Ever have one of those dreams that is has a really great storyline? I don’t mean a cool (but wacko) storyline where you turn into a dolphin and swim to the Peloponnese where you meet Marisa Tomei and—damn, I love that dream…
No, I’m talking about a dream that has a cogent but wild plot, a good theme, and strong structure with rising action and conflict. Ever have one of those? Am I the only one who does a literary post-mortem on his dreams?
Anyway…I know I’m not the only one who has those kinds of dreams (follow-up analysis notwithstanding). Lots of writers do, and they can be full of story-building gold. Dreaming is the purest form of percolation. It’s where your brain is playing with “What if?” scenarios, trying to prepare you for the worst and solve your day-to-day problems. Now, if a novel is one of your day-to-day problems, know it or not, your brain is teasing out the threads of that Gordian Knot you’ve written yourself up in. Unfortunately, the dreaming brain speaks in symbols and metaphors, so it’s hard to decipher. But, if you wake up with a great idea on how to get your characters out of the jam they’re in, chances are you dreamt the solution first.
Sometimes, the dream is so clear that it needs no interpretation. I’ve had that happen a couple of times; I even sold one story that came to me, fully-formed, via a dream. The biggest challenge for me is the most basic: remembering the dream. I know some folks who practice lucid dreaming, but that’s beyond me, as it is for most folks. So, I’m reduced to writing it down.
I used to keep a pen and paper on the nightstand. When I awoke from a cool dream, I’d flick on the light and write it down. Result? A pissed off wife and a page filled with indecipherable gibberish.
Some people use tape recorders. Downside? Keith Richard’s famous anecdote of reaching, half-asleep, for the tape recorder to put down a few lines to a new song, and waking up to find 3 minutes of yammering and half-singing and then four hours of snoring.
The best technique for me is to just get up and write it down, but I mean get up and write it down. Get up, get out of bed, go into the other room, (come back and get your glasses), turn on the light (in the other room, sparing sleeping wife), and write it down. My success (and readability) rate jumps markedly when I do this.