Welcome to My Nightmare

“The Nightmare” by Johann Heinrich Fussli, oil on canvas, 1871 (from Wikimedia Commons)


It starts with spiders. Huge, hairy beasts that come out of magically expanding webs that catch my terrified little body. Later on, there is running through maze-like hallways of a generic school looking for a class for which I am eternally late. The decision to become an actress fuels the classic “actor’s nightmare”: finding myself onstage for a show where everyone but me knows their lines. What nightmares – and perfect topics for poetry or prose!

Nightmares have been credited with inspiring the works of classic horror writers like Mary Shelly and Edgar Allen Poe. Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde came full-blown from one of Robert Louis Stevenson’s nightmares. But you don’t necessarily need to write traditional horror to use this wealth of late-night imagery. What causes your character to bolt upright at 3 a.m. can tell the reader a lot about her. A recurring dream can also give your readers a wonderful hint of foreshadowing. Who can forget Yossarian’s dream in Catch-22?

This is the time of year we love to snuggle by the fire and tell hair-raising tales, dress up like our favorite spooks or villains, pop into parties or take our kids out trick or treating. What better time to come up with your own nightmare material?

So brace yourself and prepare to make lemonade from these late-night lemons. Going way back to what first sent you knocking on your parents’ bedroom door is a great place to start.

And once you’ve crafted your tale, why not read your piece at PDX Writers’ Night of the Dead at the Beaterville Cafe on November 1, 2013. It’s an open-to-everyone reading of horror stories, poems and flash pieces – with cocktails and costumes. Sign-ups start at 6:30 p.m. – and be sure to tell the audience your work was inspired by this prompt.

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