On Nightmares and Fiction


So, lets talk about nightmares in fiction, and to do that, we're going to talk about real life nightmares for a moment. I like the idea of nightmares in fiction, as they can express a lot of complex emotion and reveal a lot about a character, but don't necessarily need to make sense; at least not in the short term. It's a dream, right? I do think they're one of the most abused devices in contemporary fiction, but applied properly can really add to a book or short story.


I, like most other healthcare professionals, have stress in my job. Sometimes, the job can eat at you. Loosing patients you thought you could save, things happening that you couldn't stop, listening to the grief of a patients family. It all takes a psychological toll, and places stress on the providers. Most of the stress is subliminal, but occasionally, the stress bubbles over. Irritability, depression, mood swings, and occasional dreams. I'm not going to talk about those, though. I'm going to talk about a dream from when I was on a flight crew.


It was sometime in 2012; There's been a lot of helicopter EMS crashes in the couple of proceeding years, with a few big ones in my service area. No one I knew (Although that would change, sadly) but enough to keep it at the front and foremost of everyone's mind. I was assigned to a bust remote base in Arizona and we'd had a long month. Long, hot days and busy dangerous nights. We loved what we did, but it was stressful, and my stress manifested in a dream.


The dream started like any other routine flight. We were on top of a hospital; It looked like University Medical center in Tuscon. We preflighted, and lifted off. There was then a *BANG* from behind my head (the gearbox) and then a grinding noise, and we began to spin, and the song from 'Nightmare before Christmas' began. You know, those creepy little kids singing 'La-la-la-la,la,la.' I could hear them singing as we spun and fell towards the ground. I could see the nurses looking out the windows of the hospital, horrified as we plummeted towards the ground. One of the nurses looking out the window was my wife; in another window, a bunch of kids with IV poles from the pediatric ward. The parking lot below was getting closer and closer; the faded yellow lines on the hot asphalt as our help spun, and spun and spun. 'La-la-la-la,la,la.'

The dream ended with those voices echoing in my head as I woke up.

For your creepy reference, I put the song below.


I think that the fact that this dream is still with me years later is a sign of it's power. I had another one once; about a nuclear war. I was living at my Dad's place in Northern AZ and there was a big nuclear war and the US was loosing, but in Northern AZ, what would you see? Nothing.

In this dream, I woke up, and it was a nice day. The sky was that perfect Arizona blue, not a cloud in sight. Couldn't hear any cars, no planes in the sky. I tried to turn on a radio, and it didn't work. I picked up the phone, and it was dead too. The car wouldn't start, either. I was completely alone, and nothing was happening.

I then woke up with a start, to a perfect Arizona day. The sky was that perfect Arizona blue, not a cloud in sight. Couldn't hear any cars, or see any planes. I started to get truly frightened, and then I turned on a radio, and the radio came on. KTNN, out of Window Rock. 'Voice of the Navajo Nation'. It remember being immensely relieved that the war hadn't started.


To forestall any questions- No I'm not old enough to really remember the Cold War. I was just a weird kid and read a lot, and Warday was a big part of this nightmare.


So, going back to the fiction, how can I incorporate dreams into my writing, apart from carefully? I think the takeaway is that the scariest nightmares are the ones closest to reality. The helicopter crash was as real as any accident report I've ever read, and the nuclear war? Well. All you'd notice in Northern AZ would be EMP effects....the world would just go quiet. I think the nightmare I'm about to write is going to be like that. It's going to start out as real, and devolve into surreal.


As always, I welcome comments and thoughts on this!









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