I’m always a bit wary when a writer says “it came to me in a dream!”
Stephenie Meyer is the obvious example of an author who credits her subconscious with the premise of her most famous work, Twilight. (Bella and Edward came to her in a dreeeeam!) However, Meyer is far from the only author to use her dreams as the basis for her fiction.
Indeed, it’s tempting, upon awaking from a particularly atmospheric dream, not to view it as an amazing story idea. After all, it feels like the hard work has been done for you: a vivid otherworld has been conjured by your dream; energising or moving or scary in a way that the best fiction can be. Why not accept this gift from your subconscious? Don’t invent; just transcribe. Simply embroider around the edges of your dream and voila! Great fiction!
Unfortunately, it’s taken me a terribly long time to realise that: atmospheric =/= good fiction.
It’s that time of year again. No, not pumpkin spice latte season. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), where suddenly a large number of people fall under the shared delusion that it’s possible to write a novel* in a month.
(*If I were a pedant, I’d point out that 50,000 words, the NaNo goal, is actually a novella.)
I usually try to keep my NaNo bile more or less hidden, because I am fully aware of NaNo’s positive aspects. It encourages people to write! (How wonderful!) It also takes a wholly solitary activity and temporarily fills it with community spirit. Again, how wonderful: to have writers cheering each other on over social media; to have coffee shops filled with communal writing sessions.
But the trouble is… it seems to me there’s a dark little lie at the heart of NaNo. The lie is: hardly anyone actually finishes their NaNo novel.
I was wandering through the city during my lunch break today and I passed a girl wearing a red jumper with a Christmas pudding on it (…in June).
And, *whoosh*, just like that, I decided a character from my novel would also have a penchant for wearing Christmas-themed clothing in June. As I continued my lunch-hour walk, I lost myself in thought. I started seeing my character more clearly; I started coming up with more quirks, more characteristics for her.
To be a writer is to be a magpie. I continually steal little details from all around me and filter them into my stories.
When faced with new information (while listening to a friend’s anecdote, watching a documentary, or even just passing something in the street that makes me go ‘huh’), I immediately start looking for the story idea.
The discussion of whether to pronounce picture file format GIF with a soft or a hard ‘g’ is one that, I’m surprised to find, just runs and runs.
For a lot of internet folk, this is an ISSUE and they are RILED about it.
But, the thing is, I’m looking at that sentence and wondering why no one’s arguing about how we pronounce ‘issue’ and ‘riled’. Where’s the internet campaign to pronounce issue as ‘iss-ooh’ and riled as ‘rih-lud’? After all, those pronunciations make as much sense as our pronunciation of GIF (whether you fall in the hard-g or soft-g camp).
The key word there, by the way, is sense. That’s the trouble: there’s no sense in the English language. And trying to impose sense on something fundamentally nonsensical is just a recipe for anger and frustration.