We’ve all experienced it…the curtain to consciousness opening, and with it, the realization that the best story idea we’ve ever had is carefully unraveling with each passing second into wakefulness. We grab something–anything–and start writing down a the images, thoughts, character tics, plot snippets and world building details before they can escape.
After a shower, a coffee, and if we’re lucky, some form of breakfast that doesn’t have the word “leftover” in it, we sit down to reread our brilliance. And often, the only word to describe what we see is gobbledegook.
It’s disheartening, because we feel that heart flutter, that sense of knowing that a gemstone resides within the clatter of words. But if our dream catcher fails and the images seem no more than disjointed fragments, how can we turn what we’ve collected into something usable?
I’m turning the blog over to author Anthony Metivier, visiting us from Germany, because he’s pondered this very question and has some great ideas to share. Please read on!
It’s well known that if you want to consistently remember your dreams, you need to write them down each and every morning.
This practice used to be a pain back in the day of pen and pencil, especially if you slept with another person.
Today it’s as simple as iPhone and the Plain Text app syncing the words to Dropbox faster than you can thumb them in.
With that problem solved, the question is: how do you get the dream material you’ve recorded into the form of a narrative, a compelling story that people will actually want to read?
A lot depends on exactly how you dream, but it seems to me that irrespective of whether you see narrative shards or full blown scenarios, all dreams serve the same function as Tarot cards spread out on a table before the interpreter’s eye.
As Doktor Freud once taught us, dreams provide the basis for association and the more dreams you have, the more associations to the dream you can make. Recent advances in psychology have worked to demonstrate that dreams probably have no meaning, but that doesn’t suggest that dreams can’t be interpreted and mined for narrative treasure.
Thus, imagine the following scenario:
You wake up and write down everything you can remember from the cinema of your sleep. Because you’ve been practicing “dream writing” for awhile now, the dreams tend to blossom large in your mind and you have no difficulties capturing full portraits of your night time activity.
Instead of looking for a story within the dream itself (which is also a perfectly reasonable and wonderful thing to do if the material is present), look at the dream you’ve written down and its images and let your mind free associate. You might come up with a completely new story or find yourself reflecting on something from your past. It could be something for yesterday, last year or a decade ago.
Using the most prominent association that comes to your mind, examine it for the following characteristics of compelling narrative:
- Does it involve a driving desire that is in conflict with a critical need (like wanting a home with a white picket fence but needing to be a better parent before that house can have any authentic value and serve as a home)?
- Does it involve being trapped or imprisoned in a particular social situation (job, family, etc.)?
- Is there a dilemma in which many options offer themselves as possible solutions without any of them being particularly desirable?
- Has a crisis forced you or someone in the association to take action?
- Did the action lead to some kind of confrontation?
- Did any sense of self-revelation or a better understanding of the self emerge?
- Was there a resolution?
Although the disconnected fragments of a dream may not contain these elements, the episodes our dreams sunder in our minds for association often will. Exploit these and then combine them with the intense imagery of your dreams to make narrative magic.
To give you a case study, during a recent trip to Athens I dreamed of a pregnant woman with a butterfly tattoo on her cheek getting out of prison. She approached a throbbing wall made of human bones and flesh, behind which a dragon was spouting flames. She gave birth to her child and held it up to the wall, which immediately disintegrated into pieces.
When I woke up, I wrote the dream down and immediately started associating it with whatever came to mind. After a few seconds, I arrived upon the Berlin Wall and started to think about a futuristic alternative world in which people are kept out of East Berlin instead of being trapped in it.
I had also recently seen my girlfriend buy a lottery ticket, something that shocked me because I never would have suspected she was a gambler. For whatever reason this came to mind during the free-association, it gave me the idea of having some kind of lottery involved in how people get into this new version of East Berlin.
The next step was to take the scenario and answer each of the questions given
A basic sketch for a visually intense novel I drafted over the next two weeks tentatively called Electville. Using nothing more than my dreams, random associations and my iPhone, I crafted the basis for what would become a rich first draft, most of which was also drafted in bed upon awakening.
The sexiest part of this kind of practice is that it builds what you might call a self-interfering feedback loop. What I mean is that you create one novel-sized plot from a dream and then continue dreaming while working on the novel and still writing down your dreams on a daily basis. Although it doesn’t seem to provide more dreams that richen the novel drafting process, it does seem to compound the intensity of the dreams so that the idea-generating aspect get more and more intense and the depth of the outlines and sketches that emerge become a treasure trove for future exploration.
Even if unused (as most of our ideas ultimately must be), these outlines and sketches are like the gold coins in a pile you never spend because you always have enough to sustain yourself from the surface. And yet those coins you do pick from would never be so evident to your fingers and agile in your imagination if it weren’t for the unspent coins supporting them from below.
This I have learned from making dreams the horde of gold that supports of all my fiction.
