Guy robs bank

Whoops. I fell asleep thinking about a topic for today’s post. That doesn’t sound promising, does it? So. It’s late and I’ll be brief. And appropriately, I’ll take about midnight inspiration.
Most of us keep an ink pen and paper on the nightstand next to a phone in order to write down a message for someone else or a reminder or a telephone number. It’s a holdover from a bygone, primitive age, but it’s still a handy one. And for writers, it’s a method by which we can preserve that random idea, that bit of dream world flotsam or jetsam, which we write down at 3:16 AM, when it seems so clear, so brilliant, so worthy of preserving, an transform it the next day into what will no doubt become the spring board for a franchise on the order of Spenser or Dave Robicheaux or Raylan Givens. The problem which occurs more often than not, however, is that upon awakening, one discovers that the phrase, hurriedly scrawled on that piece of paper, turns out to be something on the order of “guy robs bank.”
If dream ideas worked, I would be James Patterson or something like them. I have heard apocryphal tales of unnamed authors who transformed such hastily scribbled nocturnal notes into literary gold. I’m not sure if they are true. Michael Mann, the story goes, was wide awake in his office, seated at his desk, when he wrote down the phrase “MTV COPS” on a notepad. It was the beginning of Miami Vice. I’ve written down such gems as “nosebleed” and “empty rooms” and “she’s a rabbit.” When I turn one of those feathers into gold, you’ll hear about it here first.
So…have you ever written anything down into the dead of night that turned into a novel or story over the course of the following several weeks and months? If not, can and will you share some of the phrases that seemed like such a great idea in the dead of night, but could not withstand the light of day?

24 thoughts on “Guy robs bank

  1. I dreamed once, a million years ago, that I was walking down a street and came to a tall wooden fence blocking my path. On the fence, in black spray paint, it said:

    “You must conceive of a line between two points as holding a way from one to the other, and then strive to make the way the line itself, and to make the line possible.”

    I woke up and wrote it down, and I’ve been wondering ever since what it means. All I can say is that at the time, I was working on a theory of art in general and poetry in particular, and (being then in my twenties) I was prone to such opacity even awake.

  2. The other day I had a dream that me and a bunch of people were peeling tiny leeches out from between our toes, but that idea didn’t go anywhere.

  3. My best and most truly exceptional middle-of-the-night jot was this:

    “The basic quality of a movie is inversely proportional to the amount of Tom Cruise there is in it.”

  4. Just the other day, I woke up and scrawled TOE LEECHES down on the notepad I keep by my bed. I pitched it to James Patterson. They think it’ll be BIG. He’s gonna kill Alex Cross with it in his Death by Toe Parasites series.

  5. Levi, I don’t know about a story, but if you have a university near you that has a quantum physics department, you might want to give them a call.

    Taylor and Jordan, I think you should get together for coffee.

    Going to see the Jack Reacher movie, Sra? Me neither.

    Gee, Joe, I’m sorry, but that one was taken before you were born…

  6. Had one the other night. Dreamed that someone posted a pattern for ugly doll on Pinterest. Caught on and went viral. Except when you actually made the doll it unleashed a demon that drove you insane.

    Hmmm . . . . wait . . . forget I posted that here.

    At my law firm, I’m working on purging old files. I have to flip through each one and record the date it was closed and why before shredding.

    I came across one where the last line on the narrative was “Case closed, subject convicted of felony murder and on death row in another state.” The date was 1998. My office had nothing to do with the criminal case, ours was a civil matter.

    It haunted me for the rest of the day. Was he still on the row? What was the crime? What happened?

    I did a little google-fu and discovered a crime, trial, and aftermath as lurid and vivid as any novel. The client rode the lightning in 2002. However, a bizarre legal twist and a co-conspirator who is still on the row in a hotly contested death penalty appeal. Docs, letters to anti-death penalty organizations, etc.

    Definitely novel fodder. Not true crime, but the twists and turns and bizarre legal angles.


