The Dream of Writers


Everyone would want this:

I'm at the Nordic Heritage Day, sitting behind my table, talking to people about my books. There's a line of people waiting to purchase, checkbooks in hand, while I sign autographs and Karen writes receipts (she doesn't let me handle any money!). At the busiest part of the day, an ex-boss, my editor of 5.5 years at the Attachmate corporation, shows up.

My ex-boss had to wait in line to get to talk to me!

(It's a situation that many dream would about!)

Fortunately, this ex-boss was one of the best bosses that I've ever had; we're still friends, and I would love to work for her again.

However, I can't help but imagine that this was one of my less-likeable bosses. I recall one boss that, after working for his company for 9 years, and having saved his companies' butt many times, and after he personally promoted me twice, then ... as I am quitting to go back to school, he tells me: "well, we've never been satisfied with your work."

This from a man whose only son once worked for him ... and has refused to speak to him for 20 years. I know ... because I worked beside his son.

We all dream. Writers dream more than most, or at least, more deeply. I may be a long way from 'being my own boss', but it is my eventual goal. We all want to have justice in this world, but at least we are free to dream.

Is fiction just day-dreams that are written down?

In some cases, yes. But most stories can't be just dreams.

Dreams can go anywhere and don't require logic or a sense of continuity. Once, classic tales like 'Alice's Adventures in the Looking Glass' were beloved, and Disney turned it into Alice in Wonderland, and it became ingrained into our literary history. But how many have read the original text? It is a very different and nonsensical story.

'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' is another great book, from which several movies have been made, not one of which I liked. The book itself travels from place to place with data irrelevant to the story thrown in everywhere. The end of the first book has no relationship to its beginning. While the sheer lunacy and quality of the writing support this book, this same style of writing has failed to work for the countless authors who have tried to imitate it.

'Originality' is the key to success for many of these books. You can't write a book about sparkly vampires and just expect it to sell like Twilight. In my mind, the best books start not with a dream, but with an idea.

Imagination is like a muscle; you have to exercise it to make it stronger. Ideas for stories are all around us, but like the imagination-muscle, you have to develop them. Writers see a person leaning up against a brick wall, and a thousand possibilities swarm our brains:
   •  Why is he leaning against that wall?
   •  Does he want to be there?
   •  What is he thinking about?
   •  What physical sensations is he feeling?
   •  What emotions are coursing through him?
   •  What situations were so prevalent that he must lean against a wall?
   •  Where would he rather be?
   •  What would he rather be doing?
   •  What would he give to be doing something that he really wanted to do ... rather than standing there doing nothing?

This is where the imaginations of writers work best - not in our own minds, but in the minds of those that we write about. If you want to know what we are thinking, then you are missing the point. To understand a writer, ask us what our characters are thinking.

Day-dreams are not where I get my ideas. Real life problems are where I get my ideas.

Most people don't understand scientific advancements. Most believe that a lucky few can sit under an apple tree, have an apple fall on their head, and they get a great idea. No, this never happened; most scientific advancements happen because one scientist found a glitch in something that another scientist said ... and goes about to prove it.

In The VIKINGS! Trilogy, before Eric Bjornson was conceived, I was wondering:
   •  Would a real Norse warrior want to die of old age?
   •  Didn't his faith require that he got a glorious death?
   •  Wouldn't he want to carefully plan his death accordingly?
   •  How would he do that?

This was how Eric Bjornson was born.

The dreams that followed this idea were not fanciful imaginings; they were serious answers to important questions:
   •  Where would Eric Bjornson go to die?
   •  What kind of people would Eric Bjornson be likely to meet there?
   •  What would Eric Bjornson need to accomplish his goal?
   •  If a Norse warrior was smart and fearless, would even insane odds deter them?
   •  What's the worst thing that could happen to a Norse warrior hoping to get himself killed?

This is how writers dream; first, we enter a situation that exists only in the text that we just typed ... and in the minds of the characters that we have described, and we ask ourselves two questions:

   •  In each situation, what is likely to happen?
   •  In each situation, how would our characters respond?

To know the answer to this last question, we must know this:

   •  What do our characters dream about?

Writers have dreams, but they don't dream about themselves.

Writers dream about the dreams of others.


From Jim L.

Very good thoughts!
I was also very displeased with the Hollywood interpretations of "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy".
I like the way you think, Jay~

From Jay Palmer.

Thanks, Jim! Appreciate your comments!