I Dreamt of Someone I Once Loved

February 1, 2012

Clipart by niznoz licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

Where to begin?

If I were to ask you to take the title of this blog post and run a writing exercise using it as your prompt, a line to get you started writing, do you think you could do it if you couldn’t write about yourself? Do you think you could shut off your own life and get something down on the page that had very little to do with your own current or past circumstances?

If you are a married person, could you come up with something that has nothing to do with your spouse or your history together? The best work comes from you looking outside yourself, while still looking inward for sense memories. And it’s an easier thing to do than you’d think.

Empathy. That’s what’s required to take yourself out of your own way so you can write work that isn’t all about you. Think of it as sharing the feelings or situations of someone else.  When you look at the synonyms for the word ‘share’ (go on look it up. I’ll wait) one synonym for it is divide.

Think of that; divide as in split. As in only using half of you and coming up with something that isn’t you for the other half of what you are writing.

As in, writing about how someone else would react or feel about a given premise: like dreaming of someone they once loved.

We talked last time about how it takes a moment of leaving yourself to really get a voice of your characters on the page.

Being yourself, you’ll get a lot of ‘you’ in there until you let go enough to hear only ‘them’ in their words.

Well, in a way this is continuation of that point.

Most novices, given any type of prompt will fall into writing about themselves. And their work is very journal-like. Journals about you are a form of autobiography. And autobiography is not fiction. I started a pretty solid story with a prompt I was once given in a writing workshop. I managed to get two paragraphs down before time was up. And then we went around the group for folks who wanted to read their work out loud. Except for one person and me, everyone had written about themselves.  It’s a natural way to begin. But it’s not fiction.

The prompt was ‘First thing in the morning’ here’s something like what we kept hearing around the table:

First thing in the morning all I have to do is get up and write my page. I tell myself this every morning and yet I can’t seem to ever follow through. I reassure myself I will tomorrow and I’m building up to it. Am I lacking the will or am I unable to do it at all? Instead of doing what I need to do or want to do I end up wandering into the kitchen, getting some coffee and then I’m off and running through my day.

89 words and 11 were, I, my, or myself, and not in a character’s voice either. Not much sharing, as in divide or split, there.

  • Does the above look or feel like your writing?
  • Want to bring things more to life?
  • Want to get away from exercises like this and get into telling a story?
  • Want to hear a prompt like “First thing in the morning…” or “I dreamt of someone I once loved” and end up with something that isn’t about you, but is shared-fiction (isn’t all about you) about a story you want to tell (laced with your sense memories)?

If you ask yourself these following questions, you may come up with responses kind of like these, here’s an example.

Does the paragraph mean anything?

No, it doesn’t mean much now, at least not the way I left it, at least nothing I can see.

 Can you use this for a character Study?

I can probably use this for a girl who is bored with her job, but can’t let herself take up writing for a living. Or a guy who got a new journal from his girlfriend for his birthday -maybe she’s a real artsy type—and he’s trying to score.

Can you mold it into a piece of Dialog?

It might work for internal dialog, how she talks to put herself down on the way to her sister’s house or hey—how about what she says to a shrink or a best friend? Yeah.

 Can it be expanded into a scene or a hunk of narrative?

The wandering into the kitchen and getting coffee is a good part. I can show more with descriptions. How the kitchen looks, things like that. Maybe the guy can be talking to his girl over coffee on the weekend, when they’re together and she gets on his case ‘cause the journal she gave him is still empty.

After reading this blog, try the prompt in the title.  Let’s hear from you in the comments if you feel you’ve made any kind of breakthroughs over your usual first efforts. Heck, let’s hear from you even if you’re frustrated, and not sure what you’re doing yet, too.

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4 Responses to “I Dreamt of Someone I Once Loved”

  1. Kate Warren Says:

    Love this post. I tried the exercise and wrote from the point of view of a man (always a challenge). Here’s what I got:

    “I dreamt of someone I once loved; of her soft brown hair, sliding through my fingers, the feel of her skin beneath my palm, the changing colors in her eyes, following the shifts of her mood.

    I dreamt of the wonder we shared, discovering life together, of the happiness we felt for oh, so brief a time.

    Then came the end, swift and violent. A torrent of burning feelings, made worse by the raging storm outside, trapping two hurt and angry people within too small a space.

    I dreamt of the frantic longing to keep her with me, the struggle to decide whether I could sacrifice myself, my truth, to appease the fury within this woman I had grown to feel I needed as I needed breath. Terrified of failure, I said nothing. When the rain stopped, she walked out of my life. I have not seen her since…except in dreams.”

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