Charlotte Rains Dixon  

Guest Post, Part Two: I Haven’t Dreamed a Dream Yet

As I told you yesterday, I met Cindy Corpier at the Spalding MFA spring residency in Louisville, Kentucky last May.  She began her two-part series on dreaming and writing on Tuesday, and here I happily present Part Two.

I Haven't Dreamed a Dream…Yet, Part Two 

by Cindy Corpier

Dreams can show the depth of a character’s
.  Edna O’Brien’s
story, “Number 10,” tells the story of Mrs. Reinhardt whose denial of her
husband’s affair is so potent that her subconscious gives her the key,
literally and figuratively—yet her yearning for a return of their intimacy
prevents her from accepting the knowledge.  O’Brien begins, “Everything began to be better for Mrs.
Reinhardt from the moment she began to sleepwalk.  Every night her journey yielded a fresh surprise.”  What a delicious opening.  The story moves between Mrs.
Reinhardt’s vivid dream life in which she digs up a gold key and her daytime
life in which she pulls the exact key from her husband’s coat pocket but
doesn’t tell him.  The dreams move
into a beautiful house with a brass bed overhung with a lace canopy and “the
other things that she had always wanted.”  She has erotic dreams that leave her limp next to a
disinterested “solid mass of sleep.” 

O’Brien uses
dreams to vividly portray Mrs. Reinhardt’s inner life and in this case frames
the entire story around the contrast between her bland “real” life and the life
she desires.  What makes the story
so interesting is the intersection between the two and how O’Brien lets the
reader know the truth Mrs. Reinhardt resists and re-imagines into a happier

Near the end of Divisidero, Michael Ondaatje (Yes, we’re
back to him) also uses a dream sequence to protect a character from harsh
reality by letting him imagine a happier ending.  Lucien Segura is a writer who returns from war to a home in
total darkness.  He hopes to see
his neighbor’s wife, Marie-Neige, a woman he has loved for many years.  When he goes inside their dark,
unheated farmhouse, he lights a candle and finds Marie-Neige fevering in
bed.  He cares for her through the
night, talks to her, wraps her in warm sheets and feeds her soup.  Except, he doesn’t do any of those things.
 “He woke in the morning, his head
on the kitchen table, his eye against the blue of it . . . “  Lucien learns she has been dead for
months.  But her death lights a
creative fire within him and ultimately leads him to break from his
family.  Ondaatje uses the dream to
dual purpose in showing Lucien’s deep love and to galvanize him into
life-changing action—that starts with the writing of a series of books.          

In All The Truth, Laura Brodie’s second
novel after the dreamlike The Widow’s
, one awful night changed everything for five-year-old Maggie.   Years later, she is haunted by
dreams of that night’s events and of yearning for the mother she lost.   Maggie is introduced as a
teenager whose nightmares send her back to her psychiatrist.  By revealing the content of Maggie’s
dreams in a riveting first chapter, Brodie engenders immediate sympathy for
her.  Because the character is a
reticent one, showing her emotions through the device of a dream works well in
the story.

TaosDreaming connects the writer to her readers
.  Here I use dreaming to mean, as John
Gardner says in The Art of Fiction

. . . whatever the
genre may be, fiction does its work by creating a dream in the reader’s mind .
. . if the effect of the dream is to be powerful, the dream must probably be
vivid and continuous—vivid because if
we are not quite clear about what it is we’re dreaming . . . our emotion and
judgments must be confused, dissipated, or blocked; and continuous because a repeatedly interrupted flow of action must
necessarily have less force than an action directly carried through from its
beginning to its conclusion. (31) 

How does a writer
get to the place that makes possible the vivid, continuous dream?  Robert Olen Butler in From Where You Dream describes his view
of the process:

You’re dreamstorming, inviting the images of
moment-to-moment experience through your unconscious.  It’s very much like an intensive daydream, but a daydream
you are and are not controlling. 
You let it go, but it’s coming through language that you’re putting on a
screen . . . The state of communion with your unconscious—the zone I’m trying
to describe—is absolutely essential, absolutely
to writing well in this art form. (31)  

(Yes, both quotations are found on
the page 31 of their respective book. 
Not a dream.)  Butler
reminds us that fiction is about three things:  human beings, human emotion and desire.  The writer must see, hear, smell, taste
and feel the story moment by moment in order to evoke these reactions in the

Dreams inspire stories.  Here are five famous books purportedly
inspired by dreams:  Twilight (Stephenie Meyer), Misery (Stephen King), Frankenstein (Mary Shelley), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis
Stevenson) and Jonathan Livingston
(Richard Bach).  I’ve
not read Twilight and couldn’t sit
through more than a few minutes of the first movie, but the story of Stephenie
Meyer’s dream inspiration made me perk up.  Stephen King’s dream happened during a flight to England and
pushed him to write the first forty to fifty pages as soon as he landed.  What each of the five anecdotes share
is not just a dream, but an account of massive creative energy unleashed by the
dream.  Each writer grabbed it,
held on and wrote like hell.  

