I have bad dreams. I always have. I remember waking up terrified at a young age because of the things my brain tortured me with while I slept. I’m sure my parents thought I would eventually stop waking up in the night screaming, but I didn’t grow out of it. I still wake up screaming on occasion. And those wicked images become memories that I have to keep. I still get shivers about dreams I had two decades ago. Months can go by between them or only days, but they always return.
People often commented that maybe I should consider writing them. They’d say, “Why don’t you use the nightmares in your fiction?”
I always responded that I don’t write horror, that I don’t want to keep and re-read the nasty things, and that they usually don’t make sense in any context outside of “nightmare”.
I think I was wrong though.
About a year ago I had a really horrible dream, and I passed the details of it to a writer friend of mine. He’s the moderator of the Horror Forum on absolutewrite.com. We decided his Horror Hounds could use it as a prompt (and deep down I really wanted to believe that if I gave them my nightmares it would stop tormenting me). So the Hounds used the bare bones description of the dream for a contest. We called it “Trick Trish’s Nightmare”.
Some time later I had another nightmare and gave that one to him as well. Hey, why not? I certainly wasn’t going to use them, I thought. The stories these people generated from the dream details were amazing! They could use part or all of the dream, they could take just one element of it and go a whole new direction if it suited them. The variations spun from different styles and imaginations was impressive.
Turns out sharing the gruesome details of a bad dream does help! Giving them away felt like a real physical act, rather than just the mental exercise of typing up and passing along scary stories. It’s cathartic. Typing out the details and giving other writers something to work from, well, that feels good – a good thing out of a bad one.
But the Horror Hounds convinced me that I should also “Trick My Nightmare”. I was hesitant. I didn’t want to use those elements in fiction. “I don’t write horror”, I said. But I did. Taking the basics of the dream, I created a main character, gave her a past, gave her a motive, and let the horror begin. Woah, that was fun!
Who said I didn’t write horror? I did? Turns out I was wrong about that. It was fun, and it felt sort of natural. I took control of the bad dream and made it work for me. I liked that; they’ve had control of me for long enough!
Following that, I wrote other Horror short stories from the Hounds’ monthly prompts. One of which ended up becoming part of my most recent novel. More and more the flavor of what I write leans to darker fiction. I’m still not steeped in Horror as a genre, but the elements are fun to work with.
The nightmares still come and go. I think they always will. That’s just the way my brain works. Two nights ago I had what was truly (and I’m an expert on this) the worst dream I’ve ever had. I immediately passed the ‘mare to Haggis. Maybe we’ll just have to Trick It.
It’s called Trick Trish’s “Nightmare Before Christmas”. I feel compelled to dip my toes back into the horror forum and to make the nasty little thing work for me again.
You should join us. You can find the Horror Hounds here.