It’s well known that Robert Louis Stevenson got the idea for The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from a nightmare he had. More detailed accounts say that his wife interrupted him when Jekyll first turned into Hyde.
I had a nightmare of my own the other night, and like any good nightmare, it’s imagery was vivid and its origin mysterious. In the dream, I was living in a place that reminded me a lot of On The Rox above the Roxy Theatre in Hollywood. It was dark, the middle of the night, and a night of hard partying had come to an end. I heard a scuffle outside, and when I got to the window overlooking an alley by Sunset Boulevard, I saw a couple of guys pull out a neighbor and his girlfriend, the couple bearing an odd resemblance to Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart. Apparently, the guy owed a lot of drug money. They threw him to the ground, pinned him with a foot on each shoulder, and shot him twice in the back. I didn’t flinch. Through the grimy pane of glass, it was like watching something on TV. After a while, I went to the room back behind the stage where slept my roommate – a guy I’d never seen before – and very calmly said I was moving out and heading home.
There’s a lot more to this dream than I said. You know how some dreams seem to last forever? This was like a four-day maelstrom of alcohol, heroin, loud music (I think I heard Tom Waits singing), and dark light. It was, in a sense, the most beautiful nightmare I ever had. And again, it came to me with such clarity that I thought it had potential for at least a short story.
I took off full steam ahead and got some good descriptions down on the first day, but when I tried to move further the next day, I found my brain seizing. Finally, I gave up, concluding that I had wasted little more than an hour in all trying to set the foundation.
Now, why is it that Stevenson’s dream worked when mine didn’t? Okay, well, that’s an extremely tricky thing to answer because I don’t know exactly what went down in Stevenson’s dream. It’s said that Stevenson had a couple of main scenes from his Jekyll and Hyde story, and if so, then he was more likely to weave them to each other. The dream I had, on the other hand, was disjointed, fragmentary even though the images were unified by a central location. The action was fleeting, each lacking a beginning, middle, or end.
That’s not to say that this was unsuccessful from a writer’s viewpoint, because, in order for it to be a success, it implies that I set out to have this dream consciously. I didn’t. Sometimes, a dream is just a dream and not the seed of a story.