Story Dreams

People often talk about inspiration and writing – that bolt of something from above that brings all the ingredients together in one fantastic moment. There are differing views on it.

I had a teacher who said that there was no such thing as inspiration, just perspiration. If you wanted to do anything great you had to work hard. While I totally agree that hard graft is needed, I don’t like to dismiss that an idea can come to you in a moment of inspiration.

Another teacher – this one a creative writing tutor on my university degree – said that inspiration wasn’t an idea from nowhere, it was an idea filtered through the subconscious that somehow got tangled with another, previously unrelated idea that together made something brilliant. I’m with him.

JK Rowling said somewhere that Harry Potter just walked into her head fully formed. After that she spent something like five years working hard to plot out the stories, reinventing other characters, changing their names, the story, everything – except that one central element, Harry himself. My writing process (not to be unduly big headed, comparing myself to the great JKR) is something similar to this.

I’ve talked about When Characters Appear At Random – for me, ideas appear in a fairly similar way. I dream them.

Now that sounds incredibly ridiculous and a little bit up myself, but allow me to elaborate…

I’ve always been a vivid dreamer, and equally a very internal person. I deal with things myself, don’t like to trouble other people and keep things inside. Subsequently, my subconscious has always had to process a lot.

I am a textbook anxiety dreamer. Rather than talk about being worried about going back to work after a week off, I spend the night before dreaming that the photocopier was broken and I was running around without any of the things I needed, trying to operate without them and failing. Miserably. After about three hours uninterrupted sleep, I went to work shattered. And hey, the photocopier was broken. But I fixed it, no drama.

There’s also the dream where my teeth fall out, oh and the one where I can’t wake up in time to go somewhere, my boyfriend dumps me for someone else (though haven’t had that one in a long time) etc etc.

It’s my belief that all the snippets of ideas I have throughout the days, weeks and months, are eventually filtered by my incredibly honed and practiced subconscious into what I call a story dream.

Last night I had a story dream.

I should mention that story dreams are every bit as ridiculous as normal dreams. For instance, this dream involved David Tennant in khakis with a ray gun. Needless to say, that will not be featuring in the story. I consider this excess information that gets filtered through with the ideas, dismiss it and try not to think too hard about the state of my sanity.

The essence of the dream, once I’d removed the odd dream quirks, boiled down to a workable idea for a story, one I’ve been putting the hard work of expanding and solidifying into all day – and will continue to do so when I head down to the gym in a moment. I like to be far far away in my mind when I’m on a treadmill, but that’s fodder for another post.

The problem with coming upon ideas this way is I never know when they are going to strike. As you know, I have a current WIP (and yes, that one came to me in a dream too) that I’m excited about and want to continue with. But when a story dream comes along, I have to take time out to get the ideas on paper before they flitter away with other dreams that can’t quite be remembered. It’s frustrating because once I’m done working out the details, I’ll want to write that story NOW! Patience is not a virtue I am particularly blessed with, and I have several WIPs that will remain ever WIPs, their premature graves dug by another story dream.

Incidentally, this reminds me of a conversation I had with my mother (also at the gym) about character names. She was concerned about Keira’s name because she associated it with Keira Knightly, not an image that married well with the character. She asked if I would consider changing it. I had to explain that I couldn’t, because I never chose it. Major characters usually come to me pre-named. Keira, Marshall and Adam all had names before I even started typing. Others I had to fill in, some I haven’t even decided yet, but the main characters are almost always already named.

Last night’s dream introduced me to Amy, Max, Camille and Simon. Amy and Max are reincarnations of old characters who’ve been trying to get their story told for a long time now, but Camille and Simon are new. Though in the dream they didn’t have concrete identities, dreams being so wishy washy, but when I woke up I knew.

Once Keira’s story is told, maybe Amy will get her turn. I’d rather have heard from her the day I finished writing about Keira, but I’d rather have too many ideas than none at all. And this way I can validly claim that lie in I had was absolutely necessary and totally not a waste of a morning!


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