In completing Sena’s
assignment, I found that by focusing on my dreams I remembered more than I
first thought, including one that has definite scary story potential.  I haven’t dreamed a Mary Shelley
masterpiece, but like Stephen Tyler says:

Dream on, dream on, dream on,
Dream until your dream come true

Have you dreamed a dream that led to writing?  Please share!

Works Cited:

Laura.  All The Truth.  New
York:  Berkley Books, 2012.

Butler, Robert
Olen.  From Where You Dream
New York:  Grove Press,

Gardner, John.  The
Art of Fiction
.  New York:  Vintage Books, 1991. 

Edna.   “Number 10.”  A
Fanatic Heart
.  New York:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984.  313-320.

Ondaatje, MichaelDivisidero.   New York:  Vintage International, 2008.

 Cindy Corpier is a recent MFA in Fiction graduate from
Spalding University.  She lives in
Dallas, Texas where she practices Nephrology.  She’s never gone on a bad vacation, still believes she’ll
one day speak French fluently and lives with an incredibly patient husband
along with two fairly impatient orange cats.

 All images by Cindy Corpier.

0 thoughts on “Guest Post, Part Two: I Haven’t Dreamed a Dream Yet

  1. Writermummy.wordpress.com

    My first self-published novel, Dragon Wraiths, came to me in a dream. It wasn’t like anything I had written before (or since), as it was a different genre and in the first person present rather than my usual third person. I didn’t manage to capture more than the opening line by the time I’d wrestled past two kids to tap out words in my phone. But I wrote 30k words based on that first flash of inspiration. The rest took a bit more effort!

    I wish I could remember more dreams, as I often wake with a hint that I’ve lived through an epic story in my sleep.

  2. J.D.

    A very interesting post. I try to fall asleep each night hoping to dream about the work I have in progress. It seems like a sound strategy but it doesn’t work very well. But isn’t life more important than writing? The dreams that come when my dream self is free to play, those I can’t write. I can probably dress them up, put a bow tie on the pig so to speak, but that wouldn’t be the same. Instead, I cling to them, enjoy them. They come less often as time passes. I pray that they will never die.

  3. Charlotte Dixon

    That is such a great story!  I once had a short story that came to me in a dream, but alas that only happened once.  I, like you, would love to access my dreams more often, which is why I love Cindy's piece so much.

  4. Charlotte Dixon

    I dunno, J.D., do you really think life is more important than writing?  Just kidding!  I haven't tried that technique of asking for a dream about my WIP for awhile–will have to do it and see what happens.

  5. Don Williams

    Dreams, in the past, have certainly helped me a lot. Sometimes what seemed impossible became possible through a dream, but not always! I’ve have awakened to jot down some incredible writing ideas from my dreams only to wake up and what looked so sensible, became on second thought totally incomprehensible junk! Dreams have their place but I wouldn’t bet the farm on them.

  6. Charlotte Dixon

    Maybe it was incomprehensible because you couldn't read your writing?  That's happened to me.  I have a hard time reading my writing even when I've written it while I'm wide awake, though.

  7. Sandra Pawula

    This is so rich, Cindy! I haven’t had an entire novel be born from a dream, but dreams and fragments from the in-between state before waking often infuse my insights and thus my writing. Thanks for this inspiration.

  8. Leder D'Main

    Kindle update:
    Well I submitted 4 singles to Kindle and I’ve received 4 of the prerequisite “not right for us at this time” replies. I’m thinking that maybe my stories are too Hemingwayish or that I need to throw in more Zombies. Boo hoo—I have two more that I can submit but I’m sure that my rubber duckies won’t float cuz the water has drained from the bathtub…

  9. Charlotte Dixon

    Well, you can always submit them elsewhere–or how about publishing them yourself?  That's another way to do it.  And send those other two in, you never know!

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