Wednesday, February 29, 2012

3 Ways to Harness Dreams for Stories

I had an amazing dream the other night and thought when I woke up what a great story it would make. I even had a character profile all laid out for my protagonist. It might make a great short story and it might make a good full length, although it was sci-fi in nature and I'm not sure I could pull off sci-fi.

It struck me I've had loads of really sharp, great dreams that have become stories. In fact--about five years ago I had an amazing, lucid, clear dream that was so strong when I woke up that I had to write it down, and then I kept writing. And kept writing. And then I got excited--really excited. I told my cousin at the time, "Oh my God! I could publish this! Do you think I could publish this? I'm totally going to get this published!"

To which she replied, "Slow down a moment, hoss." (We call each other hoss.)

Eventually I slowed down, because the story I had written was utter crapola, but the bug had been caught and I've been writing ever since, practicing, developing plot, learning, and understanding what it really means to tell a story. But those dreams, man, they give that passionate first spark. The hard part is picking out the actual nugget of story in all that mental soup.

Another dream I had a few years ago did make it into a good short story that I still like today, and I have plans to develop that into a full length novel.

So, how do we harness the power of our dreams into stories? I'm going to assume this happens to you, too, because if there's anything I've learned it's that I am not unique. (I mean I am, and I wore socks with cool prints on them in high school to prove that, but in general I'm not, you know.)

1. Write dreams down the next morning. Duh! But I rarely do this. Instead I let the tendrils of the dream's feelings wrap around me like a cozy and wonderful coat until they begin to fade. Maybe a few days later I'll write notes about it, but by then I've lost the finer details. So write it down right away. If you can't, then jot out 5 or 6 bullet points.

2. Recognize that our dreams are metaphors for desires and fears. If you can sort through your dream to find what's at the heart of it, then you can find the beginning nugget of an actual plot--because all plots revolve around conflict and desires. Admittedly, this isn't easy because it means lots of self-reflection, but hey.

3. Keep a Dream Journal. I did this once. It's a fascinating look at what really goes on in your head when you let your day-time defenses rest. See if you can recognize patterns or themes in your dreams, and brainstorm off a few different ones if none stand out by themselves as a story start.

How about you? Have you worked dreams into real stories? Any tips to add?


Linda G. said...

My very first book (the drawer novel) was based on an extremely vivid dream I had. The dream lit the fuse, and the story exploded. (Unfortunately, explosions can be messy... *grin*)

Steven J. Wangsness said...

I don't think I've ever done it. This was an interesting post. You're just a regular font of ideas!

Sierra Godfrey said...

Linda, I'm not sure what to make of that one! Is that good or bad or naughty?

Steven, (is it Steve?) well thanks. I tell you these days it's like pulling teeth to come up with blog posts that aren't thinly veiled rants about not sleeping.

Sierra Gardner said...

Hey Sierra! I would say a good third of my story ideas come from dreams. Particularly my short stories - most of which are horror since I have super scary dreams on a regular basis. I got into the habit of keeping a little notebook next to my bed and writing down my dreams in the morning. Even when the dream itself isn't story worthy I often include fun little details from my dreams in my stories. Great post!!

Anonymous said...

Actually, the novel I'm working on now came from a dream. *gasp* So did Stephanie Meyer's....

For me, I determined as soon as I bolted out of bed, to remember every bit of it, and I actually sat there all scrunched up with the covers all twisted around my legs and my eyes shut tight to hold onto the images. I talked myself through it, "OK, she looked like this...and this is what happened when that guy said this, oh and this was why it was tense."

Surprisingly, it actually worked, and I'm now 10,000 or so words into the novel that I'm hoping to query by December. It actually psyches me out, because, like Linda G. said, it was so vivid, something novels need to be for the author first before they can be for the readers.

Great post, Sierra!

Cathryn Leigh said...

If you take the sum total of the peices that make you - your are unique - but take just one piece and you will find many who share it. *grins*

Okay back to dreams...

I had one dream recently that played out so vividly as a movie that I actually got up at 5 am on the weekend to write it down... I had to turn it into a synopsis though, as dawn neared and the children would be up demanding snuggles and food. :}

My current novel came out of a waking dream that gripped me so hard in the mornings on multiple days I could not deny it's being written. It was pure romance back then and has since exploded into something along the lines of an epic fantasey trilogy.

:} Cathryn / Elorithryn

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