Dreaming Your Characters

Dreaming Your Characters

It finally happened. I’ve heard of it from other writers, but I’d never had the experience myself before now.

I dreamed my characters.

Not only that, but I was writing them. It was an odd, but thrilling experience.

dreaming woman

When we dream, our brain does this thing we call sleep spindles. As tuck.com describes them: “sleep spindles are sudden bursts of oscillatory brain activity . . . that occur during stage 2 of light sleep. These brainwaves are called sleep spindles because of how they look when printed out on an EEG reading.”

Scientists have linked these sleep spindles to areas of the brain that have been used during the day. So if you do a task for a prolonged period of the day like sewing, teaching a class, shooting hoops, mindless factory work, or writing then your brain “practices” this activity at night in your sleep, giving you sleep spindles in the exact same area of the brain.

Those who sleep talk are oftentimes acting out their sleep spindles. My wife, for example, is a frequent sleep-talker. She is almost always teaching, admonishing kids to quit goofing around, or gabbing with other educators in her sleep.

I imagine that since I’ve been writing even more each day than last year, that my brain has been spending ample time exercising my writing muscles while I sleep.

Dream Catcher

Here’s the thing about sleep spindles and your sleep talking dreams: you shouldn’t be able to remember them. It’s only your rapid eye movement (REM sleep) that you remember. These are typically the more exciting dreams where you’re trying to find something, accomplish a task, get somewhere, are maybe flying, or (if it’s a nightmare) trying to get away from something. In fact, when we talk about dreams and dreaming, we’re almost always talking about REM sleep.

So, while I’ve been brain spindling it up with an increase of 2 to 3 more hours a day at the writing desk this year, it’s still surprising to see my characters come to life in my dreams. While it’s most likely that I was in REM sleep, just the manner of my dream makes me wonder if I hadn’t somehow managed to remember a sleep spindle dream. If I did, then my writing sleep spindles look pretty cool.

sleep spindles

I won’t give every detail, but here’s the gist of the dream: I was dreaming about two of my characters—the two which are the principle characters of the current chapter I’m writing.

Jazzy and Miles were at a white wrought-iron table in an outdoor cafe, and Jazzy was being offered alcohol. I wasn’t in the dream, but I could hear myself narrating what was happening in exactly the same manner that I hear myself think when I write. The scene had to do with whether Jazzy would accept the alcoholic drink or not due to her Christian beliefs which don’t forbid alcohol but do frown on it in practice.

Then my dream switched to a scene with Maha and a more minor character. It’s a parallel scenario with Maha at a wooden table in at a bar and restaurant in the heart of Delhi. In this scene, Maha is having the same issue, except her Islamic beliefs don’t allow her to drink alcohol at all. I again hear my voice narrating the scene and the actions. Like with Jazzy, I can see my character fully, both from a distance and up close. Her face is troubled because she’s in a delicate situation of appearing rude if she doesn’t accept the drink but will be sinning if she does.

Then, suddenly, a line comes to mind that has to do with Miles back at the previous scene. The dream jumps over to Jazzy and Miles who are sitting at the same outdoor table. This one beautiful line flows out of me so intensely that I see it being written in my handwriting at the bottom of the scene below their table. I don’t see my hand, I just see the words appearing in my unique chicken scratch. After this, the dream goes immediately back to Maha’s dilemma, and I wake up right before I’m about to narrate what she decides to do.

Note: neither of these exact scenes appear in my book, but the characters I envisioned do exist in my mind. What was so cool was that they appeared exactly as I picture them. In fact, they seemed even more vivid and lifelike in my dream than they do when I’m writing their story. They looked much more human. The sweat on their brows, the pores on their faces were all clear when the dream was examining them closely.

It was a crazy positive experience that tells me I’m doing something right. And that thing is writing. If I’m writing enough in the day that I spend time writing in my sleep, this means I’m really giving myself over to the thing that I want to do with my life, which is bring a book into existence through words in my mind being transferred onto a page.

Let me know if you’ve ever dreamed about your characters in the comments below.

book and brain

Notes:
All photos except the sleep spindle graph are from Pixabay. The graph is from Goodnights.rest
I also want to make it clear that sleep spindles appear to do more than help us learn. We’re actually still learning about them. Sleep has always fascinated me, and I think sleep spindles and the unconscious processes of learning are some of the most amazing aspects of unconsciousness—even more interesting than REM sleep. What I’ve written above is what I remember about sleep spindles. So do your own research to see what’s new and what other studies might have to say in agreement or opposition to sleep spindle learning.

