Ask the question

Saturday, March 24, 2018
Although I recently finished writing a new short story, I am stuck on a plot issue with my novel. As I searched for a solution, one piece of advice resonated: Ask the question you want answered as you fall asleep. The idea is to let your subconscious do the work for you. So that's what I did, and here's how it's been working for the past three nights.

Day One: I ran through the basic plot of my novel in my head, with particular attention paid to Chapter 3, where I get stuck. My first chapter is in the present, and my protagonist overhears something negative about himself. That anger takes him to a flashback that is Chapter 2.

In Chapter 3 I can't decide if he goes back to his job, or school, but I didn't really ask a question as I fell asleep. I dreamed about shopping at Bed Bath & Beyond, and carrying telephone books to the cashier. The next dream included a steak house where a man wearing lavender pants was waiting for his food. No help at all. Tomorrow, I won't forget to ask a question.

Day Two: I fell asleep asking questions about how to proceed with Chapter 3, and woke to voices and sounds like those you make with your mouth to imitate popping a champagne cork. OK, not insane, but the Bluetooth speaker on my husband's night stand was on, and he said as he left for work it may have made that popping sound as he was going out of range with his phone. The voices sounded like Alexa, and I've heard she's been laughing at random times, but this wasn't a laugh. It completely took me out of my deep sleep, and I couldn't remember any dreams. Or maybe that was a dream. However, I made a decision to cut a chapter later in the book, so that was creative, and a good idea because it doesn't add anything to the story.

Day Three: I asked myself specific questions about plot moving from Chapter 2 to Chapter 3. I developed some ideas about how to make a smooth transition, and fell asleep quickly. In this dream, I was with a friend in a hotel running from a man with a gun. Very frustrating. But then we spotted a window. At first there was someone guarding it, and we had to retreat. A tent appeared, and I was able to hide under it until the guy left, and we escaped.

This is significant for a couple of reasons. First, because I've had these types of dreams in the past, and was never able to escape. And second, I can't say that solving the problem in my dream is the same as solving my plot issue, but now it seems possible, and I feel confident I can work my way through the plot after being stuck for so long.

Did the problem-solving come from asking questions and letting my subconscious do the work as I fell asleep? I don't know, but concentrating on any problem may lead to a solution. Either way, I'm not giving up. Maybe tonight my subconscious will come through, and you'll see my finished novel next year. Or maybe I'll write a new chapter about my protagonist who escapes from a man with a gun.

Mary Horner is the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing. She teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges.


Mary Horner said...

OK, update! I tried it again last night, and this morning came up with a solution to the Chapter 3 dilemma, along with making another connection from the past that ties into something that will happen in a later chapter. The ideas didn't come right away, but while walking the dog two ideas popped into my head. So maybe the post title should be changed to "Ask the question, then walk the dog!" Let me know what works for you!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Mary--I never remember my dreams. Okay, I remember one dream every few years or so.

I love this idea, but I'm afraid I wouldn't remember the "help" I would get. However, anything is worth a try.

Maybe you could open up a writers' sleep center. You could provide beds for the writers, there would be video cameras in every room, and you could monitor the sleepers... and probably laugh over the snoring and tossing and turning.

Angela Mackintosh said...

I've heard this method works well for writers. I have insomnia though, so if I think about anything before I go to bed, I'll stay up all night thinking about it. =/

I do well with walking and thinking about a writing problem though. :)

I like Sioux's idea! My hubby has sleep apnea and had to go into one of those sleep centers to get evaluated. He has the opposite problem. Before they could even put the electrodes on his head, he was already asleep and snoring. They had to wake him up to put them on and said they've never seen someone fall asleep so fast. I wish I had that problem, but my mind is set to hummingbird.

Margo Dill said...

I have tried this before too because I have heard people doing it. I actually find when I am on a walk or in the shower as places that work out for solving plot problems—you know places where it is inconvenient to write down the sudden inspiration!

Mary Horner said...

Thanks for your replies! Sioux, a sleep center might not be a bad idea! Maybe I could pipe in audio books!

Angela, I've got to say that I also have a terrible time falling asleep, and for some reason, asking myself a question and forcing myself to focus (maybe that's the key) really helped. And the dreams aren't necessarily the answer, but for some reason, I found answers the next day, or as I focused that night. Weird, I know.

And Margo, I use the notes function on my phone all the time, so I usually have it with me and can make notes that may or may not be cryptic, but I don't lose as many as I used to!

Nila said...

I've never heard of this method- but I like it! I'll have to give it a try. Such interesting dreams you have!

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