Dream Journal: The Missing Girl

Somewhere in the gumbo of dream I had last night, I was renting an apartment.  It was a crappy place that the landlord talked up as though it were a palace, but in reality, the entrance was under a stairway, the apartment consisted of one, long narrow room (stretch your arms out to your sides and touch both walls at once, and only one window.  The paint on the ceiling was falling down in jagged strips.  But it was fully furnished.

The landlord said something offhand about the furnishing – for example, that in order to look through the window I had to lean on the bed and look over the books arrayed on the windowsill.  I think there were flowers in a vase, knickknacks galore, all the personal touches that make an empty space a home.

It was only after I woke up that I realized the girl who’d lived in the apartment hadn’t moved, but was missing, was probably dead.

As far as I can recall, this is the only time I’ve had such a revelation after waking up.  The knowledge wasn’t part of the dream, per se, but a logical consequence of the details, a part of the setting that, in a story, say, would lead towards creeping the reader out, setting the mood and tone, setting the main character up for a vicious turn-around in the final pages.

In the dream, just like in life, the girl’s disappearance was a detail that had no moment.  It had nothing to do with the dream proper – although that part of the dream, the renting of the apartment did have something to do with using the apartment’s window to keep watch on the courtyard behind the house/apartment building/rickety structure.

This is what comes from watching too much Veronica Mars too quickly.

But I wish I could take responsibility for the underlying texture of the dream myself.  See, that layering is what I want to get into my fiction, and what I look to get out of it.  That moment of revelation (granted, after I woke up) gives the dream depth.  The dream now takes place in a real world, defined as one that lives and breathes outside of and beyond me, the main character.

In a story, my goal in texturing the world is to make that sense palpable.  The reader shouldn’t feel that the world revolves around the main character (unless it actually does) (hello, Galactus) but that the character they’re following is like a fish in an ocean.  All you can follow is that fish, and your visibility is severely limited, but you know that the water around you both is teeming with life and that when a whale intersects your path – a momentous occasion – that encounter is just one of many the whale has on its docket that day.

I will retreat from crappy metaphor now.  Instead, I’ll provide the opposite example.

Old SF novels that took place in space used to have a problem.  I imagine many recent books still do (I know that the game world of Warhammer 40K does) but most of my reading experience spans the 40s to the 70s.  The problem is this: Entire planets appeared to be smaller than towns.  Instead of a real feeling of traveling through space from Earth-equivalent to Earth-equivalent, with all the variety therein implied, the sense is more of traveling from one small town in Alabama to another small town in Georgia.  And, no, don’t ask me why space is southern.

The sense of scale is lost.  We’re talking about planets here, and often they’ll be summarized as the Ice Planet or the Warrior Planet or the Fuzzy Bunny Planet.  Which I would go visit.  But, hopefully, you see what I mean.  The writers imply that they are giving you not just all the information you need to know, but all the information there is to know.

And that’s the sort of security this missing girl works against.

I don’t know who she is.  I don’t know why she’s gone.  I didn’t even notice her at the time.  But hours later, the dream (okay, the story) finished, she haunts me.

There’s an entire world out there, and I never had a clue.

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