Dreams And Daydreams As Writing Prompts

I’ve been reading the new post on Writing Forward about using dreams and daydreams as prompts for stories. Melissa suggests keeping a journal of dreams and daydreams and using them as a way to inform and inspire your writing.

I’ve written a couple of posts about dreams (Hiram B. Redfern and Premonitions or Dreams) but never used them as stories or ideas in stories. Perhaps it’s about time I did.

It’s not that the whole dream needs to be used. It could be names, places, feelings, or events that are incorporated into a story. Hiram B. Redfern can be a character without the events in my dream or I could use what his wife was doing and turn it into a curious incident that might need explaining somehow. I always felt that Hiram was a real person – perhaps I could turn him into one.

I often find that I conjure up vivid images just before I go to sleep. I’m even awake enough to be able to describe them to my partner. I don’t know whether this is the precursor to sleep or whether I’m just daydreaming. Trying to write them down at this point would be difficult as I want to just drift off rather than bounce up and start writing, but I could jot them down when I remember them. Sometimes this might be a few days after the images come to mind; I’m starting to recall some now because I’m thinking about it. Alternatively I could ask my partner to remind me in the morning.

Dreams are not wholly understood but it is widely believed they are a way for the mind to sift and sort the things that happen to us on a subconscious level. They can be full of mystery, beauty, and the bizarre and this is what writers often tap into when coming up with story ideas. Where else do our ideas come from if not the subconscious, as well as from our own experiences and those of others? The imagination, to quote Wikipedia, is:

… the ability of forming new images and sensations when they are not perceived through sight, hearing, or other senses. Imagination helps provide meaning to experience and understanding to knowledge; it is a fundamental faculty through which people make sense of the world, and it also plays a key role in the learning process.

This sounds a bit like dreaming to me, even if it’s not exactly the same process. Writing (and reading) can also be seen as a way of bringing meaning and sense to the world and both also play a key role in the learning process. We have powerful tools at our fingertips as writers and we provide powerful tools to those who read what we have written. Tools that are not to be underestimated.

So, next time you wake up remembering a dream, write it down – however disjointed and bizarre it may sound. You never know, you might have material for your next story.

Unexpected Writing Prompts

It’s amazing how the most unexpected things crop up and give an idea for a story. I was talking to a colleague at work and the usual ‘Did you see…?‘ conversation struck up. ‘No, I didn’t …‘ because I don’t have a TV. So she told me anyway.

There had been a programme on the night before about grown men who acted out being babies and the women who ‘looked after’ them. While I sympathised that there may be deep-rooted psychological problems, not least for the women concerned, I didn’t really want to know more.

The subject that caught my imagination was about the woman who kept her husband’s ashes and ate them to remain close to him after death. Again, I recognised there are deep-seated psychological problems here, but what an opening for a story. Loss, longing, attachment, separation – they are all here. After all, we all write about the psychological state of our characters.

Without being demeaning and disrespectful to the woman concerned, there are a number of takes that can be gleaned from this; serious and sensitive, homourous and bizarre, or any combination of these. A picture of this woman immediately developed and I felt I wanted to write. I don’t know where it starts or where it’s going but pen and paper here I come.

Taking Time To Read

Reading a book is always an inspiring thing to do. I find inspiration in the language used, the crafting of each sentence, and the ideas behind the story. I find myself savouring little nuances of language that can convey so much and admiring the plotting that carries the story forward. It is not at all distracting from a good read to note and remember the way it is written.

I don’t always find the time to read as much as I would like. I have a full-time job that can be emotionally and mentally demanding and I’m often too tired to read by the time the evening’s chores are done. Weekends can seem full of things to do as well and there is always my writing. I want to write more often than I seem to have the time to write.

The trouble is, I forget how much reading inspires me. I also forget that to find the time to read, I have to make the time to read, just as I have to make the time to write. I worked as a psychotherapist some years ago and would often suggest to people that they make appointments with themselves when they were feeling stressed and that they had little or no time for themselves. This is something anyone can do. You don’t have to tell anyone who the appointment is with or what it’s for – just that you are booked out for that time period. After all, we can keep appointments at work and in our personal lives so why not make appointments with ourselves?

As is often the way with advice-giving, I’m not always very good at following my own. Time for a kick up the backside methinks.

Secrets And Story

I was listening to the ‘Infinite Monkey Cage‘ on Radio 4 on my home from work this evening. They were discussing code-breaking and the extraordinary achievements of the team working at Bletchley Park during WWII.

There were about 10,000 people working there and all were sworn to secrecy, with something like only 6 people in the world who knew the extent of the work at Bletchley Park in the war effort. This secrecy continued for decades after the war.

As is the way with the Official Secrets Act, there are various time periods when secrets are no longer secrets. As deadlines passed and knowledge could be shared, some extraordinary stories began to emerge. A husband might turn to his wife 30 years after the war and tell her, ‘I have something to tell you. I worked at Bletchley Park during the war.’ To which the wife might reply, ‘So did I. Which hut were you working in?’

This shows the lengths to which ordinary people like you and I would go to to keep the secrets they were sworn to. It also set me to thinking about the secrets people keep from each other and how we choose whether or not to reveal them. My story entitled ‘The Secret‘ was based on a similar idea – two people living with a secret they both knew about. There are always things we do not discuss with others, however close they may be, and it is these things that weave subtly into a story-line to create interest and suspense.