Thursday Writing Prompt No. 28

This brass control mechanism for a trolley car at the Baltimore Streetcar Museum has some interesting lettering and texture. The patent dates on the left are for the late 1800s.

Yes, the Thursday Writing Prompt is a day late. I’m so sorry, but I hope today’s writing exercise will make up for it.

Today I’d like you to think about recurring dreams. Do you have any of those? It’s not always the exact same dream, but the theme is the same. For instance, I sometimes have dreams where I’m in a parking garage just driving around trying to find the exit. I can’t find my way out and I’m getting aggravated. This dream sometimes takes on another form, in which I’m trying to use my phone and I keep pressing the wrong number keys and I have to hang up and start over. What both of these dreams have in common is the emotion of frustration: I’m trying to do something and I can’t quite get it done. It’s not an outside person or event that is keeping me from success, it’s something that I can’t manage on my own. And that makes me frustrated. I assume that the dream means I’m trying to figure out something in real life or wrestle with some emotional problem.

Supposedly your subconscious keeps working on problems even when your conscious mind isn’t thinking about them,  and so the idea is that dreams are one way that our subconscious minds communicate with us. What this means for you as a writer is that writing a dream sequence for one of your characters can be a useful way of adding some background material into your story without necessarily doing an info dump. For those of you who aren’t familiar with that term, an info dump is basically a long stretch of narrative where you have no dialogue or action but plenty of description. Info dumps aren’t necessarily bad, but they can disrupt the pacing of a novel and turn some readers off.

So here’s today’s writing prompt: write a dream sequence for one of your characters in which he or she is trying to come to grips with some problem that you’ve already put into the story. For instance, you have a story in which the two main characters are going to get a divorce, but they don’t want to do it until after the holidays because they don’t want to get involved in family arguments. This tension between wanting to keep the rest of the family happy — or at least, at arm’s length — while not wanting to be together is very stressful for both people. Pick one of them and make them dream about their feelings.

The dream sequence actually doesn’t even have to make it into your story in full. Write it for yourself, for background. Get to know the character a little more. And if it makes sense, include the dream or have the character refer to it somehow in your story.