#WritersLife: When Writers Dream of Characters in Their Novel

#WritersLife was the first thought I had when I woke.  But I couldn’t shake the deep depression taking control of me.  I felt an immense sadness.  It felt like I was so inadequate that I didn’t matter to anyone.  My life was so pointless and meaningless that no one would ever want to connect with me enough to care about my life.  My mind kept circling around about how shitty a human being I was and how it didn’t matter what I thought or felt.  My chest was heavy, shoulders sunken, and I could feel the length of my jaw pulling downward.  I had little energy.  Just enough to zombie through the last two days.

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And it started with a vivid dream about a character, Jimena, in my novel, Unsettled Between.

I’ve never had a reaction like this before.  I’ve dreamt about characters and scenes and concepts for novels or short stories before (often in the waking moment between sleep and full consciousness), but I’ve never had such an emotional reaction.  It’s really odd and I’m still feeling remnants of it now.  Yesterday was the worst of it.

I’m not an emotional person.  I get sad, but I don’t tend to linger in it to a point I would call depression.  I’ve been depressed before, but I tend to force myself into tasks that help alleviate those feelings.  So when this feeling grabbed me over the last two days it was very alien, like someone else had stepped inside my body and had taken over.

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The dream was about me interacting with a character, Jimena.  She’s not a major character in my novel but she’s important to certain stories in the collection.

In the dream, Jimena lead me from one place to another but it was almost like I was floating around her as opposed to her leading me.  It was like I took on her energy so she could act “normal” or front like she was okay.  I watched as she displayed happiness and confidence to people around her, but I carried her sadness.  That’s weird, isn’t it?  How could I carry sadness for her?

Another odd occurrence happened when I woke.  There was a lightening flash that lit up my bedroom.  It was so bright I thought it was storming outside.  We had rain the day before so I thought maybe storms had come in overnight.  But when I looked outside it was overcast but no storms.  The flash was like a strobe coming from inside my room–not outside.

Now I’ve carried this unbearable sadness with me for two days.  The depression is so harsh that I haven’t gotten on social media in the last two days.  I’m a junkie or have bouts of social media binges so going two days with no interest in social media is odd.  This is likely the case for many of us.

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Initially, I tried to work this out as some residual part of my past, like something Jungian I hadn’t addressed.  But then suddenly I realized the character goes through something in the novel that was emotionally challenging for her.  But I didn’t give it the emotional weight.  Meaning, maybe I wasn’t honest enough about how much she hurt.  I wish I could tell you what specifically I’m talking about in the novel, but I’m going to have to wait until it’s released before I can put the two together.

Ultimately, I feel like I didn’t do her character justice and she came to me in my dream to show me how she felt. That sounds odd, I know.  But I can’t make sense of why I’d have these emotions associated to that dream about this specific character.  It’s the only conclusion I can draw.

In fact, I had to write my agent, who received my most recent draft a couple weeks ago.  I told her about the dream, and she gave me the green light to go back into the novel and revise Jimena’s portion.  I do feel better now that I can revise to Jimena’s liking.  But what an interesting emotional ride.  As a writer, I sometimes feel like I know how to pull details from my psyche to write about.  But this is a first.

Have you dreamed about a character in one of your story lines?  If so, what was your experience?  A part of me is desperately searching for kindred spirits.  I hope I’m not alone in this.  I’m hoping this is one of those #WritersLife hashtag moments.

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17 Comments

  1. Oscar, I don’t know if you are familiar with the writings of Carl Jung. He coined the word “unconscious.” If not, a good book to start with is “Memories, Dreams and Reflections.”. The dream world is the door to our unconscious self – which is vast. You say that you are not an emotional person, so it makes perfect sense that repressed emotions would rise through vivid dreams. The more repressed the emotion, the more urgent the dream. To say that you feel like a different person or “possessed” by a different personality is a very telling thing. Without diving into the unconscious, we are confined to the world of the ego or consciousness, which is like the thin skin of the earth’s crust or the surface of the ocean covering the underworld. Dante had it right in “Inferno” If we don’t explore our unconscious, it haunts our dreams… which is the only reason I write.

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    1. That’s very resonant. I do know about Jung. I think he might be right in his examination of the unconscious. The dream certainly took me for a ride. I had never experienced anything like that before.

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  2. Kia ora Oscar. I belong to a writers group where some of the authors find themselves so led by their characters that they feel the character is in control of the story, not them. Their story writes itself almost outside the writer, if you know what I mean.

