Wednesday, April 14, 2010

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

It's nights like last night that remind me just how important a good night's sleep really is.  Without going into too many details, there was prolonged noise that kept me awake last night, even through my earplugs.  Eventually I put on some soft music and managed to drift somewhere between sleep and waking, but it wasn't until the house was silent that I was able to sleep for real.  Therefore this morning I woke up groggy and resigned to a headache all day.

I realize that lack of sleep is hardly the worst thing in the world, so I won't harp on it for long.  Instead I just want to say how strange it is to me that we need to spend one third of our lives in an alternate state of consciousness.

Does anyone else find this mind-boggling?  I'm sure I can't be the only one who is fascinated by sleep and all things relating to it.  There are plenty of people who study it for a living.  And dreams?  How little we still understand them, and yet how much we sometimes make of them.

Think back on some of the books you've read lately.  Have any of them described the characters' dreams?  In fact, I think quite a lot of books do have dream sequences, however brief they might be.  So many writers (myself included I must admit) seem determined to describe the characters' dreams, and yet I can't remember ever reading a single dream sequence that felt realistic.  Written dreams are usually so obviously symbolic, when in reality dreams are arbitrary, the random elements coming together in ways that defy logic.

But that's not all we do with sleep and dreams.  In fantasy sleep can become a platform for anything at all.  In many books the characters use their dreams as a tool to walk through a dream world that is parallel to the real world and has lasting effects on the real world.  Some of the most exciting and monumental events can happen in fictional dreams.

When I was in middle school (or perhaps in high school) I had an idea for a story that took place mostly after my main character would go to bed.  As soon as she fell asleep she would be transported to this other world where she learned a form of magic that she could use in the real world.  Her teacher was a super-wise, super-knowledgeable man who always seemed to have all the answers to everything.  But as she went back to him night after night she began to discover that he never remembered much of their previous meetings.  Eventually, once she learned everything he had to teach, he told her that the time-line of her dreams was opposite of the time-line of his.  Very soon he would start forgetting everything that he knew, and it would be her turn to teach him.  In the end the dreams stopped, and the two characters were charged with finding one another in the real world in order to use their magic together for good.

The idea never evolved much beyond that, and I've never had the inspiration to write it into a story.  But I do like the concept, and it's stayed with me.  Maybe one day, right?

There are plenty of other things that we could do with sleep and dreams.  Have you ever had an idea for such a story?

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