the page. Supposedly, his wife woke him up at the most screaming-est, bed-wrecking part (hopefully at the first reveal of Hyde’s face, always a killer in the movie versions). The author yelled at this otherwise helpful woman. She might have retorted something along the lines of “can’t please everyone.” Three or four days later, he lucked out when the nightmare came back and told him the end of the story. And this is me calling shenanigans. Dreams haven’t worked that way for me since ever.

Can dreams inform the stories we try to tell? Yes. The ideas that result are sometimes extremely valuable. Do they tell you stories from beginning to end that then land on the page with minimal editing as Stevenson tried to say? No. Certainly, I’ve never gotten more than a couple scenes out of the jumbled and disjointed narratives playing in my private movie theater. And I’ve always had to beat the shit out of everything I write afterwards to get it even readable. No shortcuts…ever.

What little I know about dreams comes from Wikipedia and waking up remembering the last narrative gift most mornings of my life. You dream for a few seconds. You don’t dream for longer periods. Rinse. Repeat as necessary all night long. You only remember the last dream before you wake because the messages aren’t stored in long-term memory.

Having moved away from relying too much on Dream Interpretation as a facet of Psychology, I figure a nightmare or other dream that wakes you up in the middle of the night serves the additional purpose of telling you to get up and drain your bladder before going back to bed. As you might guess, calling shenanigans on Robert Louis Stevenson possibly exaggerating an experience to help build up what it is we writers do doesn’t mean I didn’t try it to see if it was a real thing. Screw what a dream cigar really means; I’m at the stage of my life where – “can I use this?” – is all that matters. Narrative uber-alles.

John D. Fitzgerald, author of The Great Brain Series, asserted in his YA/Teen “memoirs,” that dreams or rather the subconscious mind hiding behind those dreams was the smartest computer on the planet. He would think really hard on a problem before going to bed and wake up with the answer. The coolest example was when worried that the cattle rustler Cal Roberts took his little brother, Frankie, hostage in the barn a dream of the swinging pull chain to the light in his room gave him an idea…

According to the books, John sneaked into the barn and tossed a rope over the rafters tying one end to the carthorse and the other to the sleeping Cal Roberts’ ankle hanging over the loft. He described the breathless terror that we expect when sneaking around places with life and death stakes. A quick swat to the horse’s flank yanks the villain off the loft to hang upside down from the rafter disarmed because his pistol wasn’t strapped into the holster. The adults find John waving a pitchfork in Cal Roberts’ face. And let’s not question a good YA/Teen story by asking if it actually happened.

My experiences with my private films somewhat echo these assertions about dreams. If the point is the next interesting idea, dreams can help. As I have previously written, I dreamed of giant spiders recently. On screen, I and other random members of the adventuring party/scientific expedition (the dream doesn’t explain these details, no shortcuts…ever) examine dark spaces with a lot of webbing all over. Discussion ensues that adventure parties tend to commit arson with nearly every encounter with spider webs.

We examine and/or experiment with these beads that act as a firebreak as a way for the spider to still feel everything about her house through vibrations without having asshole arsonist adventurers (alliteration! Wow!) burning everything in sight. I wake up because it’s the morning and I have an idea about a spider character in one of my books currently lying dormant. Sobekneferu the Tarkesian Spider doesn’t need her human goddaughter to dye the silk for the dresses; she can just eat otherwise indigestible food coloring or other pigments and dye the raw silk just before it extrudes from her spinneret. So I get a bank shot idea about giant spiders that wasn’t even featured in the dream.

As I’m mostly past caring what the images mean for my mental or spiritual health (already nuts and I don’t really need to ask Joseph or an angel what they mean), I pay attention to the narrative possibilities and usually come up short in terms of directly feeding me the tale. I get a lot of chase narratives. Run around after or away from random people. Fly like Superman. Every now and again I get to be invisible. Surf impossibly large waves on faraway planets. Through it all, the scenery whether familiar or exotic is the main reason I don’t mind the E-ticket ride playing out behind my eyes.

If there’s a monster, I’m the beast more often than not (the one remaining positive nod to Dream Interpretation in Psychology, I went to bed angry those nights). I even died at least once (woke up just before preserving the wives’ tale about in-dream deaths) picking a fight with a demon as Armageddon began and the story that resulted for a college English class still kind of sucked. No shortcuts…ever.

And you were thinking about the glued triggers in the title? I suppose this is my subconscious mind’s one nod to sanity and decency. I almost never actually pull the trigger in my dreams. We run around with guns on a suburban street covered overhead by elms that shade the whole street. I leap and somersault over ten foot high fences. But, I rarely actually shoot anyone; I pull and nothing happens, or sometimes it becomes a game of Army – “Bang! You’re dead!”

Real shooters talk about the trigger break in terms of pounds per square inch, a measure of how hard you have to squeeze down to release the hammer and fire a bullet. In my dreams, the trigger break is so high that you’d think I’d learn and just smoke pot and make friends with everyone in my private movies. An easy way to describe it is as if some prankster glued down the hammer, but the feel is actually more like somebody changing the local gravitational field so that the pull tightens up the further back I go. Obviously, someone or something doesn’t want me shooting people for real in my dreams saving that for people with PTSD remembering real events. I’m good at my job so like a lounge pianist – “hum a few bars and I’ll fake it.”

Regardless of how informative our dream may be, a writer still has to get up in the morning and make words. The dream may have given you a good concept or streamlined something you were already thinking about. Then that writer takes the Red Pen of Editorial Doom and does it all over again. The subconscious doesn’t wait for you to sleep to feed you the next idea for the next paragraph. I’ve had all kinds of minor eureka moments swilling coffee pen poised for a bloodletting. This is how I know after many years of being open to the possibility that Robert Louis Stevenson basically sweetened a story to make writing sound a little more like Rocket Science. No shortcuts…ever.

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