Thursday, July 20, 2006

To Sleep, Perchance to....


I mentioned in my Virgin Blog my perverse desire to drown all my readers in the fictional dreams that I call my writing.

But what are dreams, anyway, and why should a writer care? I suppose I could get technical here, and trot out Merriam-Webster's definition, or even Solomon's (it's verse 3...), but I prefer my own, at least when it comes to writing. I suppose that makes me conceited; but whoever heard of a writer without an ego? Writers are so bloody needy: if you're a writer you know already what I mean. Have you ever watched someone read something you've written, just to see if they gasp, or laugh, or become horrified just at the right moment? It's a disease we all have. But I digress...

I believe Dreams are imagined memories.

This may be why some writers go mad, and why normal people think writers are all at least a half bubble off plumb, and why the normal people are, of course, right.

First of all, the dream has birth in the fertile (or well-fertilized) brain of the writer, who transfers it frantically to paper, or a hard drive, before the dream dies. Something is always lost in the transfer, translation, and recording, another source of authorial angst and neurosis. A reader happens along, reads it, as readers tend to do, and falls in. Now they are caught; they see what the writer saw, hear what the writer heard, smell what the writer smelled. Steven King calls this mental telepathy, thought transferance by use of the written word. The writer dreams the story before writing it, or sometimes while writing it. I can only speak for myself, but when I write most often all I see is the scene before me, not the keyboard.

Now memory is a funny thing, as Henry Hay taught us, and can be manipulated, directed, controlled to a degree. One of the strangest things about it is that false memories and real memories play back in our mind's eye in precisely the same way. This is why I always look upon so-called 'repressed memories' recalled under hypnosis as suspect; is it live, or is it Memorex?

Try it yourself. Close your eyes and think of a real memory, something meaningful, like graduation, or marriage, or your first cup of Starbucks. Now open your eyes and read the next set of instructions; do the same with a scene from one of your favorite books. Be careful. If you're an avid reader blessed with a good imagination, the second exercise may well be the most vivid. Which is why readers are also at least a half bubble off plumb.

John Gardner talks of crafting the fictional dream, a wonderful phrase that I have stolen without remorse, and he maintains that several things are necessary. One is the use of vivid physical details that 'engages us heart and soul; we not only respond to imaginary things - sights, sounds, smells - as though they were real, we respond to fictional problems as though they were real: We sympathize, think, and judge.' Another is continuity. Distractions from the dream are deadly to the story. There are many ways to do this, apparently, far too long to list here, and besides, it would rob you of the untrammelled joy of reading his classic book The Art of Fiction.

But there's something more.

I believe good writing not only creates a cohesive and vivid fictional dream for the reader, but that it also touches something deep within, yearnings inexpressible, groanings that cannot be uttered. This is ( I think) what C.S. Lewis meant when he said that good stories bring to us '...a scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tone we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.' It is at once completely familiar and yet totally other, and when we read it we recognize that we had known it all along, though we do not altogether know what it is.

Stories that have that scent, a whiff, perhaps, of elanor, the golden singing of the Sindarin, the speech of Numenor.

I want to write like that, to have readers see only the dream that I have crafted, to smell, taste, touch, hear the dream...but more, I want to touch that deep, unfathomable as-yet unimagined place...

I have to be at least a full bubble off.


Madi said...

Z, I love your meditations.

Zonk said...

Why thank you, Madame Director. :-}

Coming from such a Cultured person as yourself, that means a lot to me.


briliantdonkey said...

"half a bubble off" ,,,,that is one way to describe it for sure. I used to always read Stephen King and wonder 'wow how nuts is this guy to be coming up with THIS kind of stuff?" I am sure I am not alone in that thought. Now sometimes I go back and read some of my own stuff and think the same thing. Not anywhere NEAR on the same level mind you, but hopefully someday.