I awoke from a nightmare last weekend and did the sensible thing. I got up and showered off the flop sweat, crawled back in with the ToolMaster, and poked him in the shoulder — firmly, since he was the cause of my distress.
“Hey,” he said with a fair degree of irritation. Then something must have shown on my face. “Another bad dream? What do you need?”
While he wrapped his arms around me, I told him the sordid tale.
Despite it being considered a huge no-no in fiction to begin with a dream, I’ll repeat myself here. I’m hoping to first illustrate some linguistic elements, then discuss how they might be intentionally used to help with world-building and characterization.
So, the dream…
On a gorgeous day in early spring, we’d gone for a family hike in the mountains. The snow was a good three feet deep but packed underfoot, so navigable, if slow going. To the right was a half-buried snow fence, and a yard beyond that, a canyon carved smooth and deep by a river.
We were alone, free to enjoy the sounds you’d expect in such a setting: from far below, the gentle shushing of meltwater. From a quarter-mile back, the voices of our kids as they argued about an episode of Dexter. Overhead, the loopy birdsong of robins that had dined on fermented mountain ash berries.
At one point, the ToolMaster turned to say something to me — knowing him, it involved some kind of Jan-ribbing — and he lost his balance. Before I could draw breath, he slipped sideways, his momentum carrying him over the snow fence and toward the canyon’s edge. At the last second, he grabbed the branch of a pine tree on the proximal side and his feet found purchase on a narrow ledge.
If he’d stayed there and waited for a rope, he might have been fine, but he looked down. Whatever he saw spooked him.
He pinwheeled backward, ended in a worse position yet — feet on that small shelf, shoulders on the opposite wall of rock, his life depending upon the strength of his core. He might have been a tree lodged at an angle, except that he was clad in layers and wearing the latest in moisture-wicking technology.
I screamed to the kids to get help and went to him, stretching out from the pine tree. Naturally, I awoke as he was risking it all to grasp my hand, and Molly and Frank were disobeying my orders, easing past the snow fence to try and haul us up. If you saw their body mass versus ours, you’d know it couldn’t end well. Without equipment or help, we’d end in a daisy-chain of doom.