Thursday, January 5, 2012

What story ideas may come

A few short years ago, I wasn't writing.  I simply didn't make it a priority, and so it didn't get done.  I still had ideas, and I had one great big unfinished idea that I'd been churning over in my mind for ages.  I'm the perfect example of why you shouldn't wait to have time to write, because you never will.

Then one night, I had a vivid dream.  In the dream, I was on the T going through Boston late at night, in an almost-empty car.  A man sat across from me.  I didn't know him at first, until he looked me in the eye and told me that yes, I did know him.  Without raising his voice or giving any inflection at all, he said that, if I didn't get his story down in a permanent form, I was going to regret it.  He would see to it.

This person was the villain of the piece in earlier incarnations of the story.  Even though he isn't anymore, he's not a good guy.  He scares me the most out of all the people who've come out of my head.

I'm telling you that story to explain why I don't use dreams as story ideas.  I certainly don't look down on people whose dreams make enough sense or have enough narrative cohesion to make stories, but my dreams don't lend themselves to a storytelling form.  If I'm lucky, a character will visit me.  If I'm very lucky, it will be one of the nice ones.

I have tried all of the methods for mining dreams for story ideas.  In theory, it's a good idea.  After all, dreams are an expression of one's subconscious, and if story ideas can't come from your own mind, where do they come from?

The most effective method was to write down my dreams in a journal shortly after waking.  As hard as dreams are to remember later in the day, they're even harder to recall weeks, months, or years later.  Going back through dream journals and matching them up against what was happening in my waking world showed me a lot about my thought process and what function my dreams were serving.  Sometimes, a theme would emerge, and I would think about weaving that into something I was working on.

Should you choose to mine your dreams for story ideas, be careful about following the plot too closely.  If your dreams are anything like mine, there's no foreshadowing, no reason why anything happens, and certainly no justification for feeling the way I do in dreams.  If I'm scared in a dream, it's not because something menacing is coming after me or because it's dark; I'm scared in a dream because I'm scared.  That would be terrible writing.

How about your dreams?  Do they lend themselves to conversion to stories easily? Have you ever written a story off something you dreamed?  How did it turn out?


  1. My dreams, when I can remember them, are often rather coherent, and I've used dreams a number for story ideas, but in all but one case they were just seeds.

    Unfortunately, while my dreams can often be quite coherent, they are almost always very brief. A single setting or location, perhaps a single long scene, but not much more.

    There are two exceptions that spring to mind. One exception was a long, multiple scene nightmare that I wrote to get it out of my head and haven't revisited since. The other exception was a dream that spanned multiple locations, had a fairly tight plot, and was vivid in my mind when I woke up. I wrote out everything I could get as it faded, and have written it out three times now over the years trying to get it right. There is a whole story there, I know it, I just have to fill in the details.