Friday, February 19, 2010

Dreams and Narration

I had a dream. This dream occurred two nights ago and I still remember most of it quite vividly. It was not a normal dream. It involved violence and my own death. But weirdest of all, it contained voice-over narration.

I was living somewhere I've never been before with a roommate I do not know. I think he had an afro, blond. The dream gave me the feeling that we were in Colorado maybe, maybe Denver. My roommate and I ran a business, of what sort I cannot recall, in the lower story of our house, or apartment or whatever it was. Three men walked into our shop as we were locking up for the day. We told them politely that we were closing and that we couldn't help them. Two of them promptly walked back out the door. But one did not. The big guy. And he was big, I'm talking at least 6' 6" and built, perhaps Scandinavian in heritage. It got to the point that I was physically trying to push him toward the door, and those of you who know me, know that I'm no taller than 5' 6" on a good day.

Things got physical. We began to grapple with each other. The fight felt personal, like not only was this guy a mean guy, we hated each other for other reasons. I think I knew him. Eventually, the fight went to the floor, I landed on top of him and began to punch him in the face mercilessly, tirelessly. I paused a couple of times and asked him if he was ready to leave. He said no and I continued to hit him. Blood was spraying everwhere, on the floor and the bookshelves we had landed near (I inspected the stains later in the dream). It was like this scene out of "Fight Club" (beware, link is violent). Eventually, the guy was out cold. The roommate and I dragged him out the door and left him unconscious in the snow on the porch. We locked the door.

I was proud of myself. Glowing. But I was also scared. What would happen when he wakes? I remember the roommate and I discussing this in worried tones, as well as reliving the fight, but I don't remember specifics. I remember going to bed afraid to hear him banging on the door.

But when I woke the next morning he was still lying on the porch, although it looked like he had shifted. Here the dream gets fuzzy. We attended a wedding and reception, but I only remember bits from the reception. I bragged about the triumph over the "Scandinavian." At one point the bride came up to me and told me that my friends and I couldn't party afterwords because we had to hang out with some of the really little kids (I have no idea why). All of this is just fragments in my memory.

Things clear up for the ending. I've returned home and the big guy was not on the porch. He left, great. I sat down to do something, maybe read, maybe get on the computer, not important. I sound comes from the open room behind me and there stands the "Scandinavian." I stand to face him, but he apologizes and regrets being a jerk. I apologize for tearing his face up. We shake hands.

Enter narrator. As we shake hands a voice, not in any reality present, begins to describe what is happening. A male voice. It describes the hand shake and how the big guy's grib firms. His thumb is beginning to dig into the side of my hand, he says. And then the man swings something, it could be anything, and strikes my skull, thereby sending brains flying. The narrator describes it all. I have just enough time to realize I've been tricked and that I'm dead when everything goes black. I wake up and within 20 seconds my alarm went off.

I wish I could remember everything that the narrator said. I wish I had at least one direct quote, but I don't. All I know is that there was a narrator. I'm not disturbed by the fact that I died. I'm disturbed that someone was describing it. I can't find anything, at least via a Google search, about narrated dreams. I've typed enough now, but will go into some of my hypotheses on the next post.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Cormac McCarthy and a Discussion of Motivation

No one does anything without a reason. Even if you sit at home and do nothing it is with a purpose: to do nothing. Therefore it is important that our characters have motivation to do what they do. I remember one of the staple questions in fiction workshops was "Why?" Why is the character doing this? But since we are good writers we don't just want to write, "Jack killed the neighbor because he was mad." We want to show why he did it. The reader should be able to discern a reasonable motivation for a character's action.

Currently, I'm reading "Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West" by Cormac McCarthy. The book is about a band of renegade cowboys who travel through Mexico slaughtering Apaches and Mexicans. It's not a story for the faint-hearted and the violence will make you gag more than once. On the surface it's about the racial hatred and land-ownership disputes in the 1840's and 50's in west Texas.

I thought I understood this basis of the motivation, a sign of the times, hatred between Texas and Mexico. But still the violence (killing women, children and infants; scalping them all) didn't quite seem justified. I felt frustrated and was beginning to feel McCarthy just wanted to write about violence. And then I came to a particular passage last night.

One of the band of "warriors" simply referred to as "the judge", a leader among the men, had a habit of collecting samples of the land they passed through. He would kill birds and stuff them, press leaves of newly discovered plants and sketch the landscape. When one of the others asked him why, he explained:

"Whatever exists, he said. Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent....These anonymous creatures, he said, may seem little or nothing in the world. Yet the smallest crumb can devour us. Any smallest thing beneath yon rock out of men's knowing. Only nature can enslave man and only when the existence of each last entity is routed out and made to stand naked before him will he be properly suzerain of the earth."

He goes on for a little while and sums up thusly, "The freedom of birds is an insult to me. I'd have them all in zoos."

After reading that it came to me. This is all about control and dominance. To these men the Indians and the Mexicans are nothing but something that is beneath them, anonymous creatures. The world will not be theirs until each Apache is discarded and scalped for collection. No life but their own is sacred. In saying all this the judge exposed the motivation for the entire group's actions.

And that is what we are all after, isn't it? Control. To varying degrees, of course. Some of us want to be commanders of our destiny. Some just want to know that they can control where they are sleeping from night to night. So where is your character's sense of control, and how much do they want? Where is your sense of control, and how much do you want?