Part 1 in the series: “Developing Plots by Hemorrhaging Dreams”
First, at the onset, let me emphasize emphatically that I am not in favor of the use of so-called “recreational drugs.” I abhor the use of LSD, marijuana, heroin, cocaine, or even alcohol. That’s just how square I truly am. And second, what I’m about to teach you may have initially been stimulated by drugs, but it can be achieved without their use. That is what this blog series is about.
Here’s what happened. Some years ago on a March morning I slipped on concrete during a thunderstorm. I fell and cracked my pelvic socket and wound up in a hospital, where I was given morphine, aspirin, and Vicodin to help curb the incredible pain I was experiencing. For a person like me, who never uses drugs, this pain-relieving “cocktail” sent me into orbit. For about six hours my memories, dreams, fears, anxieties, imaginings, and real-time events merged, overlapped, bled into each other, morphed, and combined into bizarre new configurations. And, amazingly, when the drugs wore off, I had vivid recollections of many of these wacky experiences. I got a tape recorder and saved them before they “got away.”
Indeed, there is literary precedence for the instigation of creating plots by pushing the mind into innovative experiences that are far beyond the norm. Samuel Coleridge claimed that his partial poem “Kubla Khan” came to him in a dream. Marcel Proust made his brain move faster than his writing pen when developing stream of conscious writing for his novel Swann’s Way. Lewis Carroll overlapped exaggeration, satire, and hallucination in creating the maniacal world of Alice in Wonderland. G. K. Chesterton’s surreal novel The Man Who Was Thursday literally carried the subtitle “A Nightmare.” To the best of my knowledge, none of these writers made use of narcotics for creative stimulation. However, it is obvious they were able to force the mind to think in new dimensions and to escape normal restrictions and limitations.
In my case, the drugs in my system caused me to imagine that the MRI machine I was placed inside was a bunker, and I was back in Vietnam as a 22-year-old kid fighting the war again. I should explain, an MRI has a rat-a-tat-tat sound very similar to an M-60 machine gun. Mixed with this was a sensation that I was an escape artist who’d been locked in a trunk (the MRI cylinder) and placed under the Detroit River, no doubt brought on by the fact I had been reading an article about Harry Houdini three days before my accident. But thrown into the mix was also my secret hope that I had never really been injured and that I was back in my college classroom rapping on my podium, bringing my class to order, ready to give a lecture. The MRI enclosure, the examining room noises, and the medicinal odors were sending my drug induced imagination in myriad directions.
From this hodgepodge of sensory infusions, I later came up with a short story about a tunnel rat in Vietnam who escaped pursuit of the enemy and later stood before a class to teach his techniques of tunneling to other soldiers. Additionally, subsequent dream-and-reality collisions led to ideas for other short stories, one play, and the subplot of a novel. This experience convinced me that purposeful dream hemorrhaging could expand the arenas of creativity and tap into the reservoirs of personal experience most of us never recognize as having useful story content.
Next week we’ll look at how to do this sans drugs.
Dennis E. Hensley is director of the professional writing program at Taylor University. He is the author of 52 books, including the novel The Gift (Harvest House) and eight textbooks on writing, such as How to Write What You Love and Make a Living at It (Random House) and The Freelance Writer’s Handbook (Harper-Collins). His more than 3,000 freelance articles have appeared in Reader’s Digest, Success, Essence, People, The Star and The Detroit Free Press, among many others. © 2012 by Dennis E. Hensley. All rights reserved.