  7. I had the bright idea of reading Freud’s, Dream Psychology, and downloaded it to my Kindle. All I can say is it works really well in putting me to sleep at night so I can dream stuff I can’t interpret.
    However, I actually wrote part of a novel, I intend to finish someday, based on a dream I had as a young child that stayed with me well into college. To make it short, the devil(he was really ugly), emerged from my closet and dragged me to hell. I interpret that as feeling responsible for my parents ending their marriage. Very scary for a little kid. Heck, it still scares me. I didn’t have to write it down because I woke up with it for years sweating like I’d just ran a marathon. But so far, Joe, I have not turned it into literary gold, yet. What do you think my chances are? :)I’ve also had dreams where I think I’m awake and I see dead people. Too bad I missed the boat on that one.

  8. I kept a note pad by the bed for a year or so. When reading the ideas in the clear light of day, I wish any of them had been as good as “guy robs bank.”

    I have had quite a bit f success with ideas by taking light naps. If I can keep myself in that a, pre-sleep state for half an hour or so, lots of writing obstacles resolve themselves.

  9. Terri, that’s a heck of an interesting story. You could do a “Cape Fear” type twist with it.

    When that happens to me, Kathleen, one of the voices in my head pops up and takes credit for it, sooner or later.

    Jillian, there are a number of authors who took childhood trauma in any number of forms and turned it into something remarkable. I am thinking primarily of Harlan Ellison and Dean Koontz, but there are many others. Keep trying. Your chances are every bit as good as everyone else’s.

    Dana, my light naps in the late afternoon are too often involuntary. I know what you mean though. Jim Morrison’s line about “weird scenes inside the goldmine” comes to mind. Good luck!

  10. Taylor–I think we’d both have to change our names to James Patterson to pull off toe blood suckers. I’d settle for a latte sometime.

  11. As many may assume, I dream almost every night. Sometimes vividly, sometimes not. Since I dream so often I have a rule regarding interpretation. I don’t write stuff down at night or first thing in the morning, but only if I still remember the details more than 6 hours after waking.
    By doing this, I have the ideas for my next several novels. One of which was dreamed more than 23 years ago and the other, which will actually be written first, just about 6 months ago.

    In my most recent vividly remembered dream I was visit a town along a river that unexpectedly swelled and caught me in its raging flow. Near drowning I caught hold of some rocks and managed to safety. Exhausted and clothes torn I topped the cliff and found myself in a really well landscaped Japanese garden with a couple ladies in Kimonos serving food to a bunch of business men who all stared at me like a crazy person. I could feel the river water in my nose and ears and my lungs burned from the effort of swimming and climbing. I gathered myself as best I could, combed my wet hair back out of my eyes with my fingers, bowed courteously and walked away as if it was a normal situation.

  12. Basil, thanks for sharing. That sounds like a great plot for a Japanese movie as well. Just switch the last act with the first and you’ll be all set.

  13. I’m always so exhausted and don’t get enough hours of sleep most nights so I don’t often dream. And when I do dream, it’s stupid. I don’t think I’ve ever had a story idea or even a curious word or phrase come to me while dreaming.

    Though ideas do occasionally pop into my head at various times during the day though.

  14. Once I wrote down a brilliant inspiration in the midst of night only to discover in the morning I had already tried the idea and it didn’t work. I guess my subconscious wasn’t ready to admit failure.

  15. I don’t so much wake up in the middle of the night with a killer idea, but I often resolve story problems just as I’m waking up or going to sleep as I’m thinking about the problem. And sometimes showers help too. Yeah, I don’t sing in the shower like normal people, I work out plot issues (& Zumba routines).

  16. That’s interesting, Chaco. I do the same thing at times, and not just with story problems either. What seems so difficult in the afternoon or evening sometimes has a solution waiting for it when I wake up. Usually, however, it’s just the cat telling me it’s time to get up.

    That’s an interesting story, John. I hope you kept the idea; maybe your subconscious was telling you that it would work somewhere else. Thanks!

  17. There was a Golden Girls episode where Blanche, played by Rue McClanahan, stayed up one night writing her memoirs. She was absolutely delirious about how this was literary GOLD throughout the whole episode. The final scene was the next morning after she’d had a good night’s sleep. She entered the room groggy but in her right state of mind and revealed – that she couldn’t read a word of the gibberish she had written.

  18. That’s actually better than my problem, Daniel, which is that I can read what I wrote only to discover that it really IS gibberish! Thanks!

Comments are closed.