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2018 Challenge Halfway Point

2019 Challenge Halfway Point

I gave myself a challenge for 2018, and I’m at the halfway point. I challenged myself to start a series on Medium and to post to that series once a week. What I primarily write is fiction, so I decided to have my series follow me as I wrote a dialogue-only short story collection.

Idea Flash

The idea germinated from two unpublished flash-length manuscripts I had in my computer’s story folder. Both were a single, long paragraph. The first was totally in dialogue, with the speakers differentiated through the use of dialect and italics. This story was “Expire,” and I always knew it’d be the first piece in some future collection; I just didn’t know what that collection would be. It’s the first of my dialogues for many reasons. Primarily though, it’s because the content and form of the story both explore the complications of communication through storytelling. Meaning is difficult to convey, especially when you’re working with literary fiction where there may be multiple meanings or the form can be odd, experimental, and artfully crafted.

The second story was a monologue originally designed as a page-length long sentence. I pulled it up, proofread, changed some things within the extant text, added a second speaker to comment on the focus of the long sentence, and — voila! — I had another dialogue.

And so with these two as my base, I challenged myself to write a collection of creative conversations — dialogues all. A challenge not only because of the tight weekly schedule, but also because of the constraints of the form. Dialogues are more or less constrained by an inability to indicate inner-thoughts, background information, motivation, or describe characters and setting (at least I can’t do any of these things without verbalizing them, which isn’t always possible or desirable in this form). While constraining, much like a choosing a poetic form to constrain one’s writing, restricting myself has also been freeing; I haven’t been able to choose from the infinite options normally available to a writer of fiction. Having infinite choices eliminated is in its own way liberating. While I can be experimental and push boundaries to a degree, I still know one thing: it’s all got to be dialogue.

writer silhouette

So, having stuck with the terms of the challenge I set (only dialogue and at least once a week), now that I’m halfway through, I want to reflect on what I’ve done thus far. Specifically, 1) How have I done? 2) What would I do differently? 3) How will I proceed? 4) Will I do it again?

 

How have I done?

I started the series by posting an introduction the first week of January. Every week after that I’ve dutifully put out a dialogue. So I’ve succeeded in that respect. But I haven’t succeeded in every respect.

One of the reasons I gave myself this challenge (outside of forcing myself to complete fiction writing projects quickly) was to build my fan base by putting writing life out there, letting people see the writing journey as it happens. While I’ve gotten a few more blog followers just from being more active on WordPress where I’ve also posted weekly about the latest dialogue, my Medium stats indicate that I haven’t really increased my readership for my fiction — and it’s my fiction reader fan base I am attempting to grow. I’ve done something not quite right. My readership remains dismally low. So low, in fact, that I count it as nonexistent.

Dialogue series stats

 

What would I do different?

The first thing I would have done differently is to have chosen a platform for my updates other than the Medium series platform. There are myriad issueswith the series platform, including accessibility problems and an issue with subscribers actually getting notifications when a series is updated. I also figured out that series have even worse read ratios and interactions from readers than your typical self-posted article. It’s really only publications who opt to use Medium as their parent platform that give most writers any real chance of visibility (two of my dialogues were sent and accepted into Medium publications, The Creative Cafe and Lit Up).

So even without accessibility issues and a broken notification system for series, I may not have found it any easier to build a fan base or increase readership had I simply been self-posting updates or even stories as regular Medium articles. As it is, my stats indicate that I am — though not intentionally — writing these series updates solely for myself. No one else views them. I’ve added to my oeuvre and kept to the strictures of my challenge, but the public journey hasn’t brought in new readers like I thought it would.

While there are no guarantees that another platform would have gotten me more readers, I think the series platform simply doesn’t work for writers trying to build their platform around it, though those with an existent platform could arguably succeed with it. Writing for publishers on Medium seems like the best approach if you’re going to do Medium. Could I choose again, I’m not sure what I would go with (Medium articles, Wattpad, solely my blog, etc.) but it certainly would not be the Medium series platform.

door choices.jpg

How will I proceed?

