Sunday, October 17, 2010

Dreams and Writing

“…Her view of enchanters had changed a lot in the past few days. …She sighed and, gently putting down the sleeping gryphon, returned to her room.

Just as she drifted toward sleep she thought if Harone got what he wished, in time he would be like them. He too would have that presence she felt more than saw, which Kataro had named the Semblance. It would surround him like a mantle, an aura that could disconcert, even terrify. She felt an inexplicable sense of loss.

Reflected light from the column of flame gleamed like copper on the polished-stone walls about her. Golden flashes sparkled on the pebbled floor like trapped seeds of lightning. Tongues of flame licked across the ceiling, searching for cracks in the hewn stone and obscuring it from view. She drew a step nearer and the column seemed to turn, as though aware of her approach. Threads of golden fire forked from the center of the shimmering inferno and approached her in turn. She lifted her hands, holding them out as if to clasp the exploring tendrils…

Cara awoke with a gasp, and sat up. She stared frantically at her hands, and was amazed to find they were not ash and scorched bone, but her own flesh. A presence within her seemed to flee, as though shy of her conscious thoughts. She felt its retreat and then its absence with regret and a piercing longing.

It was cool in the room, peacefully quiet. Empty. Drawing the coverlet about her, Cara lay back down.”

---- extract from SEABIRD: “Many Meetings”(chapter title, about 2/3 of the way through the book)


Have you ever inserted dreams, visions, fragmented words from newspaper clippings or tattered billboard signs, sacred messages, half-forgotten memories, the words of seers, etc when writing stories?

Dreams and vague memories in particular can deepen the richness of character portrayal, by introducing us to aspects of the character with which she may have only a tenuous connection during most of each day. However, dreams (etc) can serve other functions—for example, setting the mood of a scene, delicately inserting back story and even furthering the plot in some cases.

In SEABIRD, teenager Cara Marshall (the protagonist) dreams so frequently that the people of Narenta come to the conclusion that she is a seer. Cara has a little trouble coming to terms with this pronouncement since she has never encountered a true seer on Earth and the Narentans themselves admit that seers are uncommon in their world. Their conflicting views on the importance of dreams add to the story’s tension, while the content of her dreams help us to learn more about Cara and about her role in the book’s plot. Cara reacts to some of her dreams with delight, others with horror or mystification, which helps strengthen the mood of various scenes and was a great tool for introducing foreshadowing.

But why so many dreams in SEABIRD? I just told you—Cara is a seer. Okay, you got me. Which came first: the idea of Cara being a seer or the compulsive insertion of dreams higgly-piggly into the first few chapters of Seabird? Yes, the latter.

SEABIRD and Cara are gifted with dreams because I think dreams are cool. In real life—whatever that is—I’ve always felt that dreams are kind of a bonus to our existence. A little bit of story that we get free of charge just by dint of sleeping. Oh, and making a tiny effort to remember the details when we wake up. Many people, of course, believe that they rarely dream but the fact is that we all do.

HOW TO REMEMBER YOUR DREAMS: The trick is taking a few minutes on awakening to try to recall what we dreamed. If you have never done this and decide to make the effort, I suggest attempting to be as non-verbal as you can be while you passively wait for impressions, visual images and sounds to return to you now that you’re awake.

What not to do? Thinking something like, “I think I dreamed about the pool guy. Now what happened after I dived into the water? Was there really a school of miniature dolphins?’ etc will only serve to obliterate the actual dream. Keep your mind blank. This part is actually fairly easy before coffee if you think of about it.

If the dream contents seem to be worth it, be sure to write them down at once! Otherwise they will fade on you, very possibly before you’ve finished measuring the coffee grounds.

What do I mean by a dream being “worth it”? Why go to all this trouble? Well, you never know where the next idea for a story may come from. Alternatively, a fragment of a dream may tell you something about a character that you hadn’t realized, or get you out of that plot hole in chapter five. If appropriate—sometimes even if not appropriate—you can try plugging part of a dream whole cloth right into one of your scenes. You always planned for that character to have hallucinations, right?

For one of the weirdest dreams I’ve ever experienced, may I suggest the following link:

Sherry Thompson, author of SEABIRD: The Narentan Tumults #1 and EARTHBOW: The Narentan Tumults #2.


  1. Hey Sherry,
    Thanks for the thoughts on dreams. I rarely make an effort to remember them, since the alarm ringing usually means I only have so much time to get ready for my day job. But I like how you recommend going about trying to remember them, because the few I remember tend to be very emotionally charged or at least very interesting, and may make great stories or additions to stories. Thanks as always for your thoughts! (Or dreams?)

  2. Dreams. How I wish I could remember mine. I know people dream, but mine must be buried deep somewhere in my brain, never to be heard from again. Thanks for the tips on remembering. I'll try. Lovely post.

  3. I have vivid dreams every night! Most of them I remember. I write them down. Most I use in my own writing. Dh said he wished he was able to do the same thing. I'm like, I'd love to have a dreamless night.

  4. Hey Sherry!

    My online handle is Loriendil, which means One Who Loves Dreams. This is because many of my story ideas come from dreams.

    My short story "Justice" was directly taken from a dream. The original plot of my novel _Sword's Edge_ (due out around Christmas) came from a dream I had in 1985. Many of the subplots in my Deuces Wild series came from dreams as well.

    So yes, I love dreams!

  5. I can remember most of my dreams. They play like movies. The Lord has blessed me with wonderful dreams of my parents (both with Him).

    In my second book, the main character has dreams/nightmares so intense, he thinks they are real.

    Blessings - Kimberli

  6. Hi, Brandon!
    You may not wiggle out of trying to remember dreams just because you have an alarm clock. ;-P

    I did the whole alarm clock bit for over 35 years, and I'm a night owl by nature. So the alarm goes off and you have to get up immediately--so what? Now you may be -very- different from many people. I for one have a nearly blank mind when I wake up--I go use the bathroom, start coffee, fumble around in the closet, all largely on auto-pilot.

    While in that still-waking-up-but-actually-moving state, verbalizing is not my strong suit anyway. I regularly brush my teeth with my eyes closed, in a desperate effort to shut out the knowledge that it's daytime.

    My point is not to gross you out with my morning bumbling around but to say that if you're like this for the first couple of minutes after the alarm goes off, then focus on any lingering impressions from your dreams, as you get up and begin your morning routines. Just do -not- push (which can create false memories) and don't verbalize (which will make any memories evaporate, probably gone for good).

    Try it some time, and see if it works for you. Good luck!

  7. Good luck with the future attempts, Beverly!
    And thanks!

  8. Kim, Loriendil, and Kimberli! Good for you gals!

    Loriendil, I'm jealous of your name! And, wow, Kim and Loriendil, I'm awed by your facility of converting dreams -into- stories. Do they become short stories or the impetus/impeti (?) for novels?

    Kimberli, you sound more like me in that you use dreams -inside- your stories rather than as the premise for the story.

  9. I seldom remember my dreams but sometimes when I'm writing a scene will pop into my head and I will think I've heard those words before and they fit what I'm writing. Unlike most writers I don't see visual scenes when I write. I hear words.

  10. JL: Words are good! Words are our friends. :)

    Do you mean that you've heard those words before because they may have been in a dream? Or is it more like they've always been there, waiting for you to "discover" them?

    Scenery is sometimes "there" waiting for me to discover it. I think I'm more visual than you or rather than your more verbal than me.

    Sherry Thompson