Sunday, June 5, 2011

4 1st 5 Pages Workshop - June Entry #4

In Dreams - Young Adult

The day I graduated from high school was the day it all began. Well, not that day, exactly; more like that night. That night was the first night I heard the accident in my dream, only it hadn’t sounded like it was in my dream; it had sounded like it was right outside my window. It had woken me up, quite a feat since I hadn’t gotten to sleep until 3:00 a.m. and the clock said it was only two hours later.

I slipped out of bed and went to the window, which faced the street in front of our house. I looked left and right but couldn’t see anything. I even opened the window, thinking I might be able to at least hear something but all was quiet. The few houses on our street, all colonials set behind large front lawns, were dark. No light shone out from a front door or window, which would indicate that an equally inquisitive neighbor was looking for a car accident. I closed the window and went back to bed.

The noise of the accident bothered me a bit; it had been too loud to have been a part of my dream, and believe me, I know my dreams. I am what the psychological community calls a “lucid dreamer.” Lucid dreaming is a person’s ability to know when they are dreaming and to understand that what they are seeing exists only in their minds. It’s a talent I’ve developed over the past nine years that no-one knows about, not even my family. With practice I’ve learned how to consciously manipulate my dreams, building worlds and creating stories while conveniently ignoring the laws of physics and probability. I’ve also learned how to tell the difference between what happens in my dream and what happens in the real world. The sound of that car’s tires screeching on the pavement came to me through my physical ears; it wasn’t created in my mind. There was sharpness to it, an immediacy that dream sounds don’t have.

My first experience with lucid dreaming had been a nightmare—literally—although I didn’t know I was dreaming at the time. I was only eight years old and I thought it was real.

I woke up, or thought I had, in my bed one morning with a feeling that something was wrong. I had gone to sleep after watching Jurassic Park on TV and now … something was wrong. I tried to ignore the feeling of uneasiness. I stretched, sat up and rubbed my eyes. When I blinked and focused my vision, I knew what the problem was. My bed was outside. How did that happen, though? I hadn’t even felt the bed being moved. There it was, up against the old oak tree in the back yard. I tossed the covers back and started to get out of bed but as soon as my foot hit the ground I stopped. Why did the ground feel soft and warm instead of grassy and cool? Confused, I drew my foot back in. I wondered if this were some sort of trick and who would even think about trying it when a suspicion began to form in my head. Maybe it wasn’t just one person; maybe it was two…

“Jacob! Joseph! Get me inside right now!”

My older brothers, twelve year old Jacob and ten year old Joseph, must be to blame. I wasn’t sure how they had done it but I knew they had moved my bed outside. They were always finding new ways to tease me – or each other - but this time they had gone too far.

“C’mon, you guys, this isn’t funny. Where are you?” My voice rose in a mixture of fury and fear. “Guys?” I pounded the top of the bed. “You’re paying for this! I’m telling! Mom!”



Silence. Complete silence. No noise whatsoever. No birds, no cicadas, nothing. Except…over there, behind the screen of azaleas…

Had I just heard a faint rustling?

Had some leaves just moved in the breeze?

A breeze that wasn’t there?

My uneasiness came back and chilled me like the first wave of cold water on a hot summer’s day. I forgot how angry I was at my brothers when a low, reptilian sound, like a crocodile making its presence known, rose from behind the leafy screen. I’d heard that sound before. Last night, in the movie. That throaty rumble meant dinosaur; it meant that I was being hunted; it meant I was going to be killed. I tried to think how to escape but my mind wouldn’t cooperate. Instead, I saw vision in my head. I saw myself running for the back door and being caught and ripped apart and eaten, piece by piece, until there was nothing left. Why try to run for safety when running was fatal? I cowered on the bed, helpless, like a mouse waiting for the cat to pounce and end its fear forever.

A thought – just one thought – finally pierced my mind.


I didn’t remember seeing any meat-eating dinosaurs climb trees, which meant the higher I was able to climb, the safer I’d be. I stood on the bed. I could just reach a low-lying branch of the oak that was next to me, so I grabbed on and pulled myself up. My arms, scraped by the rough bark, started bleeding but the pain was muted, more like a memory. Stretching as high as I could I grabbed on to another branch and pulled myself up again, tearing my pajamas in the process but not caring at all. Up I climbed, balancing on one branch and reaching for another, feeling the bark slip sometimes under my fingers as I grabbed on, smelling the resin as it oozed from the exposed wood. Another branch, another pull, another few feet higher. I tried to climb faster…

My stomach clenched as I remembered the movie last night had mentioned that birds were descended from dinosaurs. That would mean – what? – that the tree wasn’t safe after all? I heard something hit the bed – thump – and looked down. A dinosaur had landed on the covers, exactly where I had been only moments before, but…where had it come from? Was it the same one I had heard earlier? Had it flown? I hadn’t seen any dinosaur running the short distance from the azaleas to the oak; this one had simply appeared. Now it was poking its head, birdlike, through the branches, searching for me as though I were a particularly tasty grub to be caught and devoured.

