My dreams are rarely guided by what we might call a plot. Nothing actually happens in them. They are scenes that flow nonsensically one into the next and go NOWHERE.
My husband can attest to this. The poor man is often subjected to partial recounts of my dreams–partial because at some point he simply walks away because he knows this is going nowhere and yet will not end. He even used my “method” of dreaming in a sermon to illustrate the difference between reading Scripture as a bunch of boring, unrelated stories (“and then this happened and then this happened and then this happened”) and reading it as God’s very well plotted and intentional story (which he generously compared to my more deliberate method of writing) in which we find purpose and meaning. In case this interests you, you can listen to it here. It also contains a fascinating tidbit on the real St. Nicholas, who was apparently a bit of a hothead and prone to decking heretics. True story.
Now, I’ve been busily working on February’s short story, The Door, which I have deliberately made a bit dreamlike. Last week I realized that this was becoming a problem. It was becoming much too much like one of my actual dreams–rambling and random and pointless.
So I stopped writing. And I started plotting. I thought about this story in the shower. I thought about it in bed. I thought about it in the car. I thought about it but did not write down anything I thought of. I just allowed myself to think it through, to think myself into a plot, a purpose, a point.
While turning back toward home on an ill-fated trip through white-out conditions to my office today (Lake Effect Snow = 1, Erin = 0), everything fell into place like fat snowflakes aiming directly for their spot on the ground (rather than swirling madly around my car). I got home safely, put a space heater at my feet, and got back to work with the lovely feeling in the back of my mind that I now know where this story is going.
Dreams are okay. Their very weirdness is interesting. But interesting is not really enough for a story. Writers, we owe our readers a bit more than a rambling but interesting story. We at least owe them a compelling plot or, as is often the case in shorter fiction, a point.
How can you take those intriguing but (admit it) pointless scenes and weave them into a larger tapestry to make them an essential part of your plot? How can you give your readers a clear (though pleasantly winding) path through your forest of very lovely, very interesting trees?