I recently had a dream set in my story-world. This is not unusual. I dream about my characters and story situations often, particularly while I’m immersed in a draft. But this dream was strange. My dreaming self gave the dream-story a title: The First Blade-Wielder. And a narrator told me (the dreamer/audience member), in the voice of my work, about the origin of one of my warrior sects. The scenes played out as they were described, mostly without dialogue—sort of like a cinematic flashback sequence. The events are from hundreds of years before any of my stories actually take place.
As I wandered from deep slumber toward wakefulness, my dreaming self was emphatically urging my conscious self to remember the specifics, to write it all down. “It’s good stuff,” Dream-me reassured Wakeful-me. “You’re going to use this someday.”
So I did as I’d bidden, and wrote notes that morning. As I was writing, I was able to step outside myself and marvel at how well I know the details of this place and time that doesn’t exist. My grasp made the dream palpable, even as I came fully awake.
I consider dreams like this to be the result of having worked in one lone story-world for over a decade. Not that other writers don’t dream about their work. I’ve been having dreams about my stories since my earliest days of writing fiction. But this was a reminder of how the breadth and intricacy—as well as the frequency—of my dreams and daydreams about my work have expanded over the years.
Lately I’ve seen a lot of advice to writers about being willing to diversify, to try different genres and styles. I’ve also seen writers advised to be willing to walk away from a project that’s not bearing fruit. Or to scrap a story and start over when one has started in the wrong place. Indeed, at times it seems writers are urged to shelve what they’ve started and move on.
While I understand that such advice is generic, I’d like to offer myself as an example of how every writer’s journey is unique. And I, for one, am grateful that I clung to a genre project that didn’t immediately bear fruit in the form of publishing recognition. I’m even grateful for having started in the wrong place. Sound crazy?
If it does sound crazy, I’ll admit that I’ve also read that one of the definitions of psychosis is a fixed belief in an imaginary world lasting months or years. I guess you could call my faith in my story-world a fixed belief. As I mentioned, I started working on it over a decade ago, and early on I was as focused on fleshing out the details of world-building as on plotting or story development.
I invented tribes, cultural customs, systems of law, religions—you name it. I have maps and a glossary of characters, place names, and terms that has over two-hundred entries. My world is alternate history, and before I started I spent a year reading everything I could find about the real version of the era. Having an understanding of the unfolding of history in the wider world offers context and insight that hopefully lends the stories plausibility as well as an aura of familiarity. I congratulate myself that I’m the foremost expert on my imaginary world. Mostly because no one else will, but sometimes one has to pat one’s own back.
And yet, none of these things alone will make my stories worthy of a reader’s attention and time.
False Starts? No Such Thing [Read more…]