Stories Based on Dreams

Finding inspiration for a good story, especially one that will eventually be novel-length, is hard. Nine times out of ten, the ideas you come up with probably won’t make it past the first three pages without a major revision of the idea, or being scrapped entirely. At least that’s been my experience. That’s why it seems like a gift from heaven above when you wake up in the morning, having just had a dream that inspired you to write. And that’s great. Please do it. Just remember a couple things first.

1) Dreams are only a small piece of a story. From interviews with Stephanie Meyer, I have determined that her inspiration for Twilight came, at least in part, from a dream she had. In that dream, as far as I can tell, she was lying in a pretty meadow with some hot guy. And they were gazing lovingly at each other or something. Very chaste and proper. Meyer then went on to write four books. And all four of those books came from this tiny little scene from a dream. Now clearly she expanded on the idea a little bit. Instead of lying chastely in a meadow with some guy, her main character lies chastely in a meadow with some guy who is a vampire…who sparkles, ’cause why not? And there’s an entire story leading up to their lying in that meadow, and some story that comes after. Kudos to her for coming up with material for all that from one scene, but the point I’m trying to make is that if you’ve been inspired by something very small, it is very difficult to take that small thing and make it into something as big and complex as a story. You might even end up writing for the sole purpose of getting to that scene. I wouldn’t know if that’s what ended up happening to Ms. Meyer. After all, I’m not in her head. (Thank God. I imagine being inside there would be like sitting in a preschool classroom during arts and crafts, only the preschoolers are all on crack and their teacher is outside having a smoke.) But the point is that your inspiration could end up being your downfall, so be careful about which ideas you choose to pursue. Also, on a kind of transitory note, don’t get too attached to that inspiration. It might work great in your head (or in your dreams, which are still kinda in your head) but not on paper, and it’s better to man up (or woman up (so many parentheses in this post!)) and admit that it’s not so great than to stubbornly stick to it and end up producing a piece of crap. Right, so on that note:
2) Things work differently in dreams than they do in real life. This might seem obvious, but when you wake up, and you’ve been inspired by dreams, as I have been many times whether I wanted to be or not, you have to take those dreams with a grain of salt. When you’re writing it down, you might be tempted to keep everything as close to the dream as possible. After all, it did inspire you. Why fix what isn’t broken, right? The problem is, without realizing it, writing from the perspective of a dream can cause you to diverge from the reality of your book just a bit. The reason is, everything that happens in a dream feels real. It makes sense in dream-logic. If a horse walks up to you and asks for directions to your best friend’s house, then changes into a bunny and flies away, that’s great! Whatever. Happens all the time. Then you wake up, and it’s not until you’re writing it down for a story that you realize how ludicrous that is. So be sure to use your dreams as a jumping off point, but remember that you might have to tweak it a little, or a lot. I have had exactly three plot-heavy dreams in my life so far, and they all had a beginning and a middle, during which, regrettably, I woke, but there were still gaps. I made my project filling in those gaps, and, more importantly, giving them the ending I so desperately craved. I used the ideas and concepts of the dreams as well as a scene or two to provide the basis for my story, and that’s it. I will repeat, with something like Stephanie Meyer’s dream, you can’t do that, because there wasn’t really a lot to go off of. It would be the equivalent of a pole-vaulter doing a vault with a toothpick. Substance, people! That’s what you need. Your dream should be the flour, sugar, and eggs, and your book should be the cake. Preferably with frosting. Just be sure you don’t use too much, or you end up with, well, sparkly vampires.
Word of the Day: Cudgel (n) – a short, thick stick used as a weapon; club

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Filed under books, writing

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