Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dreaming up a great story, in toto

I'm one of those people who dreams constantly at night. I must sleep in a constant REM stage, the optimal state for dreaming, because the moment I close my eyes, I plunge into an exciting nocturnal realm. My dreams are complex and richly textured, full of subplots and action. They seem compelling and  cohesive in real time. But the moment I wake up, they make no sense.

A couple of nights ago, however, I had a rare treat: my dream delivered an entire story. It was a family drama set in the context of Sci-Fi suspense, incorporating elements of artificial intelligence, corporate espionage, and time travel. The dream-story built to a boffo climax, like a great onscreen thriller. Best of all, it still made sense when I woke up! It was such a great story that I didn't trust the experience. I actually checked the TV schedule to make sure an episode of The Twilight Zone hadn't been playing while I was asleep. (Normally if the TV is on when I doze off--usually it's tuned to the Military History Channel--whatever is playing will work itself into a dream. Which probably explains why I have so many nightmares about being pursued by Nazis in tanks).

I don't know if I'll do anything with my dream-story; Sci-Fi is a little outside my comfort zone.  But it made me think--wouldn't it be great if our "boys in the back room" delivered more stories this way? Instead of having to coax plot lines and characters from our brain's ether, we could have them delivered to us as dreams at night, like pizza.

Have you ever written a story that came to you in a dream? Or do you find your dreams to be useful in some other creative way?


  1. Author Sharon Sala shares stories about her dreams of book plots. She takes the extra step & writes them too. I've never dreamed whole books & I rarely remember my dreams, except for the twilight ones that you catch right before you wake up.

    But characters have come to me before, and endings to a book, and if I have a plot glitch I have solved them fresh from sleep. I believe that "the boys in the back room" never sleep & constantly work on what I assign them.

    Love this post, Kathryn.

  2. Thanks, Jordan! Taking a nap, a walk, or a shower--those are three things I do when I'm trying to jog loose a creative solution!

  3. The book I am working on now is based on a dream I had. But by the time I finish the book, there will likely be no inkling of the dream that started the whole process.

  4. Michael, it sounds like you're using the dream as a kick starter for your creative engine. That's probably more promising than trying to stay faithful to the particulars of any one dream.

  5. I know I dream (everyone does) and I'm often aware I'm dreaming while doing it, and can usually remember I have dreamt the night before. I so rarely remember what the dream was about I might as well say I never do. I may have a thread of it in my head when I wake up, but it dissipates like steam on a windy day.

    I do sometimes get ideas in the half-sleep state The Beloved Spouse refers to as a fugue. The final scene of my first self-pubbed novel (WILD BILL) came to me like that, and I wrote the rest of the story to get there.

    I work out problems in the shower and on walks, but rarely get new ideas in either way. My ideas almost always come from reading the paper of another story where an alternate route comes to me.

  6. I dream story stuff all the time. Sometimes it's a story idea, or a fix to my current problem. I also like to use that stage between waking and sleeping to figure out my story. I just imagine my characters, and it plays out like a movie.

    Most of the time I can make connections and find insight I didn't realize was there. It's pretty cool.

    I think it's from years of training myself to do this though.

    Great post!

  7. I'm with Jordan - I've gotten mostly character ideas and some partial concepts. I find my best time for ruffling the plot bunnies' tails and rousting them a bit is that time right between falling asleep and dreamland. That special time right between falling asleep and dreamland & waking up from dreamland. Some of my best resolves happen there - maybe because I'm finally a bit relaxed.

  8. I wish my muse communicated nocturnally. I usually am working out some weird emotional drama in the dreams I remember. But like someone else mentioned, I find that I get some of my best writing thoughts in the state between sleep and wakefulness. Maybe my inhibitions and ability to censor myself are less alert.

  9. I was once stuck in a hotel at a conference and couldn't sleep - room felt haunted and it was a historic hotel so it was possible. But that night I dreamed up an entire book - ran like a movie. Had to get up and jot it all down. Needless to say I want in great shape at the conference the following day - I needed caffeine infusions! Haven't written book yet but it's on my to do list.

  10. My usual philosophy regarding dreams is that if I still remember details of the dream 6 hours after waking then I need to pursue something related to it.

    The book I'm working on now came from one dream and involves elements from another dream. In the first I was staring at, and puzzled by, a fire along the highway outside of town that wouldn't go out, even though it was pouring rain. The second dream involved a massive disaster while I was away from my family. After being told my family was lost, I could believe it and kept searching, knowing they were still alive and waiting for me to find them.

    Those elements are being worked into my current WIP.

  11. Last night I dreamt my dog fell in a messy toilet and I had to clean her up. So you can see my dreams are useless!

    But I DO seem to get good stuff in the twilight time just as I wake up. Maybe the left side of the brain isn't awake yet so the right brain roams free. It seems to be the "golden hour" when my characters talk to me. I have gotten in the habit of waking up around dawn and just laying there listening. Very strange...

  12. Thanks for all the great comments! I also love that golden hour just before sleep or waking up--only problem is that that's the time I realize I need to rewrite something, and a new wording occurs to me. I have to get up to avoid losing the inspiration.

  13. My Boys in the Woodshop have been extremely active as of late. Maybe it's because of my new electric mattress pad. (Creepy thought.) While falling asleep, I always give them a few assignments. Seriously, I'm counting on them to come through. Sometimes, all I find in the morning is sawdust.

  14. I dreamed an entire novel last night, it was amazing! So interesting and exciting, a true thriller! I dreamed that I was reading that novel, but it all came true, I also met the author of my dream novel in my dream, she was an interesting old woman.
    I googled her name, couldn't find anything in RL resembling to it.
    Did you wrote down what you had dreamed about?
    It seems so complicated, I don't know how to start...
    But it was the best dream ever, I swear, it was better than any movie I ever watched.