    As a rule, I don’t dream or don’t have any memory of dreams when I wake. But now and then, I experience a dream so vivid I find it difficult to separate it from reality and the residual feelings often leave me in a state of depression and low energy. I have no explanation and to be honest haven’t delved into it because it’s a rare occurrence. But perhaps it’s something inside of me that just has to get out.

    I wish you all the best in your journey.

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    1. It is a very odd feeling. Likewise, this is a rare occurrence for me. My first, in fact, but a conflicted whether I would like to have the feeling again. I liked how it pulled me deep into the psyche of this character but it was troubling to feel so depressed. I can’t say I felt so sad in my life before. And it was triggered in the oddest way, which compounds the experience. Well, here’s to the unknowing. And better yet, here’s to the finding out. Thank you, Wendy.

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  3. Nope, can’t say I’ve had any such experiences. My characters in my writing haven’t visited my dreams. Must be because I have not created fictional characters in a novel before. If I do, and they visit me while I am supposedly asleep, I think I will pay close attention, just as you did. You honored the message of your dream. Good for you! Closest I ever came was dreaming a couple nights ago that I was pregnant…uncomfortably so. Good thing it wasn’t real. At 80, they’d put me in Ripley’s “Believe it or Not” along with Abraham and Sarah!

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    1. Thank you, Jan. I think I remember it so well was because of how odd it made me feel days after the dream. I kept playing it through my mind, trying to figure out clues as to why it would trigger such a deep sadness. Jimena must have had some deep unexplored emotions. Now I’ll get a chance to explore those emotions in the novel. Very interesting experience.

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  4. What an absolutely incredible post. I was mesmerized and had tingles all the way through… I certainly see a kindred spirit, in you. I’ve had dreams and feelings similar to this in recent days, too… maybe it’s something in the universal brew. But I’ve never written a novel, unlike you… and I never worked with an editor, that sounds divinely helpful, too. So grateful to you, for sharing these truths… Jimena’s lucky to have a conduit like you.

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    1. Thank you, Lia. Yes, there must be something in the universal brew. Maybe the five planets meeting in the sky a week ago had something to do with it. It was an intense ride. I’m glad it’s over. A part of would like to experience a dream that deep again, but I’m also scared to have such intense feelings. It was like I had no control over myself. Scary.

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  5. Hi Oscar, you are not alone.

    Background-wise, I write under a science fiction banner, though most of my work is speculative and crosses genres without regard. I self publish because I’m getting too old and impatient to deal with publishing houses.

    In the time that I have been writing seriously, about 20 years, I’ve had about three occasions when fictional characters have taken hold of me, forced me to listen to them, and forced me to write their griefs and joys. Those three characters are the strongest best-written among the crowds of people I’ve invented.

    The first time it happened I was completely ignorant. After a while, after seeing a counselor and talking about the symptoms, I studied up on Jungian archetypes, and in the end decided that what had happened was a special intercession by my unconscious.

    All the characters we writers invent come from our unconscious and are aspects of ourselves. Of course we dress them with characteristics–the way they look, who they resemble, what they like to do, their feelings–that we gather from anywhere and anyone. But, there is always that feeling of relationship towards them because they are part of us.

    Everyone in the whole world ignores their capacity and need to express parts of their personality (EG femininity, masculinity, fear, anxiety to name but a few) because those aspects are unacceptable to their societies at the time. But, if not expressed, these aspects often have such a dire effect on us that psychologists, priests, counselors and so on will never go out of business.

    We writers, when we are hit with these messages from our unconscious selves, assign them to this or that interpretation IE character we are working on, and allow them to tell us that their story needs augmentation, or outing, or writing from the ground up.

    It’s a beautiful thing to live through an experience such as you described and discover something utterly important about yourself. I discovered that I can’t write my characters doing physical violence against other characters. There will never be a fight scene in my sf. When you write that character, her joys, her griefs, she will be telling you more about yourself.

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    1. Thank you, Rita. I’m glad I’m not alone. I think what you say has a lot of truth. It could be some type of suppression of emotions since I’m not very emotional and likely have been conditioned to be like this. I like your connection to how we writers assign those emotions to different characters and scenarios and it helps us process what is occurring within ourselves. It is very beautiful. I appreciate your insights and couldn’t agree with you more. Wa’do.

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