This is the third blog post about this topic. If you are interested in my other ideas on the subject, click here and here. OK, let's talk about dreams.
Have you ever had Deja Vu?
I used to have deja vu a lot. But I didn't usually have the feeling that I'd been here before. It was more of a feeling that I dreamed this before.
For example, in high school I was working on a piñata with my class. Just before the project was due, I dreamed about the day that I would turn it in. That's doesn't seem unusual, but what was unusual was the details. On the day I actually did turn it in, everything was a repeated from the dream, down to the words spoken by my friends and the view in my peripheral vision. Deja vu.
Another example was when I dreamed about visiting my aunt's house in Utah. A few months later when I actually did visit my aunt's new house, it was EXACTLY as I had dreamed it from the layout to the fixtures, to the color of the carpet. Deja vu.
The high school deja vu was interesting, but pretty explainable. I knew what my high school looked like, and I could probably guess what my friends would say about the project. Even what I saw out of the corner of my eye was not unusual.
But I had never been to my aunt's house. So how did my brain know what it was like inside?
The Brain is a wonderful thing.
Later, I remembered that just before the dream about my aunt, my mom had described the new house. I think from that description, my Dream part created an image. Could it do it so well, that even the carpet (which my mom did not mention) was the right color? That seems a little farfetched.
I've heard that the brain actually recreates memories every time you remember something. So when I actually visited my aunt's house, my brain recreated the memory of the dream to fit the reality and heighten my sense of deja vu. So maybe I hadn't ACTUALLY dreamed the blue carpet, but I remembered that I had.
My theory is that deja vu is my brain's way of letting me know a certain moment/event/setting in my waking reality is what it was "talking about" in my dreams.
Trying to Create Deja Vu for Readers
As writers, our job is to describe things vividly enough that our readers can imagine them. We want to create something so "real" that if the readers were to actually experience it, they would feel a sense of deja vu.
Just like my mom didn't describe the carpet, writers do not need to describe every detail of the experience. We just need to say enough and let our readers' imagination do the rest.
I promise I don't keep a dream journal, but I do think about my dreams and how they can help me write when I'm awake.
I heard once, that everything in your dreams is something or someone that you have seen in real life. Your subconscious takes bits and pieces of real life and smashes them up into a dream sequence that makes sense, in a dreamy kind of way.
Usually, I can't tell you exactly where each of the pieces of my dreams come from, but in one recent I was pretty sure I could pinpoint the parts in waking reality.
In this dream, I was standing on the front porch of a house, probably mine, or maybe soon to be mine. My son was nearby pounding a garden ornament with a pickax. I had to yell his name three times before he would stop.
Now, the pickax came from Minecraft - this was evident by the pixally look of the ax and also the fact it was flat. The porch looked jus like a porch that I stood on years ago when I was a girl, and the lawn ornament was a figure I'd been drooling over at one of those outdoorsy stores. And the yelling three times - that came from a very real incident when I needed to get my son to come. He wouldn't stop bickering with his brother until the third time. It was frustrating.
"Write What You Know"
Like this vivid dream scene, we can take bits and pieces of our life and put them together in a new interesting way. The pieces don't even have to be "real" (the Minecraft Pickax), they don't have to "true" (the porch wasn't mine in reality, and my son has never stood on it), but the resulting scene should be charged with emotion (the experience of taking three times to get a kid to stop). This is what we are creating when we write fiction.
Because it's believable.
Last night, the Dream part of my brain asked me a question: "What if you found out your BFF was a Lesbian?"
Now, what's interesting about this is that my Subconscious didn't just say, "Hey, Conscious, how do you feel about this?" No, it Showed me a story.
In the first part of the dream, I was doing something with a girl my age (yes I use this term loosely, because I'm a thirty-something), I don't really remember what I was doing, but the conversation and emotion was something that I experience with my sister in waking life, so the relationship with this girl (whom I didn't recognize in real life) as my BFF was established and I knew what my subconscious was talking about.
The dream goes on, and another girl enters the picture. I and this new character have the kind of conversation you might have when you bump into someone you know from church. So, my subconscious was showing the relationship I had with her (even though I didn't recognize this person from real life either). In the conversation, the girl tells me, "I like Emily." and immediately I know that "Emily" is the name of my bestie (from earlier in the dream), and that this girl has a crush on my friend.
In the next scene of this dream (at least the next scene my conscious mind remembers), Emily tells me that she's been going out with the other girl for awhile now. "Why didn't you tell me?" I asked her in the dream. Emily gives me a series of answers, like the scene is being repeated with several different endings. (Think Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray):
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I thought you'd think I was cheating on our friendship."
So, Emily thought I would be jealous, I think in my dream.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't want you to think I had a crush on you."
Maybe our best friend relationship would have been tainted, because I'd wonder if Emily wanted something more from it.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I thought you'd disown me."
In real life, and deep down, I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. However, I do respect those who disagree with my beliefs and believe that all should have equal rights to choose, as long as it doesn't infringe on others' rights to choose not. (For example, a clergy should not be forced to marry a gay couple - because it is legally recognized in his state - if the clergy's religion teaches against it. Likewise, a Family Services firm should not be required to consider lesbian couples for foster care, if those services are funded by a charity that doesn't agree with the practice. That is why I think domestic partnerships and marriage should be separately defined.) BUT would I disown a friendship if I suddenly found out she was a lesbian?
The awesome part about this dream is that I woke up without an answer. The Dream part of my brain left the Awake part to ponder the question: What would I do in that situation? And more importantly, how would I feel?
What does my Subconscious murmurings have to do with writing?
When we write, we try to ask questions of our readers in a way that hits a deep emotional level. We don't just ask a question, we present a situation. As writers, we place characters in settings and dialogues that SHOW our readers what kind of relationship they have with each other. We present inner thoughts and body language to emphasize the emotion.
Then we move on to other scenes that present conflict or tension, again through situation and dialogue.
And (hopefully) we do all this in such a vivid way that the characters and emotions and themes stick with our readers long after they put our book down.
I write about, with, for, and around kids all day. (Well, maybe I do the dishes too. Sometimes.)