I am failing to gain readers even as I weekly come closer to completing a short story collection, so why continue to write updates at all if I don’t have anyone to read what I’ve written?

As Rosie Leizrowice, one of my favorite bloggers, wrote: “If you love the process, you react the same way to failure as you do to success.”

I am successfully writing; I am failing to reach readers. I don’t care. I love the process. So I will carry on doing exactly what I am doing. More or less.

Vision Planning Strategy Process GOAL puzzle

The one thing I’ll do differently does not change my process, but is itself another process. Since no one is really taking this writers journey with me, I am going to seriously start seeking publication in zines, magazines, journals, and literary reviews where allowed.

While the series itself is just acting as a kind of one-stop place for me to easily view my challenge updates, the process stays intact. The process has allowed me to create at an accelerated rate, far surpassing my normal leisurely speed of writing where I tend to setting aside what I’ve written, only to come back, edit more, and set aside again, practically ad infinitum. And since I’m not reaching readers with the challenge itself, maybe I can reach readers and publishers at the same time.

 

Will I do it again?

Not exactly. While I love the process, I also need to learn from the process, whether that process led to success or failure or (as in this case) a mix of both. What I’ve learned is that imposing deadlines on myself is a fantastic motivator to work more quickly and cleanly. I think knowing this will help me when I turn my attention to planned future collections of stories and essays. I might even be able to apply the most positive parts of this process to future novels.

What I won’t do again is give myself extra work without more assurance that it will pay off in some tangible way. While meeting obligations when under the scrutiny of the public eye is a powerful motivator, I’ve found that without the public eye or an expectant readership I’m still finding success in sticking to the deadlines of my challenge. Deadlines that — I came to realize a while ago — are really for myself.

I’ve also realized that the information-addicted internet culture doesn’t really need me to add my personal writing challenge to the digital cacophony. If I want my words read, I’d do better to stick to the traditional routes of finding readers through the types of publishers whose subscribers have the temperament and attention my words deserve.

So I will be cultivating a process — a process that includes setting deadlines to complete a story, a chapter, or to have a work ready to send to a potential publisher. And you can be sure that once this challenge is done, I won’t be writing another book of dialogues. But the stories and the words, oh yes, they will keep coming.

dialogues

Interview with Sarah Werner

Interview with Sarah Werner

I am happy to have my first live interview with author and podcaster, Sarah Werner. It was a ton of fun. We met up at this ultramodern internet marketing company Sarah worked at (she’s since joined the ranks of creatives who work at their art full time) and sat down in front of a microphone to record. We chatted, pausing at one point for what sounded like some stellar high heels making their way across the floor above us. I had recently been reading a lot of author biographies and misremembered at what age Joseph Conrad began to write (he was a late writer, not an early writer). But that’s okay, Sarah left it in there because authors—even studious ones—aren’t perfect. We talked about the struggles of being a professional writer, what it takes to conjure the muse, and writer’s block. And when I left, I left with some stellar swag. Thanks, Sarah!

Check it out here: Coffee Break 050: Randal Greene

You can also play the podcast in iTunes here.

Sarah Werner Write Now PodcastAbout the interviewer: Sarah Werner is the brains and voice behind Write Now, a podcast for aspiring writers. Coffee Break is a sister podcast, part of the larger Write Now family, all about conversations of creativity (especially the writerly kind). Sarah is also a fiction writer, public speaker, ghostwriter, and an article contributor for Forbes.

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Interview with Jeff Leisawitz

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Author, award-winning musician/producer, internationally distributed filmmaker, college professor, photographer, public speaker, and private consultant Jeff Leisawitz has a unique Q&A with me up on his Not F*ing Around 7 Questions of Creativity web series.

 

Check it out here: Randal Eldon Greene — Author

JeffL.jpegAbout the interviewer: Jeff Leisawitz is the author of  Not F*ing Around—The No Bullsh*t Guide for Getting Your Creative Dreams Off the Ground.
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Interview with Lynda Dickson

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Supporter of indie authors and head honcho at Books Direct, Lynda Dickson, hosted an interview and excerpt from Descriptions of Heaven.

Check it out here: Interview and Excerpt

lyndadicksonAbout the interviewer: Lynda Dickson runs Books Direct, a website where readers can find out about great new books and giveaways, and where authors can promote their books.

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