Yesterday morning I awoke with a dream still vividly imprinted on my mind. A scene I had been dreaming seemed particularly enjoyable and funny to me. What mattered right at that moment was not whether a story could develop but whether I wanted to continue thinking about it. To fall asleep at night I always need some type of story to play out in my mind, otherwise I'll be too focused on trying to fall asleep. And so, waking up thinking of an arrogant little fellow telling a queen, "You shouldn't play that song today, since it's the anniversary of the day we lost the revolutionary war," needed to be put to the test, as with all my daydreams that come out at night to put me asleep, to see if it could occupy my mind.
Unfortunately, as I played the scene out in my mind and tried developing it, I soon found that it would go nowhere. It certainly could not beat out my current night-time daydream story--my rescuing an oppressed tribe from a tyrannical king and then later returning to the kingdom to save it and rebuild it with a more generous spirit--which has been my story of choice for about a week now. I did, however, develop this dream of mine about the boy and queen, originally just a glimpse of a memory of what I had dreamed, enough to discover a treasure: a wonderful play or novel.
I've discussed this before, but I think that there's a misunderstanding about writers and artists that we have simply been blessed with an imagination and spurts of inspiration that others have not been born with. Yes, we are all born with different natural talents and gifts in varying degrees, imagination no doubt among them--and perhaps also moments of inspiration--but anyone can have a good imagination and/or billions of moments of inspiration by training that part of their mind. And that's all I mean to say with this post. I've already started writing up a novel titled The Queen and Some Guy that will be a comedy in the mode of The Princess Bride, the book and the movie, that will serve as my side project while I work on completing my bike trip book and then the expansion of my master's thesis. It started from a dream, so we can stereotype and say, "Aw man, I wish I had dreams like that, he's so lucky," or we can be more truthful and say, "He's really going to work out that one little picture he had, he really works hard at what he does." Dreams and visions come to all of us. What matters is whether or not we poke and touch, squeeze and pull, shrink and expand the dream or vision to get all that we can out of them--that's part of what it means to be a writer.
The portrait I gave you of the dream may not seem like much. Trust me, it was and will be funny. And perhaps, if one day you find yourself reading a story by that title by me, you'll think back to this day and think, "Wow, I thought this story would be a total piece of crap."
Anyway, just as a little behind-the-scenes look at some of the torments a writer experiences, I'll talk briefly of the decision I had to make between screenplay, play, short story, and novel. All the time a writer must decide how best to present the things flying through their mind. Even if the form of the presentation is easy to decide upon, almost every sentence and word becomes a new struggle and decision: when I say this, should I be serious or light? short, powerful sentence or long, well-explained sentence? harsh-sounding words or soft-sounding words? will a comma here make it easier to understand? do I care if the reader understands this sentence, or is what follows more important? what in the frick am I doing anyway?
The pieces of humor and drama that I was developing in my mind of the queen and the boy (see, right then I first wrote "for the queen and the boy," but the meaning totally changes simply by saying "of" instead of "for"; I changed it to "of" because I believe that stories have a life of their own to some extent, like Pinocchio, and I don't want to appear as if I am giving the story all of its life) seemed best suited to be presented visually, in a movie or play. Very quickly I dismissed a screenplay because some of the quality elements of the story being developed seem to need sight into the two main characters' thoughts. Movies can do that, sure, but only with great writing, directing, and acting, and I can't honestly say right now, even with my ego, that I am up to the task or that I believe my screenplay would hire great directing and acting. It would make a pretty good pre-teenage romance film, maybe, but I don't want my time and effort to go to waste by writing a screenplay that doesn't get picked up when I could write a good novel or something. Plays make it much easier to see into the thoughts of a character because, if nothing else, the character can talk directly to the audience. This seemed promising: in a number of cases I already thought of, I laughed out loud, despite being alone and just waking up and sleepy and I basically laughing at my own joke, thinking of the arrogant young man turning to the audience and saying, "what the frick." Clearly the young man character will be modeled after me somewhat. The problem with the play idea, though, is that the scenes would have to be concentrated and more purpose-oriented. Even the greatest comedy ever written, The Importance of Being Earnest, contains scenes that are all entirely purpose-oriented. For this story I didn't like the idea of that. And so I came to a simple story. But would a short story work better? To a great extent I don't need to answer that question right now. The good thing is I now have a form, a written story, and can get writing. If I cannot stretch and retain quality then I will have a short story, it's as simple as that. After all, even The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a short story; even Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich, which has such a large scope it's not funny, is a short story; both cover the entire life story of a person.
Now, I think, you have some excellent insight into the genesis of a writer's writing.