Monday Writing Motivation: Storytellers have a reason to live

 In Monday Motivation, Richard Beynon's blog

I take forever to go to sleep. Lights out at ten, but I lie there forever. Sleep’s as elusive at eleven as it was at ten. I’ve schooled myself not to fret, but to enjoy the luxury of a warm bed and the sense that tomorrow contains a range of pleasures, including a visit to our newest favourite coffee shop, Bridges.

For the first thirty or forty minutes Trish reads her Kindle in the dark beside me. I turn. I toss. I adjust the hot water bottle.

And finally, sometime after twelve, I fall into a dream.

Trish and I are debating an issue that commands the attention of an increasing fraction of the population of many western countries: at what point does it become advisable, even desirable, to seek a way out, a quick exit, before the ravages of illness or Alzheimer’s robs you of the essence of your humanity?

I realise in the dream that perhaps it’s time for me to take an early exit.

Trish contrives to source a suicide pill – one guaranteed to send me on my way into the great beyond without pain or distress.

I flash forward to me in a bed on my own. It’s arranged. At a time of her choosing that night she will bring me the pill and an enabling glass of water.

I feel totally at ease with my decision. It feels the right one, in every way. I lie there, serene, at peace with myself and the world. The only niggle that worries at the edge of my consciousness is a concern that after I die I will inevitably expel various noxious body fluids that will ruin the bedding. But I’m sure that they – Trish? The undertakers? – will probably just dispose of the bedding. So I stop worrying about that and lie there admiring the wisdom I’ve shown at coming to this sophisticated and oh so modern decision.

And then, much earlier than I’d anticipated, Trish arrives. I’d imagined her only coming hours later. But I’m not put out. I thank her for helping me in this way. She hands me the pill. It is very big, as large, perhaps larger, than any I’ve ever taken before. Without hesitation, I pop it into my mouth and take the glass of water from her. I raise it to my lips.

But then, before taking a sip, I hand the glass back to her, reach into my mouth with my fingers and remove the pill. It is wet with saliva.

“I’ve changed my mind,” I say. Trish does not seem surprised. She’s curious, though. “Why?” she asks.

“Because I’ve got too many stories to tell,” I say simply. It seems like a complete explanation to me.

And then I wake up. It’s still totally dark. I reach for the phone on my bedside table, press the button to awaken it and squint at the screen: 03:38.

The dream is still vivid in my mind. I wonder how I could tell it as a story. It doesn’t feel very promising. It’s linear, and the twist in the tail will come as no surprise at all. After all, if the first-person narrator had taken the pill, he wouldn’t have been around to tell the tale.

I check one or two other things on my phone – the weather in the morning when we intend walking to Bridges (drizzle, freezing) – then pull the covers up to my nose and try to fall asleep again.

And again it takes forever. But when I do, I find myself sitting with two men I vaguely remember from university. I’m in the midst of making a passionate case in favour of assisted suicide.

It feels as if I’ve already advanced the usual argument – that dementia is something best avoided if at all possible – and I’ve moved to a less powerful but, to my mind still a cogent point.

The removal, I say, of one human being reduces the burden on the planet’s resources, and that surely is not a benefit to be sniffed at.

One of the guys snorts and retorts, “One part in eight billion – please, what difference will that make?” I can’t make out the rest of what he says and reflect that I often have trouble hearing people in my dreams. Which triggers the more specific realisation that I am, of course, dreaming. Nevertheless, I move closer to my interlocutor the better to make out what he’s saying. I’m ready to tell him that however small one’s contribution is, it is always significant in a moral if not a mathematical sense.

But then my dream merges with the real world of our bedroom. I open my eyes. Goodness, I think, I’m now filling in the gaps of my original dream.

Beside me Trish seems to be awake. I say, “I’ve just had a most remarkable dream.” She grunts and turns over and I see that she’s still very much asleep. In time I drift off again.

I find myself in the company of my family. My sons are there, as are Trish and her children. I say, “I’ve got to tell you about this dream I’ve had.” I launch into the telling, but after a few sentences I realise that my tale is being greeted by an unnatural silence. I’m dreaming, of course, and there’s not much point in telling the family all about it because they’re not there to hear it.

I wake up. The dim light of early pre-dawn is filtering in through the open door of the bathroom that adjoins our bedroom.

“Trish, you awake?”

“Yes. You?”

“I’ve just had this amazing dream – no, this amazing series of dreams.” I proceed to tell it much as I’ve told you. And as I do so, I register just how grateful I am that I didn’t take that pill.

Happy writing.


P.S. Please enter our February/March flash fiction challenge:

Your character has a dream that inspires them to decide to do something they’d never considered before. In 250 words trace the arc between the dream and the decision.

Here are some writing tips:

  1. Dreams are usually of little interest to anyone but the dreamer so restrict your description of your character’s dream to just a few energetic and salient details.
  2. Remember here – as always – scenes burst into life when they’re based on specific, accurate and sensory details.
  3. This is an exercise in setting up and paying off. Set up the motivation for your character’s later decision in the dream – and then pay it off in a surprising but psychologically convincing way in the waking scene.

P.P.S. Jo-Anne and I would love you to join us on one of our writing holidays in Stow-on-the-Wold in the UK, Barrydale in the Western Cape, South Africa or Venice, Italy.

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