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Thursday, May 19, 2016

The True Power of Words

Have you ever written a story that creeped you out?  Have you ever written a story that shocked you so much you knew your readers would “never see it coming” (whatever “it” might be) simply because you didn’t?  Have you ever written a story that really made you laugh or cry?  Have you ever had a story that haunted your dreams?

The power contained within the written word can often be stunning even to us, the ones who used them to create a story.  I love it when I get to a part where I have to sit back for a moment and say, “Man.  I never expected that.”  If I didn’t expect it, then the readers likely won’t, and that’s always great.

I love it when a story consumes me so it’s all I think about.  When I was in school, my mama said she could always tell when I was writing.  Even if she didn’t see me doing it, she knew.  How?  I talked in my sleep.  No kidding.  When I was in high school, I had two major passions…Drama (the kind where you perform on stage, not the “She was flirting with MY boyfriend!” type) and writing.  One day the idea occurred to me that I wanted to write a play.  I had written a couple of short scripts for my drama class a few times, but not a full play.  Well, during the time I was working on this, my talking in my sleep reached an
all-time high.  One night my mama and step-daddy were in bed half-asleep when my step-daddy started hearing a sound.  After a few minutes, he realized I was talking.  After a few more minutes, he asked Mama, “Who is she talking to?”  Mama said, “Don’t worry about it.  She’s writing again.”  I actually knew why I was talking that particular time when I learned I had been talking in my sleep.  That particular night I dreamed about the play.  Not writing it, but the play itself.  The storyline.  It was a surreal and vivid dream, and in all honesty, I don’t think the storyline varied much from what I had dreamed.  I finished the play a few days later.

Another time, I was working on a story that was inspired by an old house that was rumored to be haunted.  My sister and I were spending the weekend with a friend of ours, and a friend of hers had a birthday party, so we all went to spend the night at this other girl’s house.  The girl started telling us about this old house that was in the woods at the edge of their property.  Then she started telling us about some of the strange things that had happened to her and her brother when they had gone there, and she said that her brother had made her promise to stay away from that house unless he was with her.  I can’t remember the things she said happened, but something about the house intrigued me.  Yep.  I’m one of those.  Tell me a place is haunted, and I want to go see it.

Anyway, the next morning when the others were still asleep, I went to the woods to see if I could find the house.  Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, depending on how you look at it, since I didn’t tell anyone where I was going…), I didn’t get to go in the house, because that area was a bit of a low-lying area and parts of it were marshy.  While the idea of the house didn’t scare me, the idea of the very living animals that were in the woods DID scare me.  I remember the thoughts of alligators creeping into my head because of the area being so marshy.  And then of course, there were the animal bones I came across.  I finally made the decision to return to the house, but I took something with me.  The idea for a story.  I started writing this story and it was getting to be what I loved.  Powerful, consuming.  My characters were coming to life.  I can’t remember how long I worked on it, but I had over one hundred hand-written pages.

Then came the nightmare.  I won’t bore you with the entire dream because the first part doesn’t really apply here.  I can say this.  The dream FELT REAL.  I was in Florida, and I was walking down a sidewalk with some guy that I think was a guide of some sort.  To our left was a wooden fence, then a stretch of beach, and then the ocean.  The guide and I were talking, and then I started to say, “Florida is beautiful.”  But when I turned to the guide, I saw an alarmed look cross his face as he stared down the sidewalk in front of us.  I looked and saw a crowd of people, and they appeared to be fighting.  The guide ran toward the crowd, and I followed.  I could feel the stitch forming in my side, and I could feel the fear that was creeping in on me.  When we reached the crowd, there was this guy in the middle with shoulder-length blonde hair, and he was struggling with someone.  The guy had a knife in his hand.  I can still see.  A large pocket-style knife.  The handle had this clear yellow plastic on each side.  Sort of like those screwdriver handles that are yellow, but that you can see through, like a clear but colored plastic.  Somehow I got shoved into the center of the crowd, and suddenly the blonde guy broke free of the people who were trying to restrain him and he was standing right in front of me.  He started cutting me with the knife, just below my breasts, across my ribcage.  I FELT every slice of that blade.  FELT it.

