I’ll tell you something interesting about how your subconscious works; and I’ll do it without referencing Jung. Maybe. Anyway, there was this girl in my elementary school that I thought was kind of cool and who’d call me every once and a while. She was pretty and one of the popular kids, so I was into that but not because I had any great fascination for her. She often forgot how good a friend I was when we were back in school on Monday anyway, strangely; but we’ll just let that lie there. It’s important to my point here that you get this – I wasn’t in love or like or even considering it until a particular turning point. A dream.
Nothing nasty here. I just had a dream about her one night where we were hanging out on a farm looking at the stars or something when she tried to kiss me. That was all, seriously. I can still describe to you now, however, the incredible attraction she had in that dream…like a mask with the power of all of human myth behind it just hanging over the dreamwork cardboard cutout of this girl. She was everything about girls in that dream, all girls who are fascinating and maddening. From that point on, I had a thing for her I couldn’t understand at all. Weird, yeah? Hold on to that. I’ll come back to it.
A nightmare I had when I was probably thirteen is as clear to me now in my forties as it was the night I dreamed it. The plot is thin; and you probably won’t get what’s spooky about it. I was outside my house bouncing a basketball alone; and it echoed. I remember it echoed. I knew in the dream no one else was home. Yet when I felt someone watching me, I turned around to look up in the second story living room window. The curtains were split open; and a pale old man was grinning widely back at me. The end. I chilled up just now typing that because of the malevolent feeling I had about that guy up there. It wasn’t what happened or that I recognized him or even knew his intentions. It was the mythic power of everything that’s dark and frightening and wicked pasted into a mask hung over the cardboard cutout of a stranger in my living room window. It was the feeling then that is still with me now.
I understand that my subconscious has these basic universal ideas about the feminine mystique and about bad things and a host of other patterns that are incredibly fundamental to how we perceive and filter information. The feeling of adventure and new horizons, for example. What it means to me to be a man. You can imagine others. One thing that happens to me and which I know happens to many other authors is we either have these patterns laid over an image we encounter by happenstance, or we dwell on an image we find striking on its own and overlay the pattern ourselves to make something of it.
In It All Began With A Picture, C. S. Lewis explained that he carried around a picture in his head of a faun carrying parcels in the snow with no idea what it meant for years…till he finally sat down to ask questions about it. I imagine it carried the sense of adventure with it, which is why it stuck around. George Lucas explains in Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplay that he really just wanted to remake Flash Gordon because he was looking to recapture the sense of exploration and adventure from the serials he watched as a kid. Stephen King explains in one of his introductions to Wizard And Glass that he walked out of The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly pondering the unearthly western imagery he’d seen and knowing he needed to recapture the way it made him feel watching it – a journey that gave us the amazing Dark Tower series. What I’m offering you is that images we find interesting are all around us or inside our heads. What we can do as writers is poke and prod on them a little to see why they’re lingering with us…which mythic pattern overlays best on them and makes them most real. They fit like a lock and key when you figure that out.
In my case, I was in a rock gorge in Oman with some friends particularly missing John Wayne movies on a long Navy deployment and making my way through the first three Dune books. The picture of a guy in a torn and dirty uniform slamming open saloon doors and drawing all eyes on him came to my mind all on its own. Everyone in the bar was afraid of him though he was unarmed. I knew him to be a leftover of some war, and that somehow he had people with him. He felt tired to me, and dangerous…desperate. That came with the picture. I held on to that for a long time, till I ultimately sat down to write Tearing Down The Statues and put him in a different setting to answer all my questions about him, and just what those people were frightened of.
See? No Jung. Now go think of an image that’s stuck around in your own head and start asking which pattern did it bring with it to unlock whatever story it’s trying to tell.