Anthony Metivier is the author of Lucas Park and the Download of Doom, How to Remember Your Dreamsand founder of the Magnetic Memory Method, a 21st century approach to the Memory Palace Method that makes memorizing foreign language vocabulary, poetry, and the names of the important people you meet easy, elegant, effective and fun.
Image: PublicDomainPictures @ Pixabay
About ANGELA ACKERMANAngela is an international speaker and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also enjoys dreaming up new tools and resources for One Stop For Writers, a library built to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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A lot of people, writers included, use the words “hope” and “dream” pretty much interchangeably. Fact is, each describes a completely different way of imagining the future. Being clear not only of their definitions but of the different states of mind each invokes will not only help you better communicate with your readers or audience, but may also open a deeper level of sophistication in the message you are trying to convey.
Hope is a desired future to which at least one definitive pathway exists. It doesn’t have to be a sure thing or even a likely outcome that the hope will be achieved – just that there is at least one causal path that, if completed, will arrive at the desired future.
For example, if one hopes to graduate, it is a matter of following a laid out series of steps that, when completed, will result in a diploma.
In contrast, Dream is a desired future for which no definitive pathway exists. Dreams may be likely to be realized or may be nearly impossible, but there must be at least some possibility of being achieved or it is not a Dream but a Fantasy.
For example, if one dreams of becoming a movie star and sits around a popular restaurant for studio executives every day, there literally is no Hope, but the dream can remain alive forever.
It is important to note that the pathway to achieving a hope is not necessarily only linear. While getting a degree may require taking some course in given order (101 before 201, for example), other course are electives and the only requirement to achieve the hope is that a certain number are fulfilled, regardless of the order.
Similarly, one can try to realize a dream by taking steps, such as singling out a studio exec and stalking them, or by creating a favorable environment, such as showing up not only at a restaurant, but also at a gym and a charity fundraiser, believing that by being more visible, the odds are increased for being “noticed.”
To be a true hope, there must be a certain cause and effect relationship between the steps or conditions in which one engages and the achievement of the hope state. But a dream, by definition, is built on indirect relationships and influence, rather than certain connections.
Keep in mind that there are two kinds of causal relationships – if/then and when/also. If/then is standard temporal causality, as in One bad apple spoils the bunch. When/also is the spatial version of causality, as in Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. In each case, there is a direct connection between condition one, and condition two: If condition one is met, condition two is certain.
It is this absolute association that is not present in dreams. But from an emotional standpoint, there is no difference between hoping and dreaming. Each is a future state that is highly desired, but in hoping, one expects that future if all the conditions are met, while in dreaming, meeting the conditions provides no guarantee.
In Dramatica theory, Hope vs. Dream is a thematic conflict. It describes stories in which the message revolves around proving that in the given situation of that particular story, it is either better to hope or to dream.
Is one deluded by an intense dream into thinking there is real hope? Or, is one missing out on life experience and the rare but real advent of a lucky chance by confining oneself to only those things for which hope exists?
We’ve all seen these kinds of stories in books, movies, television and stage plays. As an author, it can improve both your work and your life to explore the difference between the two.
Here are the specific definitions of Hope and Dream from the Dramatica Dictionary:
Variation – dynamic pair: Dream ↔ Hope
a desired future if things go as expected
Hope is based on a projection of the way things are going. When one looks at the present situation and notes the direction of change, Hope lies somewhere along that line. As an example, if one is preparing for a picnic and the weather has been sunny, one Hopes for a sunny day. If it was raining for days, one could not Hope but only Dream. Still, Hope acknowledges that things can change in unexpected ways. That means that Hoping for something is not the same as expecting something. Hope is just the expectation that something will occur unless something interferes. How accurately a character evaluates the potential for change determines whether he is Hoping or dreaming. When a character is dreaming and thinks he is Hoping, he prepares for things where there is no indication they will come true.
syn. desired expectation, optimistic anticipation, confident aspiration, promise, encouraging outlook.
Variation – dynamic pair: Hope ↔ Dream
a desired future that requires unexpected developments
Dream describes a character who speculates on a future that has not been ruled out, however unlikely. Dreaming is full of “what ifs.” Cinderella dreamed of her prince because it wasn’t quite unimaginable. One Dreams of winning the lottery even though one “hasn’t got a hope.” Hope requires the expectation that something will happen if nothing goes wrong. Dreaming has no such limitation. Nothing has to indicate that a Dream will come true, only that it’s not impossible. Dreaming can offer a positive future in the midst of disaster. It can also motivate one to try for things others scoff at. Many revolutionary inventors have been labeled as Dreamers. Still and all, to Dream takes away time from doing, and unless one strikes a balance and does the groundwork, one can Dream while hopes go out the window for lack of effort.
syn. aspire, desiring the unlikely, pulling for the doubtful, airy hope, glimmer, far fetched desire
Learn more about Theme in my book:
A Few Words About Theme
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