Thought that might get your attention.
When last we left our hero (that’s ME, in case you were wondering), I was pontificating on what it means to be a writer. Since then I’ve come to terms with sporadic productivity, salved in large part by the sheer volume of words I put out every day at the paying gig.
And I’ve started packing the brown notebook again.
It’s important for me to have a creative outlet, and equally important to know what I write is relevant. In the last month, I’ve completed another draft revision on the Wandering Novel, almost made progress on two others, and gone back to writing short fiction. I’m hoping that this renewed work ethic sticks around for a bit, as I can sure use the practice.
Two weeks ago Tuesday, an idea came to me for a new piece. It started with a dream, in which I paraglided into a clear blue sea from orbit, finding (and fighting) several large ships and oil refineries. Gathering the floating survivors of this battle together, we ended up in a room (a banquet hall) with really old people who at one time were superheroes. They have mostly passed on their legacies, and the hall was filled with second and third-generation heroes in various stages of diaper-changing. The only problem is that I, or rather, my POV, was very much not old, and still an active individual.
In case you hadn’t figured it out by now, my dreams are pretty messed up. This particular experience is of the variety I like to call “tame.”
So then there I was, wandering outside the convention hall, which appears from the outside to be a ramshackle building at the end of a dirt track in a thick canopy jungle. I’m dressed in simple denim and wearing a straw cowboy hat, and at this time am starting to take control of the dream (I do that. It’s a thing). I’ve been walking for a while, but am careful to stay in sight of the shack. There’s important things and people in there. We’re saving the world, and stuff.
Kicking at the dirt, I find some nice, smooth rocks. Roughly palm-sized, they have a decent heft, about a pound each. When the giant lizards attack, I charge them up and give the scaly bastards a good whack on the head to let them know I’m not so tasty after all. It’s sufficient to drive them back into the jungle, but I know it’s a temporary measure at best. Heading back to the hall, I’m stopped by a friend and asked why I’ve been out fighting dinosaurs again. My response is “Somebody has to, and I’ve forgotten how to do anything else.”
Why am I showing/telling/pontificating you this? Because while I remember this dream quite vividly, it’s got very little to do with the story I started on the way into work that day. Here’s what I actually wrote down:
“Immortal super hero has retired, and is anonymously running a hole-in-the-wall biker bar on the New Mexico border. Breaking up a fight at the front door, he muses that no matter what the era, someone always has something to prove.”
What, you say? Where’s the paragliding? Where’s the giant lizards? What’s up with the rocks?
As a writer, it’s my responsibility to tell you that all of that stuff is absolute garbage. It’s scenery, not story. It’s flashy, and to be fair taking on a dinosaur with a pair of fist sized rocks sounds like a lot of fun. But it’s ultimately empty. Because there’s only one thing that matters from that dream.
A cowboy walking down a dusty road, kicking at rocks because he doesn’t know how to do anything else.
Story is about characters, and without a good one, you might as well stay asleep. This particular dream will stay with me a very long time. The act of summarizing its essential elements keeps it alive, even though I didn’t write down the cool bits until just now. Dreams are memories we don’t understand, of events which may never happen in places we may never go.
Stories are accounts of events we haven’t thought to imagine yet. If you ask me why I write, I’ll tell you that, “somebody has to, and I’ve forgotten how to do anything else.”
Which leads me to the first line of my new short story. It took me a while to come to it, because I had to write the middle parts before I understood the beginning. I had to know that cowboy, understand why he does what he does. Feel the things he feels when he looks at the world. So I end today’s post with a beginning, and a hope that I haven’t bored you overmuch.
“Buck? You better get out front, we got some more coming.”