Night Time Logic

At Clarion, Kelly Link taught us about the logic of night and dreams. Lessons learned at Clarion can take some time to sink in. This one has seemed very relevant to me this week.

Night time logic is the logic of dreams. It is the movement from one happening to another not in the day time maner where one thing leads to another, but in the disassociated dream state where anything can lead to anything. It is the moment when you are reading a book and realise it is the story of your own life but however fast you turn pages you can never get to the end. Or realise that you are in a house made up of rooms from all the houses you have ever lived in. Or step off the edge of a cliff only to realise you have jerked yourself awake with a kick of your leg. It is the beating heart of weirdness and fantasy.

When I was a kid, I always wrote at night. With all the normal people tucked up in bed and their psychic clutter gone with them, my imagination could do its job, aided by a cocktail of junk food, heavy metal music and late night TV. My subconscious took control and I wrote fragmentary, spiralling stories that were not much more than intensely described images. I never finished anything (so nothing changes there then) because I didn’t have any of the tools to take that raw material of the imagination and turn it into the stuff of story.

Many people I have spoken to agree that one of the tricksiest things about writing fiction is keeping the fires of your imagination stoked through the long journey it takes to learn the skills and techniques for capturing a story in words. Balancing the sub-conscious imagination with the conscious skills needed to create is one of the biggest challenges faced by any artist, and writers are no exception.

Night time logic is a way of recapturing the raw material of imagination that flows after dark and in dreams. And I think it is something fantasy needs more of. So many fantasy novels, which should be steeped in imagination, are bogged down in the conscious mind of the author. When my own writing is at its most dysfunctional, it is because conscious concerns like pacing, plot, viewpoint etc etc have totally overwhelmed and extinguised my imagination. Thats when I need to take a sidestep into night time logic, loosen up and let things go genuinely weird and fantastical.


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

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