Friday, October 1, 2010

From Life to Fiction: Part III The Daydream

During this series of Life to Fiction we've discussed a few springboards: generations and geography. It seems only fitting that we should moved into the imagined. Daydreams. On those rare occasions when I've got the total free time, it is the absolute idle time I love to let my mind wander. Sometimes when I'm at work, I let the daydreams crank up and go too. Sometimes I'm in a bright red Saturn Sky with the top down, the rock 'n roll booming at ear bleed volume, and the views roll right on by. In my daydreams I am millionaire, a beach comber; Baudelaire, Bowie; a jet pilot, a submarine bomber; a movie star, a gypsy-pirate. I can be anything. With this strange change of perspective I can buy anything, see anything, be anyone. It's a nice diversion from the modern life I sometimes I wish were somehow different. Of course, as writers, we like to think of life in different terms. In the words of Primo Levi: “It's human nature to think a neighbor's problems are lesser than our own, that our neighbor's wife is more alluring.”

Pick a place, a daydreamed place. Next pick an outlandish character, and then see through that character's eyes. Next pick a conflict, any conflict, and start your writing day there. For successful fiction there needs to be some sort of conflict. You cannot just pick a recent lotto winner and then let that millionaire fade into a sunset painted with Ben Franklins. Something must happen.

Daydreams are free. They wander the road of imagination through the trees and then to the beach only to wander back, upstream, and end at the lunch counter of a nearly abandoned diner reserved for the factory workers who build Somnia Terra.

In point, I often manufacture characters who are aspects of who I might want to be. In a recent story, I build a set of circumstances around a few characters who represent some aspect of a desired life. I began with a juggler, yes a juggler, for some strange reason I would love to be able to juggle. I'm clumsy and lacking the patience to learn such a skill. I added a welder. If my life were different, I might like to be a welder like my artist friend Mathias. I then added a violinist. Can you imagine the years of learning and discipline a violinist endures for success. A laborer-bum who starts his day with a tumbler of gin rounds out the cast. Yes, I wish I could start the day with gin. The last character, and the one who truly makes the cast of characters complete is a shut in comic book artist who escapes his room only once a month. Now, I must admit that each one of these characters are flat when superficially described. But each one comes from their own daydream. They stayed in daydream only long enough for me to consider them more fully: what are their wants and desires, what is the back story, and lastly why are bound together? These are the questions they must answer as I write them.

The conflict? Well, there are so many. I have them living together in an old abandoned factory in a nasty part of town. Those of you familiar with Denver, Colorado will know this nasty part of town as the no-mans-land near the rail heads up north where all the factories have become home for rats, spray paint taggers and children who like to throw rocks through old windows. The place is ripe for conflict. The place represents outsourced labor, free trade and the death of industrialism. Then in its state of disrepair we have the kinds of people who might moved into it: vagrants, crooks on the lam, artists, in short people living marginally.

What does all this have to do with the daydream? Well, nothing, I guess. Nothing other than these elements came to me while wandering a daydream. I daydreamed these things because no one else made it for me whether in a novel or a movie. So, there it is.

Our imaginations need constant honing, constant maintenance. As children we are free to think about just about anything our intellects can conjure. I've heard about the child's imaginations from some of my teacher friends. The reason they stay in their jobs is the young people they work with. I'm not around any children, nor do I plan to ever be around any. Therefore, should I want that child's imagination as inspiration, I must do it for myself. I think the exercise of honing the imagination is key when it comes to developing the daydream. Further it once more to the writer's imagination.

I mentioned “The Cinnamon Shops” in Bruno Schulz's The Street of Crocodiles in the “Geography” post, and I think it needs a mention here too. The narrator in the entire novel is a child. I think Schulz makes his narrator do his biding, and the narrator stays true to a child's voice. Jerzy Kosinski does the same thing in The Painted Bird. If you haven't read The Painted Bird, please do and please read it during a sunny day. A great contrast between the two novels is simply that one has the imagination of a child who has yet to lose innocence, and the other has his innocence taken from him because of war. Interesting thoughts, and interesting imaginings, and the writing is good too.

But back to the daydream. Spend some idle time in the next few days and let your mind wander. You may or may not be able to just click your daily thought off and jump right in, but try it. As your daydreams develop and unfold in your mind, the process will be easier. As you let the dream develop, take note of the narrator. I'd bet the narrator of your daydream is an aspect of you, the imagineer. As you develop it more, take note of the elements or the landscapes of the dream. Then, remember to relax and enjoy it, take it in, live it. Where do you get the right to sit around and think and dream all day? You must have this sometimes for your development.

After the dream plays itself out somewhat, remember you must have fiction lens working before you can craft a story. Fiction has a beginning, a middle and an end. Fiction relies on conflict, and the resolution your characters find. And lastly, many times in fiction, literary fiction specifically, your piece is probably going to be character driven.

Good luck in the daydream. Good luck in the imagination development. Good luck with the child's eye. Good luck in all of it. And when you sit down to write, be disciplined, be clear, and have fun.

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