Can dreams make for brilliant writing?

I read once that James Cameron came up with the idea for The Terminator from a dream he had*. Stephen King came up for the idea of his novel Misery while asleep on a trans-Atlantic flight.

I have had some weird dreams in my life, and last night’s was no exception. Actor Ethan Suplee was about five times his normal size and had turned into an incorrigible ne’er-do-well who was terrorizing people. At the end of the dream a frightened rabbit swam away from him.

Other dreams I’ve had I think now it is best to write the details down when you wake up and put them into a fiction ideas notebook. You never know what began as a strange dream stemming from spicy food or from a lack of sleep can turn into a best-selling novel.

* Apparently, sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison had that dream also: he later successfully sued Cameron, arguing that The Terminator plagiarized several of his own short stories.

Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

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Breaking through writer’s block as I work on my novel, ‘Randy and Rhonda’

For me as a writer, it is very frustrating to have writer’s block. You have a great idea, write scores of pages and then hit a slump where you don’t know what happens next.

Stephen King, in his book On Writing: A Memoir on the Craft, tells of having to take a hiatus from his epic novel The Stand because he had accidentally twisted together several plot lines and didn’t know what happened next.

I am working on several fictional works, and last night I wrote about 1,000 words on my novel Randy and Rhonda. Here is what I can say: it is a Christian love story that has some frank discussions about sex and how many Christians do not know what “True Christianity” is. As I have written about 30 pages, I hit a snag.

And as I thought, I realized I could write this novel the way so many movies are made: out of sequence.

James Cameron said in an interview that the opening scene in The Terminator was actually one of the last scenes he filmed. It’s been said that John Dugan, who played Grandpa in the 1974 version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, disliked so much the process of wearing make-up to look like an old man that he requested both of his scenes be filmed back-to-back, even though they don’t take place until about halfway in the film and then towards the end. Though it reportedly took about 36 straight hours, his request was granted.

As I thought about this, I wondered, why not do the same thing in novel writing? 

So, last night I wrote several chapters ahead. I may also continue doing this as I try to work out my current snag. My plan is that as I piece later parts of the puzzle together, I will have a better idea how to write the current part where I am struggling.

We’ll see what happens.

Richard Zowie is a writer. Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

Zen in the Art of Writing: ‘On the Shoulders of Giants’

Maybe I’ve been working too much too lately or am just getting old (I’m 37), but I thought I’d posted this chapter commentary already. I haven’t, so here it goes…

Much of this chapter has to do with what was once a taboo genre of literature. Once dubbed inferior and not worthy of being read by those who desired to read fiction, science fiction has over the years slowly gained an acceptance. Currently, the top grossing movie of all time, Avatar, is science fiction.

Mr. Bradbury starts off this chapter with a reference to a poem of his about a boy in a semi-animatronic museum in the future. The boy stumbles upon Plato, Euripedes and Socrates.

Kids, Mr. B asserts, became teachers early on in this first time in history as they moved art and teaching “back in the form of pure illustration.” Sci-fi gives us a chance to ask “what if” and be creative.

When I think of some of my favorite sci-fi movies and books, I think of the “What if?” questions they answered…

What if man could design a pressurized space craft to enter into Jupiter and explore its oceans? (Ben Bova’s Jupiter)

What if artificial intelligence took over the world, lost a critical battle to humans and then invented time travel to try to kill the human resistant’s leader’s mother before he was ever born? (The Terminator)

What would it be like for humans in deep outer space with nothing to do but do scientific research? (Frederick Pohl’s Starburst)

What would happen if a corporation’s greed for profits almost allows a hostile lifeform to take over a ship and destroy the crew? (Alien)

What happens when robots do the unthinkable and start thinking for themselves? (Philip K. Dick’s Bladerunner, Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot and Ray Bradbury’s Marionettes, Inc.)

I wasn’t born until 1973, so I was pretty surprised to learn that in the 1920s and 1930s, there was no science fiction in school curriculum and few in any libraries. Even up to 1962 it was difficult, according to Mr. B, to find anything written by Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Alfred van Vogt or Bradbury.

Why was this? I defer to Mr. B, since he was an adult and aware back then. He believes the perception then was that facts and not fiction were worth reading. Fantasy literature was considered escapist and a waste of time.

But inevitably, kids grew more and more curious and wanted to read these books. This led to an explosion. Sci-fi flooded the market. Instead of being confined to pulp fiction magazines or paperbacks in dime stores, sci-fi graduated to hard cover and was soon in libraries and first-hand book stores.

More importantly, according to Mr. B, sci-fi brought with it new ideas that then turned into advances in technology. People read these books and get ideas. Perhaps someone long ago read Jules Verne’s book about traveling to the moon and thought, “Why can’t we travel to the moon?”

This is one reason why I’ve grown to love the fantasy science fiction rather than the “hard” science fiction. Hard bores me. I’ve tried to read a few of these books and am amazed: unless you have an advanced science degree in physics or engineering, you’re often lost. Too often far too much time is devoted to technical information while the story line is left to wither. I like the stories that ask “What if?” and let the imagination take them where they will.

Richard Zowie is a professional writer who likes reading science fiction. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.