My eyes darted around, looking for an escape, but was there one? I was stuck in a tree. I couldn’t get down and I couldn’t climb much higher. It was only a matter of time before I was finally caught and… my eyes opened wide. A window had appeared through the leaves. It was my parents’ bedroom window, but what was it doing over here? Wasn’t it supposed to be farther away? I shook my head. I’d ask questions later; right now the important thing was to climb through that window and get into the bedroom. I would be safe there, and once back in familiar surroundings I hoped this madness would end. I only had to slide my feet along this branch…don’t slip….don’t look down. Concentrate. Now to just…
The tree trembled. I grabbed on to the branch tighter so I wouldn’t fall. I lost all hope of escape as the largest dinosaur I had ever seen stuck its head in front of me, surrounding me with a foul stench as it opened its gigantic jaws. I screamed.

“Ally, sweetheart, wake up. Ally, you’re dreaming. C’mon, baby girl, I’m here, you’re safe.” The low, soothing voice of my father penetrated through my dream, calling me back to consciousness; his hand on my shoulder pulled me to safety. Images faded from my mind as I opened my eyes to the waking world. My heart was still racing and my body shaking from the adrenaline running through it. I had almost been eaten. The thought that those horrible jaws had almost snapped closed on me and driven dozens of sharp teeth piercing through my body was terrifying. I reached out and clung to Daddy, hiding my face on his shoulder, hardly daring to believe I was safe. He sat on the bed and held me, rocking me and stroking my hair until my shaking subsided. He brushed the top of my hair with his lips and whispered, “What was it baby? What scared you?”

I gulped and took a deep, shuddering breath.

“My bed…was outside,” I said in a whisper, pausing as I remembered how strange it had felt. “It was outside by the tree and I thought the guys had put it out there. But I was all by myself. And then…and then I heard a dinosaur and climbed the tree to get away.”

“That was smart of you,” Daddy said.

“But then the dinosaur landed on my bed and started pecking at me to get me out of the tree so I tried climbing through your window… but there was another one…dinosaur, I mean … and it was going to eat me…” I started shaking again.


  1. Ah! Dreams are tricky business. Here you elude to a problem beginning at this moment in time. Perhaps you need to just start with that time. Something like, The sound of screeching tires woke me. I groaned as as the clock came into view. Five AM, only two hours since I'd gotten to bed.... Etc. Grounding us in the moment. Don't tell us a story, looking back, immerse us in it and let us experience it along with Ally. I would also caution you against telling us all about lucid dreaming and how she uses it. Show us as the story is revealed. Flash back to the first time later, and only when necessary. Drip in the backstory, even if it involves fun dreams because I'm sure you have plenty of those to come in this story! Does that make sense? You have such awesome potential here already, I want to really feel sucked in. Find your character's voice and let it shine. Draw us in to the moment with her. :D

  2. I think there is too much telling in this. The first paragraph is too passive for the event it describes, and all the backstory about the lucid dreaming, how she uses it and how it happened the first time, was a bit much to take. I kept waiting to get back to the car crashing and waking her, but there was all this other stuff in the way.

    I think this is an amazing idea for a story - dreams are fascinating in so many different ways - but you need to let your characters give us the story, show us what happens and why through their actions and reactions. Let them have their own voice.

  3. Hi Suzanne,

    I have to agree with both Lisa and Kate here, but yours is a slightly unique situation. The conventional wisdom is that you shouldn't begin a novel with a dream--it's been done so often that it's cliche. However, the fact that your mc is a lucid dreamer makes this unique. You need to open with that, and you can do it in one of two ways. You can "show us" by starting the accident dream and show Ally manipulating the dream and waking herself up because it was too disturbing, which would be unique. Then show her response to it. She's had half an hour within the dream already as you describe it (it takes roughly 90 minutes to get to the first R.E.M. cycle, right?). This way, we know there's something slightly paranormal going on and we're curious. I'd also like to get more of her attitude in here, her thoughts, experiences, the color of her world, so to speak.

    At this point, we don't care what happened when she was eight. Leave that for much later. Let us have the mystery of the unananswered question--what is this ability she has and how did she get here--to carry us through until the inciting incident is laid and she is well on her journey (and most importantly, we are on the journey with her). Let us wonder for a while about the ability and what she can do with it.

    Put us immediately in the moment. Launch your plot. Immerse us in the world and your mc's head, and show us what it's like to live there. Don't tell us about the past, or you'll lose us. You can do this. I know you can! Dig deep and show us for next week!



  4. Wow, thanks for the input. It's great to get another perspective. I can see right now that I'm going to have to "kill some of my darlings." Later...


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