Writing Process Notes: Creating a Setting with a Dreamlike Feel
This week, I’d like to share the latest developments in the making of one of my novels-in-progress, tentatively titled The Dreamers of the Dreams. It’s the story of what happens when an everyday guy meets the dreamer of the world he lives in. I wrote the first 50,000 words of this novel all the way back in November 2010. For the next three Novembers in a row, I unsuccessfully attempted to fit 50,000 words of writing into the spaces between workdays at my full-time job. This past fall, I decided to rebel against the rules for the first time and continue working on an existing novel draft, rather than starting a new project. I still didn’t get to 50,000 words, but I felt like I had moved forward with my writing goals.
Back in the fall, when I reread my first draft of my novel The Dreamers of the Dreams in preparation for NaNoWriMo, I found that although I still loved the story concept, the writing just seemed lackluster to me. It felt like something was missing. Today, I realized why that was: Most of the novel takes place in the world of one character’s dreams, but when I read it, it didn’t feel like it was set in a dream world. It felt like it was set in the everyday, real world. One of the most notable characteristics of dreams is that their events are often strange and offbeat by the standards of the real world, and the landscape is never the same from one dream to the next. However, all of this strangeness seems perfectly ordinary and natural to the dreamer while the dream is going on. That feeling is what’s missing from my novel draft.
Here’s an example: Last night, I had a dream in which my parents had just bought a house for our family, but it was starting to slide off a cliff. Is this scenario at least theoretically possible in reality? Yes. Is it at all likely to happen? No. Did I realize just how strange and unlikely this scenario was during the dream? No, not at all.
My novel’s setting needs more of that dreamlike flavor. To be specific, it needs more references to plausible-but-unlikely events happening in the background, and more little things that have changed from one chapter to the next, like the colors of cars or the route between one destination and another. They need to be subtle and unobtrusive, and not seem like continuity errors. There need to be just enough of them to suggest that this setting is not the ordinary, real world, but without giving away the fact that this is a dream world before Corey reveals that fact to Landen. Most importantly, it needs to be clear from the way Landen and his fellow dream characters react that they don’t perceive any of those odd events as being out of the ordinary.
Corey and Landen are the two main characters of the novel; Corey is the dreamer, and Landen is a character who keeps showing up in his dreams for reasons neither of them completely understand. Landen is the main point-of-view character, and he thinks the world he’s always lived in is the real world until the events of the plot convince him otherwise. What I want to get across in the next draft of my novel is that, to Landen, the odd little quirks and inconsistencies that characterize dreams are normal. He is a native of the dream world, after all; for him, the world has always just been that way. That will also add another interesting dynamic to these characters’ relationship with each other, as they figure out that they have very different ideas of what is and isn’t normal.
This is the first of what I hope will be many blog posts that give a behind-the-scenes look at my writing process. I have many novels in various stages of the process, and one of my big goals for this year is to get to The End of at least one of them. I’m using this blog both to record the process and to keep myself honest about my progress on all my creative endeavors.