Then the dream shattered, literally.  It fragmented into a million pieces and fell away like broken glass.  For several minutes, I was suspended in darkness.  Then I could sense that the light in our bedroom was on, and I could sense that my sister was there.  I could hear everything, but I was still in sleep paralysis.  I couldn’t move.  I felt like I couldn’t breathe.  No, literally.  It felt like my lungs weren’t going to take in a breath.  Finally, the paralysis broke, and I drew in this great ragged breath.  I still couldn’t move or open my eyes, but I heard my sister react to my breath.  She put her hand on me and said “Angela.”  Then I was able to move.  I sucked in another breath and sat straight up.  Then I yanked my shirt up with one hand, and started running my hand over my skin across my ribcage where the man had cut me.  Then I burst into tears.  I couldn’t stop crying and I couldn’t talk.  My sister took me to Mama’s room where she and my step-daddy were sitting on their bed.  Mama took one look at me and wanted to know what was wrong.  I still couldn’t talk.  You know how you get those hard lumps in your throat, and you can barely swallow around it?  You know how you’re very well aware that if you try to talk through it at that particular moment in time, you’re not going to be able to do anything but sob uncontrollably and not get a single coherent word out?  Yeah, that’s what I was experiencing.

Anyway, I was finally able to tell them about the dream, and it made it a little better.  But that dream scared me.  Badly.  So badly that I never wrote another word in the one-hundred plus page story I had been working on about the haunted house in the woods.  Why?  Because the man that cut me in my dream was a main character in the story.  A guy named Matthew that was demonic or possessed, I’m not sure which, because I hadn’t gotten that far.  In what I had of the story, he had lured his sister to that house and sacrificed her with a very interesting dagger.  What was so interesting about the dagger?  I didn’t know yet, aside from the way it looked.  So yeah, I stopped writing that story…cold.  I kept it because I thought that maybe I’d go back to it one day.  I didn’t.  Several years later I burned it.

That was the first time I ever really experienced the true power of my own words.
So, have you ever written something that terrified you?  Made you deliriously happy?  Creeped you out a little?  Grossed you out?  Made you cry an ocean?  Tell us about it!


Liz A. said...

Wow. I wonder why the story bothered you so. Maybe you should try to finish it. It might be more powerful than you realize.

Angela said...

Liz, I have thought about it. I don't know what it was about that story, and before that one dream, I'd never had any issues with what I was writing. Nothing about it bothered me. But that dream... I've had dreams about my characters before, or about scenes in a particular story I was working on, but this was the first time I'd ever had a character try to kill me. And to this day, that dream still remains one of the most vivid, REAL dreams I've ever had in my entire life. Even now, there are elements of the dream that are like snapshots of memory. The moment that I woke up and pulled up my shirt to see if I was bleeding is still one of the clearest memories from my life. I don't know what terrified me about it, but I am definitely considering revisiting the story.

Janie Junebug said...

I've had ideas for stories that I won't write because they're too frightening. You're not the only person who has had that dream state paralysis. I get it sometimes, and I think Netflix has a documentary about it. It's horrible.


Angela said...

Janie, things that are too frightening to write? What on earth do you do in your spare time? :D Obviously, I'm joking! That is bad though! But it does make me wonder about those ideas, because if it's too frightening to WRITE, you can only imagine what it would be like for the readers!

I've had it a few times where I was "awake" and aware of everything going on around me, and couldn't move yet, but they weren't scary. They were just a little annoying. This particular time, it was scary. I was apparently holding my breath somehow and that's what scared me the most. Being aware, but being in that black space between awake and asleep, and not being able to move or breathe. That was awful. I felt like I was going to suffocate. I'll have to see if I can find that documentary!

Nicola said...

WOW!! Powerful and terrifying stuff! I've never had such a vivid dream as that. It obviously still haunts you, today. Maybe, you could write an ending to that story - just the ending - where you are empowered and overcome that man. Get rid of him for good - naturally not in the same brutal manner but when I've had nightmares and can't wake up, I rewrite the script in my favour. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope it helped to unload. Have a super and relaxing weekend. All the best!

Unknown said...

I feel so blessed when dreams start telling me stories. One of my shorter works, Arthur's Story, was entirely the product of dreams. Sounds like you really become immersed in them. That's wonderful.

@Kathleen01930 Blog

Darla M Sands said...

Powerful telling! I'm sorry you could not go back to that tale. It sounds awesome.

Mostly, I find my writing seems at its best to fit together like puzzle pieces. Something from the beginning informs a later happening, the best feeling I can get.

Thank you for this. Happy writing!