A particularly gruesome death befell me last night. Major, our geriatric Great Dane, whined from the swamp. His cries rang through the trees and we walked into the woods by the light of old-timey lanterns. The night was overcast, moonless and starless as a shroud. Punctuated with yelps, Major’s entreaties continued, amplified and hollowed, leading us directly to Hidden Pond. I did not worry about stepping on water moccasins. That was a mercy as we hurried in the frigid blackness to the crying dog.
Major must have seen our lanterns closing in, and completely out of character, chose to jump into the pond and swim toward us. He scrambled up the near bank and leaned hard into Russ, who tried to comfort the shaken giant. We couldn’t tell what had rattled Major, but he trembled as we made the trek back to the house.
We let him in, and he was shivering so much I beckoned him to the couch while Russ went to get a couple of towels. Major’s sheer size dwarfed me as I held him. The next thing I knew, I was lying down with the wet dog nuzzling my neck as he conquered his fear of whatever it was that had spooked him in the swamp.
Without warning, Major’s jaws clamped down on my neck. His weight rendered me immobile. I realized as the dog’s teeth breeched my skin that I was powerless indeed. I could not move. I could not scream. The last thing I heard was my husband’s calm praise. “Good boy.”
Sometimes, the Muse doesn’t just whisper. She screams with nightmarish clarity into the writer’s psyche. We all know the subconscious operates unbidden while we sleep. It is in dreams that we may see our secret hopes and our deepest fears. Those horror writers who have become household names have all written story arcs that ride both the terror and titillation of dreams.
I don’t keep a formal dream journal, although I know people who do. It would quickly become tedium for me to attempt to capture those wanderings. It’s kind of like catching fireflies, I think. They still look pretty in the glass jar, radiating their sparks in the darkness. Once full light comes, though, they lose their charm…and often their lives to the very thing meant to preserve their beauty.
I do keep a notepad in my bedside bureau, though, to jot ideas when they strike. In the case above, I awoke in a sweat, not from the terror of being suffocated by a giant dog but because of that exquisite torture of recognition just at the point when resistance becomes futile. That was a helplessness I wanted to hang onto, to nurse, to explore in future writing. I wanted to capture the emotion of the moment, not so much the details of it. Granted, the details were pretty scary. Scary and horrifying, though, are as different as twilight and full dark.
If you decide to keep a dream journal, or any type of journal at all, don’t let yourself get caught up in format. There is no right or wrong to journaling…only you. Write paragraphs, make lists, or doodle. Don’t worry about grammar, usage, mechanics, or even complete sentences but concentrate on getting down what’s rattling around in your head. You can always flesh out the writing later, if you choose.
For me, the whole point of journaling is character generation. I’m not looking for a story. I’m looking for a feeling. I’m looking for that one little slice of raw emotion or observation that can make a character come to life, or at least become dimensional. Later, I’ll build a story around that. I have found that jotting down particularly vivid dreams helps me get there.
Give it a try!