Scott Sparling

Hallucinations, a blog about writing, trains, and Wire to Wire

What dreams are really made of

Posted on Mar 13th, 2011.

I’m unclear about the rule concerning dreams and fiction. Some say you should never write about dreams – after all, fiction is itself a kind of dream, so any dream you put in a book is automatically a dream within a dream. Plus they’re just never as interesting as real life ('real' fictional life, I mean).

Others say dreams are like sex scenes – they’re okay as long as they’re justified, but keep it short and no more than three per book.

Wire to Wire includes five dreams, but three of them are super short – a sentence or less – so I think I’m under the limit. (You’ll have to count the sex scenes yourself.)

The desire to write about dreams is understandable, though. There you are, struggling to create a believable imaginary world, and every night your subconscious is churning out a nonstop stream of surreal, autobiographical fiction. Why not use some of that stuff? Plus, no one wants to hear about your lousy dreams in real life, so your only option for sharing is to put them in your book.

(For the record, none of the dreams presented in Wire to Wire started out as actual dreams, except one. And it’s not the Blowjob Dream. I wish.)

Still, I do agree that you have to be very careful about using dreams in stories. By their nature – ephemeral and shifting and unreliable – dreams lack many of the things that make fiction seem real to the reader.

Happily, there are no restrictions about using dreams in blogs. In my view, anyway, blogs are like early Deadwood episodes. It's a land with no rules and anything goes – at least until George Hearst shows up and spoils everything.

So in that spirit, I present: Things I’ve learned from my dreams in just the last seven nights.

  1. If your testicles come off, go to whatever hospital is close by. Don’t try to drive to a better hospital way across town, because you’ll inevitably get drawn into some other scenario, like a pick-up basketball game. And you’ll never get your testicles back on.
  2. If there’s a switch on your desk that turns gravity on and off, make sure there’s a similar switch on the ceiling.
  3. A screen door mounted with duct tape instead of hinges is not adequate protection against albino wolves.
  4. Also, if you attach your screen door using duct tape, try giving your roommate a heads-up, so he doesn’t accidentally rip it off just as the albino wolves are approaching.
  5. Strippers prefer customers who smell nice over customers who look nice. (Actually, I didn’t learn this from a dream. I learned it from Twitter. Strippers are among the most interesting people on Twitter, in my opinion. Generally, they aren’t there to promote something the way the rest of us are – they’re just sharing their observations about their generally crappy but interesting jobs. Most of them – at least the ones I follow – seem pretty empowered. Their jobs have many of the same drawbacks that our jobs have, but intensely amplified, so there’s more drama. And the language of strip clubs completely lacks the deadness of the non-stripping world. This particular observation about good-smelling custys comes from StripperTweets – currently tweeting from Austin, where she is on a panel about interactive something-or-other at SXSW. I’ve also learned a lot from K to the A to the T. I hope to meet them both someday and buy a table dance, or at least give them an ARC.)
  6. If there’s any sort of high school gym involved in your dream, trouble will follow. Locker rooms are especially bad.
  7. Sex in the subconscious is almost always a one-dream stand.
  8. If you order a drink at a coffeeshop, and another customer picks it up, hit them with a blindside tackle, pin them to the floor, and lecture them about their incredible sense of entitlement. (More of a fantasy than a dream, admittedly.)
  9. And finally, if you’re standing in the living room of a house you no longer own, and a tornado is coming your way, perfectly framed in the picture window, don’t try to take a photo of it with your Nikon camera, because there won’t be any film in the camera, and even if you have a spare roll somewhere, you will have forgotten how to load it.

This last one is a hard lesson to learn. It make take 40 or 50 repetitions of this dream before you get the point. Going digital won’t help, either. The camera jams.

Here’s what puzzles me though: I never dream about my book. I dream about my dad, mom, wife, son, sister, and friends. I dream about freight trains, Michigan, Bob Seger, my job, and sex. I dream about editing my college newspaper (the pages are all blank). Why no dreams about the thing I’ve dreamt of most?


Michigan Dreams: "There are phantoms all around me, but they're just beyond my grasp." Country Joe and the Fish, "Bass Strings."

Posted in Writing